Hollywood wooing German helmers

Teutonic talent successfully crossing Atlantic like never before

COLOGNE, Germany -- Those who selected the film lineup for the Festival de Cannes may have snubbed German directors last month, with only Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven" making it In Competition.

But while Cannes turns its back on German talent, Hollywood cannot seem to get enough of it.

German directors are in demand like never before as the studios look to a new generation of Teutonic talent to deliver back-lot thrillers on a budget.

A quick checklist of German directors shooting in Hollywood is not a short one.

Oliver Hirschbiegel ("Downfall") has wrapped production on Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Invasion," starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and has signed on to shoot "The School" for Universal and Imagine Entertainment.

Robert Schwentke's U.S. debut, "Flightplan," took in $90 million at the domestic boxoffice and he is in production on "The Time Traveler's Wife" for New Line Cinema.

Mennan Yapo's U.S. debut, the supernatural thriller "Premonition," starring Sandra Bullock, opened to $18 million in its first weekend and has since taken in about $50 million in the U.S.

Christian Alvart ("Antibodies") is wrapping production on Paramount Pictures' "Case 39," with Renee Zellweger, set for a February 2008 release, while Marco Kreuzpaintner's sex-traffic drama "Trade," starring Kevin Klein, debuted at Sundance and hits U.S. theaters in September.

German music video director Marcus Nispel is an established talent after his "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" remake in 2003 and Universal Pictures releases his latest -- the computer-game adaptation "Alice," starring Sarah Michelle Gellar -- in July. And Martin Weisz, who also got his start in music videos, directed Fox's "The Hills Have Eyes II."

Then there is Germany's current golden boy, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose debut film, "The Lives of Others," won the Oscar and has become the most successful German film at the U.S. boxoffice since Wolfgang Petersen's "Das Boot" (1981).

Now signed with CAA, Donnersmarck hasn't announced his sophomore project, but it is certain to be a studio film, likely with the Weinstein Co., which picked up U.S. remake rights on "Lives."

Donnersmarck and most of the new generation of German directors have the advantage of arriving in America with flawless English and a childhood love of Hollywood movies. But what seems to set them apart from other foreign talent is visual style and technical acumen.

TriStar Pictures, MGM and HydePark signed up Yapo to direct "Premonition" after seeing his slick German-language thriller "Soundless" at the AFI Festival in Los Angeles in 2004.

The film, about a professional hit man, was a flop in Germany but "Premonition" producers thought it had just the right off-center look and feel they wanted for their movie.

German directors also have impressed with their ability to deliver high-gloss productions on a budget. Oliver Hirschbiegel's "The Experiment" (2001), Schwentke's "Tattoo" (2002) and Alvart's "Antibodies" (2005) look like $20 million-$30 million productions, despite costing a fraction of that.

"My experience on all these fronts is that in the German style of filmmaking, it seems to be more exacting," says Lisa Bruce, a co-producer on Alvart's U.S. debut, "Case 39." "(German directors) seem to do much more pre-planning, and then they deliver to that plan."

Technical know-how and penny-pinching production sense was the magic formula for the two most successful Germany-to-Hollywood exports: Petersen and Roland Emmerich.

Now a new German generation is following in their big-budget footsteps. They are leaving the often-dismissive European film critics behind for a more appreciative U.S. audience.