A journalist falsifies reports – and receives prizes for his gripping stories. Until he flies. Michael Bully Herbig made a film out of it. How does he feel about lying?
Munich – In 2018, a scandal involving fake reports by Claas Relotius shook the news magazine “Der Spiegel”. An earthquake that shook the media industry. Michael Bully Herbig (“The Balloon”, “The Manitou’s Shoe”) has now filmed this material. In “1000 Lines” Jonas Nay plays the reporter Lars Bogenius, whose cheating is exposed by the journalist Juan Romero (Elyas M’Barek). In an interview with the German Press Agency in Munich, the Munich filmmaker Herbig explains why this story fascinated him from the start.
What did you think when the Relotius scandal became known?
Herbig: That was a media bomb. This incident immediately captured my imagination. Basically, I’m always looking for stories. And impostor stories interest me anyway. Not that I would emulate that in any way. But I find these characters interesting, their motivations. Luckily I haven’t fallen for an imposter yet, at least I didn’t notice it.
What exactly fascinates you about such characters?
Herbig: Your model for success is that you are very charming, very engaging, maybe sometimes shy. Sometimes they might come along helplessly and wrap you around their fingers. I find it amazing that they can pull this off and remember their lies. That was also the reason why I stopped lying early, around the age of ten or eleven. I just couldn’t remember the fib.
Did you often lie as a child?
Herbig: I tried it because I had a lively imagination and liked to invent stories. That was very well received. But at some point I realized that I no longer remember who I told what. So I decided to stick to the truth, you can always remember it. Apart from small cheats, especially at Christmas. I really enjoy it.
What does a good liar need?
Herbig: Something between disposition and talent. There is a scene in the film where Bogenius is on stage to accept an award for a report he invented. At the same time, the bomb threatens to burst at any moment and he could fly up. Nevertheless, he continues to do his thing – is that repression? Or a feeling of invincibility? I dont know.
How closely did you stick to real events in the film?
Herbig: Sometimes like this, sometimes like that. That’s the nice thing about the material: the impostor doesn’t stick to the facts, so I don’t have to either. I wanted to make an entertainment film and I wanted to take the liberty of inventing little storylines. I wanted to make a few small snags so people who read the book would enjoy it.
How did the case affect the credibility of the press?
Herbig: That was a disaster. My grandmother used to tell me that you don’t always have to believe everything you read in the newspaper. In tabloid journalism, most people can classify that correctly, at least I hope so. But false information has increased massively and is spreading rapidly through the Internet. And good money is made from it.
What is the task of the readers?
Herbig: You have to filter it yourself. I’ve also experienced firsthand that stuff has been written about me where you’re like, “how did you come up with something like that?”. Sometimes they exaggerate or just take a quote out of context.
The internet never forgets.
Herbig: Something like that used to be sent out when there was only linear television. So you thought, nobody will talk about that next week. It was the same with the newspapers. But now it stays online and quite a few copy it without checking it. I think it’s dangerous if you don’t do more research yourself.
What does a scandal like that about Relotius mean in times when there is talk of lying press?
Herbig: That plays into the hands of the wrong people. For people who roar through the streets and only talk about lying press, this is of course grist for the mill. They’re happy about that.
Has it become more difficult for you to move around in public spaces because people with cell phone cameras are lurking everywhere?
Herbig: Yes, that’s actually more difficult. As a result, you become even more cautious if you want to keep out and protect your close circle and your family. It’s hard for me to understand that there are people who deliberately drag their children in front of the camera on social media. Especially if the parents want to earn money with it.
Michael Bully Herbig acts, writes screenplays, produces and directs. His best-known works include the TV show “Bullyparade”, comedies such as “Der Schuh des Manitou” or the children’s film “Wickie and the Strong Men”. He has also made serious films, such as the GDR escape story “Ballon”. The 54-year-old lives with his family in Munich.
Especially at the Wiesn, many celebrities can be seen and photographed. Do you also like to visit the Oktoberfest?
Herbig: I’m not a passionate Oktoberfest goer. As a teenager, I went to the Oktoberfest so often, almost every day. The last time I went to the Oidn Wiesn was a few years ago with my son when he was little. At some point I noticed that even with a blood alcohol content of 4.0, you can still bawl my name across the street: “Bullyyy!”. I’m also not someone who likes to sit in a beer tent. Then there is the fact that I hardly drink alcohol. After a measure I fall asleep. dpa