Q&A: Rola Bauer

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After successful tours of duty as president of Alliance International Television and head of international fiction at German network ProSieben, Rola Bauer set up her boutique Pan-Atlantic production/distribution house Tandem Communications in 1999. The company has made a name for itself as a shrewd financier and producer of event television that plays as well in Burbank as it does in Berlin. The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Roxborough sat down with Bauer to talk about the ambitious projects the company is bringing to AFM: the Sci Fi miniseries "Lost City Raiders," "24" creator Joel Surnow's in-production series "Night and Day" and the latest batch of telefilms from Lifetime's "Nora Roberts" series, which Tandem sells internationally.

The Hollywood Reporter: How was the climate at MIPCOM this year, and what do you expect from AFM?

Rola Bauer: At MIP this year, you could really see how the economic situation is changing the way people are doing business. For the first time, we had different networks, different buyers, sitting down at the same table. The American networks are more open now to alternative ways of financing or acquiring programming and to partnering with like-minded production companies or networks. That didn't happen before. It's become more collaborative as opposed to one network carrying full financial responsibility. We all have to face the economic realities of shrinking ad dollars and license fees. As producers, we have to deliver in a more cost-effective fashion and broadcasters have to reconsider how they insure a steady supply of high-quality product. The economic situation is making the (TV) world turn more collaborative. The pond is getting smaller and we're all learning how to navigate the waters.

THR: Tandem's international financing model seems well-suited for this new economic climate.

Bauer: We're still keeping things in perspective. We want to stay a boutique operation and make quality as opposed to quantity productions. But we are expanding and are dipping our toes into one-hour series -- teaming up with Joe Surnow and TNT on "Night And Day."

THR: You're also in the last stages of financing "The Pillars of the Earth," together with Scott Free Prods. You previously worked with them as a distributor on miniseries "The Company." Any plans to extend the partnership?

Bauer: We really enjoy working with Scott Free. They have the same production philosophy as we do. It's about quality, not quantity. That's something that's struck me in all the meetings we've had with them. So we definitely hope to find other projects to do together.

THR: You produce as well as acquire properties to sell. What sort of elements do you look for as evidence a production can travel?

Bauer: First, the concept. The theme has to be a universal one that transcends borders. Love stories, action, fantasy. And we look for stories that traditionally would be hard to finance domestically out of a single territory. Event programming that broadcasters want to complement their regular domestic productions.

THR: What about cast? A star on U.S. television can be an unknown internationally. And vice-versa.

Bauer: That is the secret recipe to our success. We are in constant communication with the networks -- both in the U.S. and internationally. We do a huge amount of market intel. With the Nora Roberts collection, for example, where we're the international distributor -- we get lists and lists of casting suggestions from (producer) Stephanie Germain and we check them with our international partners, to see if this or that actor means something for ARD in Germany, Antena 3 in Spain or ITV in the U.K. But the most important thing is getting the right actor for the role.

THR: You often have very big European stars – Germany's Bettina Zimmerman or Benno Furmann, France's Elodie Frenck – in key roles in your productions.

Bauer: I think it's important that we develop European talent. I think one of our strengths is that we recognize that there are great actors all over the world. The Germans in our productions are not the Teutonic fist-pounding stereotypes you often see. And, again, they have to fit the story. "Impact" is a perfect example. (German star) Benjamin Sadler plays a European scientist in a story about scientists from different parts of the world coming together to stop a rogue asteroid that threatens to destroy the earth.

THR: Your productions are very high end. Is the overall financial uncertainty affecting the prices broadcasters are willing to pay?

Bauer: Very much. Anyone telling you there's no impact is just looking away. The ad dollar is going down every day. Every network is seeing that -- a 15%, 20%, 30% drop. So what do you do in that situation? You have to juggle your budget -- your production budget, your overhead budget, to save money while still maintaining the flow of fresh, original product. This brings me back to what I said earlier -- this is why more people are sitting around the same tables trying to meet this challenge. But I'm sure we will.
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