Yarmouth couple feed a German appetite for reality TV
YARMOUTH — German reality television happens between an antiques store and a hair salon on Main Street.
At least some of it does.
The office at 358 Main St. is the home of Jynx Productions, a video production company started in 2005 by husband-and-wife duo Johannes Wiebus and Kathleen O'Heron. They shoot, direct, edit and produce reality TV shows and unique short-form documentaries for German broadcast networks. They also make corporate ads and the occasional business commercial.
After starting the company seven years ago, the pair outgrew their home operation. They have been working out of the Main Street office since Dec. 1.
Most of the work they do is shot in North America for a German audience.
Wiebus and O'Heron formerly worked at Bloomberg Television, the New York-based business news provider, as a reporter and producer, respectively. After moving from London to New York for work, Wiebus grew tired of the taxing breaking-news cycle. They decided to start their own production company, and moved to Yarmouth soon after the operation began.
"London. New York. Yarmouth. It's a natural progression," Wiebus said. "Where else would you go next?"
They've created videos for international companies, like Red Bull, and non-governmental organizations, such as, The International Finance Corp., an affiliate of the World Bank. They've also produced shorts on a group of men living like cavemen in New York City, and on the guy who "pimps out all the cars" for the rapper formerly known as Snoop Dogg, Wiebus said.
All the footage is now edited in their new office, a converted two-story house. It's sparsely decorated beyond the entrance, with a white table and red chairs across from a coffee bar lined with neatly stacked mugs sporting the Jynx logo.
Editing is in the adjacent room, separated by half-wall, where a hodge-podge of screens, keyboards and speakers fit neatly on a long, two-person desk. A tall cart with a large monitor on top sits to the left.
At their studio Dec. 17, the pair were putting the final touches on a piece for a German-reality TV show called "Abenteuer Leben" ("Adventure Life"), which Wiebus had just returned from shooting in Nevada and California.
The show follows mostly German people on escapades around the world, including the story of a man trying to take America by storm with a sausage-themed food truck.
In the story, the sausage truck owner is making his way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas for a convention and runs into mostly self-inflicted obstacles along the way, including his truck breaking down in the middle of the desert and breaking his truck's key.
"It's perfect for reality TV because stuff goes wrong all the time and he gets annoyed about it," Wiebus said.
After deciding to ditch the news business, Wiebus, who reported business news for the German version of Bloomberg, freelanced before the couple realized there was a niche they could fill in TV.
In 2005, improvements in technology allowed them to start their business without needing an office anchored to any specific geography. All their videos are delivered in data files to clients who can then give feedback from wherever they are, giving them more living flexibility, O'Heron said.
"Usually the first thing people ask us is, 'you guys are together all the time?'" Wiebus said of the marriage-work partnership. "Somehow it works. We have a vision of where the company is going; there's no argument there."
"Part of the reason it works," O'Heron added, "is that we play such different roles."
Wiebus writes, produces and directs, while O'Heron edits and manages office operations. They hire freelance videographers. And, they have three children, ages 4, 9 and 12.
Although most of their work is for a German audience, O'Heron, who is from England, said language isn't really a barrier for her.
"I had to edit 10 different language programs," she said of her previous production work at Bloomberg. "I just open my ears for anything. It depends on the subject, but really I'm looking at it technically."
They typically pitch stories to the networks and often get their ideas from obscure news articles and features, Wiebus said.
The main difference between producing for an American versus a German audience is detail and attention span, they said.
"The difference is that it's more precise," Wiebus said. "The (German) audience is less likely to be fooled."
"People aren't going to be distracted by stuff," O'Heron added.
Wiebus gave an example of someone repairing a car.
"They have to know exactly what's wrong with the car, why they're fixing it and you need to follow up to make sure they know what happened to it," he said of German audiences. "You always have to have those details in a short."
Another cultural difference is the relationship to sexuality and violence.
"We don't have to worry about cussing or nudity," Wiebus said, remembering TV growing up in Germany. "You'd see a naked woman in a soap commercial at 6 p.m., no problem, but there's no serious shooting or machine guns in prime-time."
German copyright laws also allow the use of any song, without payment. TV companies pay the record companies a lump sum, giving them a license to use any music, Wiebus said, something not allowed in the United States due to strict intellectual property laws.
Aside from their work for German TV, Jynx has also produced for companies in Maine, including a former South Portland company, BioLogix, and Falmouth's Gnome Landscapes.
They've also produced charity work for the Oxford School Age Childcare and Pre-School program and plan to donate work to the Center For Grieving Children in 2013.
Now in their new office, they plan to expand the corporate side of their business and hire a sales person next year, O'Heron said. They're also adding another editing suite to handle more work.
"Really," O'Heron said, "we should have done this a long time ago."