TMG's high-brow production arm


In a country where film and television product rarely travels beyond its borders, being risk-averse is a necessity.

Which is why Clasart, TMG's production arm, can seem like a flat-out oddity. A small company founded in 1977 to produce classical music concerts and operas for television, it now quietly delivers high-end miniseries and theatrical movies that can seem costly compared with other German fare.

But then, it's not really German fare, according to Rikolt von Gagern, who, through his company GATE, is in charge of Clasart's TV productions. "This is not German television product," he says of such lavish miniseries as "Moby Dick" and "The Sea Wolf." "We are making high-end television, with English-speaking writers, English-speaking directors and English-speaking actors. The producer and the money come partially from Germany, but they are international projects."

Many of these boast international names like William Hurt, Ethan Hawke and Tim Roth, which gives them some measure of security, but still makes them a gamble, given their cost. That gamble is mitigated to some degree by a usual 60%-70% of presales and longtime partnerships with such companies as Robert Halmi's RHI in the U.S. and Justin Boodle's Power in the U.K.

But Tele Munchen's Herbert Kloiber nonetheless has committed to real risk for projects he believes in.

"In many cases he carried the main financial risk of a project himself," notes Clasart's Markus Zimmer, managing director of TMG's distribution arm, Concorde Filmverleih.

Many Clasart titles often have a built-in niche audience before the cameras start rolling, Zimmer points out. "It's very important for us that the subject matter lend itself clearly to a marketing campaign. We are not limited to certain genres, but can create an arc from the adaptation of a book for teenagers like 'The Cloud' -- with a very clear message against nuclear power -- to a German historical dramas like 'Jew Suss' or 'Vision,' which focused on a certain religious and esoteric audience."

As for classical music, the main staple of the tiny company's output more than 30 years ago and a personal passion of Kloiber's, it's still alive and kicking. In January Clasart made a deal with the New York Metropolitan Opera for the television rights to its operas for most not-English-speaking territories, while already screening them on the ever-growing number of digital screens in Germany and Austria.
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