It all started in the corona pandemic. Torsten Rüther had just founded a film production company in Berlin after decades of working in the advertising industry, when the pandemic restrictions suddenly made it almost impossible to make films at all.

So Rüther first switched to podcasts and met the actor Hardy Krüger, who asked him for a scene for his demo tape. Rüther thinks up a scene with a boxer and brings actress Luise Großmann on board.

The script for the scene was three pages long, says Rüther – but it was actually immediately clear to them all that there was a whole film in it. A film about a disillusioned former boxer, whose boxing studio one day a young woman comes looking for a trainer. “One Wednesday morning I got up, thought about it and started writing. And really started from the beginning – and actually without brushing my teeth, without everything that is part of civilization,” says Rüther. “I wrote by Saturday afternoon and the book was finished.”

Premiere in Oldenburg

Today the work is celebrating its premiere for the second time at the film festival in Oldenburg – despite the pandemic and actors’ strike: Rüther has added a Hollywood version to the German version “Liver Hook”, which was officially shown for the first time in Oldenburg in 2021, “Uppercut”.

The female lead in both films is Großmann. It is the first major role for the 28-year-old former professional pole vaulter from near Magdeburg, who studied sports journalism in Cologne and then went to drama school. In the US version, Hollywood actor Ving Rhames, known from the hit series “Mission Impossible”, took over for Krüger. Rüther simply became the director himself, even though he was “not a classic director” and “didn’t learn” it. Both films were largely financed with money from investors.

The German version will be created in 2020 and 2021 in the middle of the pandemic with a small budget and under severe restrictions: three nights, two cameramen, two actors and the director, many more people were not allowed on set. For the music, Rüther enlists Sting guitarist Dominic Miller, of whom he is a big fan. Without expecting an answer – but Miller surprisingly says yes. A “certain honest simplicity that is good for the material” was created, the “Hollywood Reporter” judged of “Liver Hook” at the time – and the film is also attracting attention elsewhere in the USA.

Just a few weeks after the festival, American producers contacted Rüther who wanted to bring “Liver Hook” to Hollywood. At first she was skeptical, remembers Großmann. “That’s very nice and all, but please let’s keep our feet on the ground, that’s a bit exaggerated,” she said to Rüther.

But he was already in the process of revising the script. “It didn’t last a week, but three or four months.” In addition, several US authors go over the result again. “It was clear from the start that it would take place in New York,” says Rüther. A writer from the Bronx ultimately gave the script a special “New York sound”. In the US version, Großmann’s character comes from German immigrants, which is why a German accent can shine through. “That’s also part of the story of bringing German-American people together.”

Hollywood as a big challenge

But Hollywood quickly turns out to be a bigger challenge than Berlin – from the entry and work permits to the casting and then the actual shooting, Rüther and Großmann do a kind of Hollywood crash course in a quick run-through. “We were curious about everything and didn’t even know how many obstacles there were,” says Großmann. “If we had known that, we probably never would have started.”

They learn quickly that they can only get to the actors’ agents through a casting director and through that to the actors. And you can only request one actor at a time. Finally, a casting director gets them “Mission Impossible” star Rhames as the lead actor, who likes the script – but, as is usual in Hollywood, wants a large part of the fee upfront.

“Until 14 days before filming began in Los Angeles in mid-January, nothing had been set, says Rüther. But then the shoot worked out, for nine days, in Los Angeles, with Rhames. “When I was on that set, that was it for me “It’s great, because I could really just enjoy it,” says Großmann. When it comes to directing, there is a “strict, almost military hierarchy” in Hollywood, says Rüther, who was supported by two assistants. Rhames was a “complete professional.” “I sat with him for half an hour every morning and every afternoon before each shoot and discussed it. And that was such an incredibly happy feeling.”

And then the strike came

“Uppercut” was almost finished, only a few location shoots in New York were missing – and then the actors from the US union SAG-AFTRA went on strike in mid-July. Since then, the union’s approximately 16,000 actors and actresses have no longer been allowed to make films or advertise for them. But for “Uppercut”, Rüther gets one of the few exemptions for films not produced on behalf of major studios – and thus brings “Uppercut” over the finish line.

The strike could possibly even be an opportunity because many other film productions had to be postponed, says Rüther. Above all, he was relieved that both versions of the film were finished despite all the resistance. “Of course we were always on the verge of giving up. But we always found reasons to keep going. It was a tough perseverance, we kept running into so many walls, but then we jumped over them – and it was worth it.”