Shooting of the fifth season of CIA agent drama “Homeland” is underway in Berlin, surrounded by secrecy. The only hints about what viewers can look forward to are occasional statements by extras who tell of gunfire, car accidents and brief glimpses of the show’s stars.
“Homeland,” one of the most popular television series in the United States, is a fast-moving agent thriller, staring Claire Danes, that has won a Golden Globe and an Emmy.
The show originally told the story of a female CIA agent, Carrie Mathison, played by Ms. Danes, and the return of a U.S. solider after several years’ captivity by al-Qaida terrorists. Her suspicion grows that he may have been turned and present a danger to the country.
In subsequent seasons, the action moved from the U.S. to Iran and Afghanistan, and now is set to focus on Berlin.
There might be nowhere better than the birth place of the Cold War to shoot a suspenseful thriller that plays on terrorism, surveillance and paranoia.
The show’s fast-moving plot contrasts with Berlin’s luck at not having suffered a terrorist attack since 1986, when a nightclub often used by servicemen from the United States was bombed, killing three people.
“What’s great about the kinds of films that we’re seeing being made right now are that the city is the star – as it is right now. Often, the films that are shot in Berlin are set 50 or 60 years ago. But 'Homeland' really shows the city as it is.”
Now the dramatic scenes shot at locations throughout the city are stirring up a summer Berlin whose inhabitants have headed for the sea, leaving only tourists to disturb the sleepy haze.
The high pressure schedule for “Homeland”‘s fifth season sees 500 workers, a crew of 700, shooting at three or four locations each day in cinema-quality film, running since June until fall.
Fans are eager to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars at any of the 200 locations in Berlin where shooting is planned.
It might be Carrie, whose unconventional methods make her unpopular with her superiors.
Or Saul, the mentor and chief of the Middle East section who stands by his team through thick and thin and becomes acting director of the service in season three.
Off screen, fans are eagerly scanning for clues of where to get a glimpse of the stars; rumors of where Ms. Dane’s daughter will go to kindergarten circulated earlier this year.
At the opening of the fifth season, produced by Twentieth Century Fox, Carrie is no longer working at the CIA but in Berlin, a self-imposed exile, troubled and working for a private security firm.
Fans in Germany are still behind U.S audiences, as the fourth season only starts this week on German TV.
Details about the new seaon’s plot are a closely guarded secret.
Reporters in Berlin tried to track down the film locations, with a few shots appearing in Germany’s main tabloid Bild. Exchanges on Twitter show fans sharing hints about where the day’s shoots are planned. One Deutsche Welle journalist described seeing actress Claire Danes play a take five times as she entered a house in a Berlin suburb. Afterwards, Ms. Danes was driven away in darkened SUV.
A few details have slipped out. Thomas Pap, who acts as an extra spoke to the RBB radio station, describing the day’s shooting at a country train station – replete with a car chase. “I play a father picking up his son from school. We go to the square and people go into the post office where something secret takes place that we don’t see. Then there’s a car accident and shooting but unfortunately we’re out of that scene by then.”
The mystery is important, Timo Gössler, who teaches film at Berlin’s Konrad Wolf film university, told Deutsche Welle. “The show’s producers want to avoid releasing too many hints about what happens in the fifth season.” They are trying to maintain the suspense, which can increase the show’s chances of success, he said. “With all the mythologizing in advance, that maximizes the excitement and anticipation. That’s exactly the producers’ goal,” Mr. Gössler said.
The show also aims to stay close to political realities, meaning last-minute script changes are always possible, Mr. Gössler said.
“Homeland” is popular for its fast-paced portrayal of terrorism, surveillance and paranoia but has also been criticized for being one of many series whose portrayal of female agents is stereotyped. It has also drawn criticism for a cliched portrayal of Muslims.
German-Turkish actor Numan Acar, who plays America’s fourth-most wanted terrorist from Pakistan in the series, is a great fan of the show, calling it a “gift” and a “crowning glory,” according to Spiegel magazine.
Mr. Acar described his preparatory work in advance of the casting he submitted by video, he said, “I worked on the character so that I emanated danger and friendliness at the same time – afterwards, they told me that how well this interpretation came across,” he told Bild.
The city narrowly beat Zagreb in Croatia, which offered more financial incentives to shoot there, according to the show’s producer Michael Click at a press conference in Berlin this week.
The city’s mayor Michael Müller visited the set of “Homeland” Tuesday and underlined that he welcomed the decision as confirmation of its growing popularity as a site to shoot and recognition of its growing reputation as a creative capital.
Although financial support for films is falling throughout Germany, it is rising in Berlin. The city plans to increase its funding for the country’s media board by €1.5 million every year, bringing total funding available to €32 million. This support is aimed at supporting film and also television shows.
In recent years, other prominent films including “The Bourne Identity,” “Valkyrie,” “Inglorious Basterds,” and “Run Lola Run” all used Berlin’s famous backdrop.
Unusually for a television series, “Homeland” always has two stars – and one is the city. The fourth series was shot in Islamabad and produced in Cape Town.
This summer, several other tales of superheroes, scientists and Nazi descendants are being pieced together in the city as more films are shot in Berlin, from a third Captain America film, to a biopic about Nobel prize-winning scientist Marie Curie. Other stories include the filming of Hans Fallada’s “Alone in Berlin,” staring Emma Thompson; and a documentary about three fans of German rapper Cro, who is known for wearing a panda mask.
“What’s great about the kinds of films that we’re seeing being made right now are that the city is the star – in its current state,” said Christoph Fisser, board member at Babelsberg Studios, which is producing the filming of “Homeland” in Germany.
“For each of the films we produce, we compete in a pitch against many other locations. I think Berlin has an advantage because actors really like spending time here, it’s not somewhere they’re forced to spend time.” Also, the city is inexpensive and local crews’ expertise means producers save on travel costs, only bringing over actors and directors.
Nonetheless, Germany struggles in competition against other countries as a location because the financial support offered for films is capped. “I hope politicians realize this and make changes,” Mr. Fisser said.
He said the trends were changing, that in the past, many films were made in Berlin about the Nazi period but this year, more spy films were being produced.
“Often, the films that are shot in Berlin are set 50 or 60 years ago. That means we have to disguise the city. But ‘Homeland’ really shows the city as it is right now.”
Mr. Fisser said as Berlin transforms this makes it easier to sell it as a location to film makers. “What’s important is that we try to show something new, an aesthetic no one has seen anywhere else. And as Berlin is changing so much, we’re able to do that.”
Video: Teaser for the next series.