In 1974 an acquaintance from Tallinnfilm approached Tarkovsky to write a screenplay on a German theme. Tarkovsky considered Thomas Mann and E.T.A. Hoffmann, and also thought about Ibsen's Peer Gynt. In the end Tarkovsky signed a contract for a script based on the life and work of Hoffmann. Tarkovsky planned to write the script during the summer of 1974 at his dacha. Writing was not without difficulty, less than a month before the deadline he had not written a single page. He finally finished the project in late 1974 and submitted the final script to Tallinnfilm in October.
Although the script was well received by the officials at Tallinnfilm, it was the consensus that no one but Tarkovsky would be able to direct it. The script was sent to Goskino in February 1976, and although approval was granted for proceeding with making the film the screenplay was never realized. In 1984, during the time of his exile in the West, Tarkovsky revisited the screenplay and made a few changes. He also considered to finally direct a film based on the screenplay but ultimately dropped this idea.