Global shooting for keeps


MUNICH -- Over the past decade, more and more top productions -- even highly elaborate ones -- have begun shooting in state-of-the-art Teutonic facilities.

German studios also are getting more aggressive in courting foreign productions. A decline in bread-and-butter television work -- German TV drama is in a slump thanks to the success of such U.S. imports as "House" and "CSI" -- means local facilities have space to fill, and they want your film to fill it.

The German government has sweetened the deal by setting up an annual 60 million euros ($90 million) tax relief for local shoots. The fund is proving very Hollywood friendly -- just ask the producers of "Valkyrie," "Speed Racer" and "The International," all of which received substantial tax breaks in exchange for shooting here.

But you don't buy a Mercedes for the dealer discount. German studios are beating out European competitors for big shoots because they can guarantee the kind of top-end equipment and below-the-line talent that makes a production purr. This comes at a price -- we aren't in Romania after all -- but even with a weak dollar, the studios seem to be making the numbers work.

In fact, two majors -- Sony Pictures Entertainment and Universal Pictures -- have both announced plans to set up their own German production outfits. French giant Canal Plus also is on the way, having recently acquired German indie distributor and production company Kinowelt.

Germany has no shortage of sound stages, but the country's decentralized political structure means top-end facilities are scattered about. This provides healthy competition between the regions but can be a mite confusing. Hence, this thumbnail guide to the biggest and best: from Berlin and Munich to Hamburg and Cologne.

Studio Babelsberg
Number of soundstages: 16
Total area: 270,000 square feet
Backlot: 180,000 square feet (including Berlin street facade used in 2002's "The Pianist") plus two more lots providing an additional 190,000 square feet
Special features: Three FX studios, including one for pyrotechnics and flooding scenes as well as a blue-screen facility.

Located just outside Berlin in the Brandenburg state capitol of Potsdam, Babelsberg is Germany's closest thing to a Hollywood back lot. The tentpole productions that lensed in Babelsberg in 2007 include the Tom Cruise historical thriller "Valkyrie," about the German army's plot to assassinate Hitler; Tom Tykwer's Clive Owen-Naomi Watts starrer "The International," about the unholy alliance between high finance and arms dealing; and the Wachowski brothers' live-action adaptation of "Speed Racer."

Bavaria Film Studios
Number of soundstages: 18 in two locations near Munich
Total area: 3,800,000 square feet
Backlot: Hoeppner House, 5,400 square feet on four floors;
Kreitmeier House, 4,100 square feet on two floors; Munich street, 250 feet long; Schwarzer Hahn, with modular interior and movable walls; Neuer Marienhof, Bavarian small-town block 200 feet long; Rote Meile, Hamburg's Reeperbahn (red light district) 200 feet long; Villa 1, 7,500 square feet on three floors; Villa 2, 4,300 square feet on three floors; Villa Mann, 13,000 square feet on three floors; Jail and Police Headquarters, 3,900 square feet on two floors.
Special features: Three Avid-Adrenaline postproduction suites and analog editing station.
Located on the outskirts of Munich, Bavaria Film Studios is a historic home for German filmmaking. The studio counts Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Billy Wilder, Wolfgang Petersen and Claude Chabrol among its directors. More recently, Oscar-nominated Nazi drama "Downfall" and Tom Tykwer's historical thriller "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" were both shot there.

Magic Media Company (MMC)
Number of soundstages: 34
Total area: (two film studios) 23,000 square feet
Special features: Inset water tank, Oscar-nominated set construction department (for 2001's "Amelie"), MMC Independent (film financing), HD and 2K post-production facilities
Cologne-based MMC is Germany's biggest television studio operator. With two film studios more than 75-feet tall, one of which has an inset water tank, the facility is unique in Germany for sets with unusual dimensions or requirements. While the studio has been the site of several big German films, MMC is now looking to Hollywood. This spring, Stephen Daldry's "The Reader," with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, moves here from Babelsberg, and the murder mystery "Number 13" starring Dan Fogler, Ewen McGregor and Ben Kingsley is set to shoot at MMC later this year.

Studio Hamburg
Number of soundstages:11
Total area: 60,000 square feet
Special features: Both on and offline AVID editing suites and Final Cut Pro HD system as well as Digi-Beta editing for postproduction and SAN-networked graphic/VFX department for storyboarding, 3D animation or title production.

Another German television giant, Studio Hamburg has a relatively new division called SHIP (Studio Hamburg International Productions) that helps to arrange financing and is co-producing international films as well as providing studio space. SHIP did the German production service on the Jodie Foster starrer "Flightplan" (2005); was co-producer and studio for the lavish young adult mystery franchise "The Three Investigators" (2007); and co-produced the upcoming thriller "Cry of the Owl" with Sienna Films and BBC Films. Studio Hamburg has three back lots -- one at their headquarters in Hamburg, one in eastern Berlin at Adlershof and one on the Babelsberg lot in Potsdam

Studio Berlin Adlershof
Number of soundstages: nine
Total area: 106,000 square feet
Special features: Four highly-equipped broadcast trucks
Studio Hamburg's Berlin facilities were originally communist East Germany's television studios, and it still does a great deal of TV, including the broadcasts of top-tier Bundesliga soccer for the country's biggest pay TV operator, Premiere. But some major film productions have been done here as well, including the computer game-inspired "Resident Evil" (2001) and Christian Carion's WWI drama "Merry Christmas" (2005). Studio Hamburg is currently building a 26,000 square foot studio at Adlershof, which will be open for business by the end of the year.

Potsdam Babelsberg
Number of soundstages: four
Total area: 65,000 square feet
Special features: Designed for high daily output, the studios can be structured to fit a production's individual needs by, for example, removing walls to combine two studios together.

The home of Germany's long-running daily soap "Good Times, Bad Times," Potsdam Babelsberg's state-of-the-art TV studios were designed especially for the production of daily soaps and telenovelas.

Warner Bros. Studios Germany
Number of soundstages: four
Total area: 60,000 square feet
Special features: Two soundproof studios, a 43-foot high inset water tank with blue screen.
Located in Bottrop-Kirchhellen, close to the Dutch border north of Duesseldorf and Essen, Warner Bros. Studios Germany is part of a theme park called Warner Bros. Movie World, which opened in 1996. The park features such locations as the library from "Batman Returns" and Rick's Cafe Americain from "Casablanca" and has two soundstages. Raoul Ruiz's "Klimt" (2006), a portrait of the Austrian art nouveau painter starring John Malkovich, also was shot there.