Not many people in the world of service production can recount a time dozens of extras had to be filmed, naked, on a busy German street without even a hint of stress. Tom Ehrhardt is one of those people. The founder of Shotz, a Berlin-based production service company, has over two decades of on-the-ground experience, having worked on more than 400 productions of all sizes and levels of complexity. Today, Shotz can proudly state that it has helped clients produce more than $550 million worth of work and counting. Commercials, feature films, documentaries, photo shoots - Shotz has expertise in every area, with precision and calmness that’s not easy to come by.
Tom got his start in the industry in ’95 at a local television station; by ’98, he was the head of production at the music video production company, DoRo Berlin. Venturing out on his own was never precisely the plan, but necessity is the mother of invention - after completing a nine-day commercial shoot for Volkswagen in 2000, his first production service project, Tom decided to make it a permanent vocation.
What drives Tom personally? “I love to organise,” he laughs. “When I was a child, I loved peeking behind the scenes at fairgrounds and circuses, observing how it all worked. I then organised raves for thousands of people, before joining the production industry and working on hundreds of music videos, films, and ads.” Clearly, the skills are transferable - “it’s the same but different in many ways; there’s a lot to think about to ensure that everything runs smoothly. I’m very motivated by logistical challenges. When I read a treatment or script for budgeting purposes, I can see what needs to be done to make it come to life. Instantly, I’m translating that treatment or script into a schedule with its numbers,” Tom says.
Over the years, Shotz has worked with some of the industry’s biggest brands (Apple, Gucci, Nike, Volkswagen, Peloton), top production companies (Caviar, Czar, Pinewood Pictures, Prettybird, RadicalMedia) and directors like Glen Luchford, Ai Weiwei, Quentin Tarantino, Sofia Coppola, Jaron Albertin, Bart Timmer, Max Malkin, and Abigail Fuller. Though Germany isn’t a traditional service location, clients love the diversity of scenery on offer alongside highly experienced personnel and “German thoroughness”, as Tom puts it.
Clients specifically return to Shotz for two reasons; the first is the company’s ability to foresee challenges before they occur, and the second is Tom himself. With so much experience on sets, he always knows whom to contact and what kind of team needs to be put together to make the seemingly impossible happen. “I have excellent relationships with other established companies and freelancers all over Germany and the industry at large. Location managers, casting directors, agents, set construction companies, production designers, art directors, underwater specialists, stunt coordinators, and Academy Award-winning special effects supervisors - we can make the right recommendation because we have worked with them all,” explains Tom.
“The goal for us at Shotz is to provide creative people with the best playground so they can make use of the space we organised for them. Creatives tell me what they want to do, and I make it happen with all the resources available to me,” Tom says. One such project was the spot Shotz worked on for the German Crafts Council, involving the aforementioned naked extras. The commercial, aimed at demonstrating how empty - quite literally - everyone’s life would be without craftsmanship, was meticulously planned with the director and production designer over several weeks.
With only a few CGI tweaks, the final ad has a tonne of in-camera special effects made possible by the creatives Shotz helped source for the project. “Our job here was to weave all the strings and ensure all elements held together smoothly. A ring melting off a man’s finger, walls cracking, a car deconstructing on camera, wallpaper peeling, clothes coming unstitched - everything was tested and planned intensely by our special effects and costume department,” Tom says. What didn’t prove challenging was finding enough willing extras to bare all on screen: “Most Germans love being nude on the beach or at the sauna; we fulfilled this request within the blink of an eye!”
For Shotz, under Tom’s watchful eye, strength lies in calmness, or, as he puts it: “We sweat the small stuff, so you don’t have to.” There was quite a lot of sweating over small stuff on the shoot for Lexmark’s ‘Going to Work’ spot that was filmed in Frankfurt, requiring four locations per day. But the real challenge was getting 35 printing devices, large and small, to move through roads and streets, demonstrating how they ‘go to work’ for some of the world’s most important companies.
“We had just 12 days to get the 35 printers to move. Some of the smaller ones were remote-controlled while, the bigger ones had a person sitting inside; everything was planned and built by a special effects team and prop makers in Berlin,” remembers Tom, having worked closely with the director to faithfully translate his vision on screen in a fast-paced manner that never compromised on quality. The final spot is a seamless execution of printers gracefully making their way to work through urban city streets, blending right in with other commuters.
What’s clear is that Shotz is infinitely agile in service production, with an unmatched local knowledge that stretches beyond Germany into the neighbouring territories. Anyone looking to shoot in Germany would be hard-pressed to find a better-connected company to take care of the organisational side, whether they’re after urban or rural scenes, beaches, or high-tech film studios. But the value Shotz brings really comes through in Tom’s ability to interrogate and strategise over each brief to get the most out of any budget.
Trust, reliability and a proven track record of turning concepts into reality make Shotz the company to call next time you’re looking for “slick logistics and Hollywood-quality experience” in a service production partner.