Dialogue: North Rhine-Westphalia

NRW's main players talk about how and why the state is going to take the lead in film production

COLOGNE, Germany -- They are the three leaders of Germany's top media state: Michael Schmid-Ospach, managing director of Filmstiftung NRW; Andreas Krautscheid, NRW state minister for federal, European and media affairs; and Norbert Schneider, director of the NRW broadcasting authority LfM. The Hollywood Reporter's German bureau chief, Scott Roxborough, sat down with the power three to talk about the media in NRW.

The Hollywood Reporter: First, a very personal question: What makes NRW so unique?
Andreas Krautscheid: We're an adaptable breed. Since the Romans were here to visit 2,000 years ago, this area has been cross-fertilized with outside, international influences. This is key to NRW's success as a media center. We're a curious people, tolerant, open-minded and ready to try new things.
Norbert Schneider: At the moment, everyone in Germany is heading to Berlin. I came here from Berlin. And I have to say, Berlin is a lot more provincial than NRW. You can't walk the street for five minutes in Berlin without someone telling you, "Berlin's the best." You don't have that here. People are more self-confident about their abilities.
Michael Schmid-Ospach: The insatiable curiosity of the people here is something that has fascinated all the great NRW artists, from (poet) Heinrich Heine to (modern artist) Joseph Beuys. Look at the cultural landscape. It's not just the media. If you look at all the opera houses, the galleries and theaters in this area, and count them together, we are easily on the same level as Paris or London.
Andreas Krautscheid: This is a prime reason why NRW has become a hot spot for these new industries -- the games, interactive and convergence industries. Convergence has two roots that feed it: the technical, IT root and the creative, visual arts root. And both are very strong here. That's why it's no wonder the big players -- Micro-soft, EA, etc. -- are coming here.

THR: Does NRW have an image problem compared with Munich or Berlin-Babelsberg?
Schneider: The big difference is that Babelsberg and Bavaria Studios have a mythos about them. Fritz Lang and Marlene Dietrich were in Babelsberg. But for decades, Babelsberg was a production wasteland. Even now some of the studios there are not what we in NRW would consider up to scratch.
Krautscheid: We're a young film state. In our last tour in L.A., the perception was that the international films are made in Babelsberg. The statistics tell another story. Everyone looks at the big productions -- "Valkyrie," with all its issues, being a prime example. But look at the production mix. We support some 400 films a year. But we don't want ... to pump all our money into three big Hollywood films. We're looking for long-term effects to maintain and build on the industry here.

THR: What's new about the government's approach to the media?
Krautscheid: I'd call it a restart. We're trying to take what has been built here to the next level. A big part of this restart is our media cluster idea. For the first time, we are able to combine our subsidies with European subsidies and focus on growth industries both in traditional media and IT/games. We have €23 million ($33 million) for new pilot projects. It's the first time we have this kind of money for the media industry.
Schmid-Ospach: We've done a lot in terms of production -- in German films, but in particular, European co-productions. We've had a lot to do with the fact that you don't hear the expression "Europudding" anymore. Instead, we have European countries, sometimes creatively, sometimes financial, sometimes on the distribution side, coming together. Both big, important Hollywood films like "The Reader" can be shot here and European filmmakers can work here with (the likes of) John Malkovich, Willem Defoe or Kate Winslet. That's new, and it shows a new global perspective for the medium.
Krautscheid: The mix is important. In television, we are clearly No. 1. From daily soaps to action to high-quality TV drama, nowhere else in Europe is there such a concentration of TV production, and nowhere in Germany is so much television produced as in Cologne. We have, with RTL, the biggest commercial and, with WDR, the biggest public broadcaster in Europe.

THR: Where do you see the NRW media industry in five years?
Schneider: We will be fulfilling 100% of our potential. Without being arrogant or overly modest, we can say the future of the convergence industry will be here.
Krautscheid: I have very clear goals: To defend our position as Europe's No. 1 TV location. To conquer the top spot in the games industry. And, in the film industry, to narrow the gap with Munich and Berlin.
Schmid-Ospach: We have to consolidate our financial and economic assets. This summer in NRW, we had so many films shooting, we almost reached our capacity. If we can optimize the division of labor between actors, directors and crew, and the division between TV and film, in five years I expect the most exciting, most creative films will be made in NRW.
Schneider: What he means to say is that he wants to see the day when there's more fiction (in NRW) than reality.
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