Actually, I was determined to become a timber merchant,” director Wolfgang Groos recalls with a wry smile. Film was inconceivable as a profession in the small village of 800 souls near Kassel where he grew up together with his three siblings. But there was nothing to stop a fascination with the cinema, which gripped Groos at a very early age. As 11-year-olds, he and his best friend secretly took the train to Kassel, where they went to the cinema — unsupervised — for the first time in order to see the ‘non plus ultra’ on the big screen at that time: SUPERMAN. “The only problem was that, unfortunately, the last train that would get us back on time before our parents came home actually left before the end of the film. To the present day, I have no idea how SUPERMAN ends,” he says with a laugh.
Later, Wolfgang Groos’ opinion after his first encounter with the film business in 1992 was “They’re all crazy!” It came about by chance rather than any intent, at a moment when his career seemed to be heading towards a dead-end. It looked as if he would fail the medicine course on which he had embarked after school graduation in Hamburg due to his repeated inability to pass physics. A career as a top sportsman, playing volleyball in the Second National League, generated masses of adrenaline but no real perspective. Penniless and somewhat desperate, through family connections Groos got a job as a driver working for Klaus Lemke’s DIE RATTE: “Afterwards, I knew I’d better have a third attempt at passing that physics exam.”
Fortunately, this was unsuccessful, too, so nothing stood in the way of the failed doctor’s rise to one of Germany’s most successful children’s film directors today. Because it was his very next job as a driver that led Groos, now 46, to the set of the Hager Moss film production WOMEN ARE SIMPLY WONDERFUL by Sherry Hormann – and then he was hooked. And so in 1994, with Peter Timm’s RUDY, THE RACING PIG, he began an impressive career as an assistant director. This lasted for ten years and led to his collaboration with great filmmakers such as Sönke Wortmann, Dominik Graf, Hans-Christian Schmid, Dennis Gansel, Matthias Glasner and Christian Zübert.
It was also due to Sönke Wortmann that Groos progressed from being an assistant director to directing himself. During the shooting of THE MIRACLE OF BERN the boss frequently got his assistant to shoot individual scenes and montages independently. Groos: “When I asked him for his opinion of my material, Sönke replied: ‘But what do YOU think of it?’ That gave me faith in my abilities as a director.”
Wolfgang Grooss on the set of VAMPIRE SISTERS (photo © 2013 TOM TRAMBOW)
IN 2003 Wolfgang Groos completed the production course at the German Academy of Film and Television in Berlin and subsequently produced and directed his first short film, WENN ZWEI SICH STREITEN. In 2004 it finally happened: Wortmann facilitated Groos’ first major work of direction in the television series FREUNDE FÜR IMMER, which was followed by more TV productions such as SWITCH RELOADED and RUDY, THE RACING PIG – THE SERIES. It was also one-time footballer Wortmann who offered the first cinema screenplay to former volleyball player Groos: HANGTIME by Christian Zübert and Heinrich Hadding, a story about the top scorer of the second division basketball team Phoenix Hagen, who faces the decision whether or not to become a professional sportsman. To the present day, this feature is Groos’ personal favorite among the films he has made — “also, probably, because it has so much to do with my own life,” the director surmises.
After HANGTIME Groos decided that Cologne was the right location for him, both privately and professionally. Together with his wife, assistant director Jasmin Groos, and his two daughters, he now lives in the film and television capital of North Rhine-Westphalia. In 2010 his second film, THE CROCODILES — ALL FOR ONE, experienced a highly successful run in the cinemas (800,000 admissions). Finally, in 2011, the director succeeded with his biggest box-office hit to date, VAMPIRE SISTERS, seen by audiences totalling more than 900,000. And that’s not all. The fantasy-comedy, which is based on a series of novels of the same name by Franziska Gehm, also sold well internationally and has won prizes at film festivals including Toronto, Stockholm and Sarajevo. Since autumn 2014, VAMPIRE SISTERS 2 has been playing at cinemas, and the family entertainment film has been seen by some 700,000 viewers to date.
Meanwhile, Groos has moved his next major project into the starting blocks. Shooting has been completed already for RICO, OSKAR UND DAS HERZGEBRECHE, the second part of the popular Rico books by children’s author Andreas Steinhöfel. The acting ensemble includes top German stars like Karoline Herfurth, Ronald Zehrfeld, Moritz Bleibtreu, Katharina Thalbach, Henry Hübchen and Milan Peschel. The film will be launched in cinemas in June 2015. And the director will be making the children’s book classic ROBBI, TOBBI UND DAS FLIEWATÜÜT in the late summer of 2015.
Those who work with Wolfgang Groos soon notice that this filmmaker is very much hands-on. You need to explain “we can’t do it” to him very convincingly. Sporting build, a generous laugh, and with no allures or obvious vanity, he exudes an incredibly relaxed, “all will be well charm” that means he can wrap not only children around his little finger. His ability to connect with kids has featured throughout much of his life. “I have always enjoyed working with and for children, whether as a youth volleyball trainer or as a student of medicine on the children’s ward at the hospital.”
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Once a children’s film guy, always a children’s film guy? “Absolute nonsense! I want to make fantastic, elaborate and special films,” Groos says, numbering MYSTIC RIVER, MATRIX and HANGOVER among his favorites, and Clint Eastwood and David Fincher among his directing role models. He likes German films when they don’t try “to be like...”. LITTLE SHARKS by Sönke Wortmann and RABBIT FEVER by Detlev Buck were the first German productions to convince the teenager Groos with their authenticity. “I think it’s a shame that in this country we have no genre diversity on the commercial level. Recently, I was delighted that the thriller WHO AM I turned into such a good film with a promising number of viewers. But that’s the exception. It’s crazy that people seem to have the feeling that they must make comedies in Germany if they want to be successful. We need to change that!” By contrast, in the field of children’s and family entertainment, “in this country we have developed a real hallmark. There, you have the diversity that I often feel is lacking in adult film. From fairy-tale via fantasy and drama to comedies: everything is possible. The stories and the budgets are good, the projects have energy, and you can simply make great films.” No matter whether a film is for children, the whole family or adults — Wolfgang Groos loves respectable, credible mainstream for every audience target group. He likes to leave the difficult art films to others.
If money was no object, what would his dream project be? “Something like MYSTIC RIVER wouldn’t be a bad idea. Or something that goes with a real bang!,” Wolfgang Groos replies with a wink. Before then, however, he needs to deal with another unanswered question: How does SUPERMAN end, anyway?
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