Euro producers may get credit crisis benefit

Discussions of tax incentives at international film confab

COLOGNE, Germany -- The credit crisis could have a sliver lining for European producers as cash-strapped U.S. filmmakers are forced to turn to the international marketplace to finance their projects.

Speaking at the opening panel of the International Film Conference in Cologne on Monday, indie film veteran including Bleiberg Entertainment CEO Ehud Bleiberg, IFP executive director Michelle Byrd and Oscar-winning producer Peter Herrmann ("Nowhere in Africa") agreed that, in the indie film world, the center of gravity might be shifting towards Europe.

"The traditional way of financing independent films in the U.S. isn't working anymore," said Bleiberg, suggesting that U.S. independents need to embrace international co-production if they hope both to get their films made, and have a chance of recouping their investment.

"With tax and other incentives in the U.S. you can maybe cover 30% of your risk, but you still have to recoup 70%," Bleiberg said. "If you can do a European co-production with Germany, France, Spain or Italy say, you can get up to 80% of your budget from European soft money, leaving just 20% risk."

Herrmann agreed that for many U.S. companies, the national blinkers have come off.

"It used to be that U.S. producers were only interested in (foreign producers) if you could get them money. Now they are interested in real co-production," he said.

But famed German director Tom Tykwer, who gave a keynote speech to open the conference, warned European filmmakers of the perils of diving into the murky waters of the U.S. film business. Tykwer spoke of the Byzantine layers of bureaucracy and legal complications involved in the making of his U.S.-German co-production "Heaven" (2002) and advised German filmmakers "to only do a co-production with the U.S. if it makes sense for the story."

Bleiberg said European producers and directors should be more confident to tell local stories for an international market, instead of trying to "tailor their films to a U.S. audience." And that they should be aware of the leverage they have.

"Here in Europe you are in a much better position than we are in the U.S.," he said. "American producers who have had to go outside to get financing suddenly need international partners. I truly think for European producers, this could be a golden age."

The International Film Congress, backed by the NRW Film Board, ends Tuesday.