HFPA in Conversation:Maria Schrader’s Fictitious Reality in Unorthodox

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros July 8, 2020
Filmmaker Maria Schrader

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German actress, screenwriter, director, and producer Maria Schrader directed Netflix’s hit Unorthodox. The miniseries tells a very specific story about a young woman, Esther, who really wants to be a part of her religious society and has very high hopes for her marriage, but ends up in an unbearably unhappy situation. 

“I had very little access to the ultra-conservative Jewish community in New York. You can walk the streets of this community and you’ll be spotted right away as someone who doesn’t belong there and specifically when you stop and watch the shops and go into them and ask people to please explain the differences of the coats you wear on festive days and on regular days,” Schrader told HFPA journalist Barbara Gasser.

Most people react quite skeptically and ask questions about why she was there. “I rather did not say that this is research about a fictional piece of film we are preparing because this community doesn’t want to be in the public eye. It’s a very specific situation that you feel you’re not wanted.”

They filmed Unorthodox out of a car with a hidden camera, recreated buildings in totally different parts of Brooklyn, and all the interiors were shot in Berlin. “We’ve been accompanied by a wonderful supervisor who grew up and lived a long time of his life in this community, speaks the language, has friends and family in this community. He gave us access to some private homes of his friends who I would say are more on the very liberal side of this community. So we could take a lot of impressions in, take a lot of pictures, just hang out there, get the atmosphere, ask questions as much as they answered.”

Schrader was surprised by the success of the show.
“Well, to be honest, it just has been overwhelming. We weren’t expecting something like that. It was basically a considerably small project. The response we got and we get until today is astonishing, amazing, and wonderful.”

Why does she think people all over the world are watching Unorthodox? “It almost feels that it’s something which unites people; it feels like fictional work is able to build bridges to other countries and to other cultures.

Listen to the podcast and hear about her next project, a made-for-TV twisted rom-com between a woman and a robot; how will the new precautions – social distancing and Covid-19 tests – affect the work environment on sets; what she learned about the conservative religious lifestyle; what makes her happy; how was it directing her first feature film; what are her goals as a director nowadays; what kind of traveler she is; why walking is important for her; what kind of things she appreciated during the stay-at-home order; what she learned from her parents; when she works best; when is Deutschland 89, the third series of the Deutschland TV show, going to be released; and why she likes Berlin.