U.S. majors building biz, buzz in Germany


Complete Berlinale coverage

BERLIN -- Hollywood studios seem to be cribbing Kennedy lately as the majors rush to declare "Ich bin ein Berliner."

Every one of them, with the notable exception of Paramount, now has or soon will have production operations in Germany, set up to churn out local-language films mainly for the local audience.

Universal is the latest to set up shop, with a Berlin-based office to be run by Andrea Willson, a veteran executive who ran Columbia Pictures' German operations until the division shut down five years ago.

But Columbia parent Sony is coming back, announcing plans to boost its German-language output by turning its Berlin-based operation into the company's European production headquarters. Maike Haas, Sony's new vp international production Europe, will run the operation.

Disney, which has a long history of producing German-language fare, is revving up its local division to crank out such family entertainment titles as the hugely successful local kids franchise "The Wild Soccer Bunch." The fifth "Soccer Bunch" film hits theaters March 21 in Germany.

Disney has made it clear that it intends to make room on its German release slate for local-language fare, bumping off more middling U.S. titles.

That won't be Universal's strategy in Germany, said Christian Grass, Universal Pictures International president of international productions and acquisitions.

"It's not about replacing titles on our slate, it's about complementing them with local productions," Grass said. "It is really about growing the market overall, especially in territories like Germany, which has a low per-capita moviegoing audience compared to other markets."

20th Century Fox also is looking to boost its take of the German theatrical pie by investing in homegrown productions. Fox signed an output deal with veteran Munich-based production house Claussen+Wobke+Putz in 2006 for at least five feature films.

The first title to be produced under the agreement, Marco Kreuzpaintner's $12 million fantasy film "Krabat," hits German theaters in October.

The German invasion might not be over yet, either. Germany's leading independent production house, Constantin Films, is reportedly up for sale, with suitors thought to include Paramount.

Universal had considered buying the Munich-based group, which produced Tom Tykwer's "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" and Uli Edel's upcoming feature on German terrorism in the 1970s, "Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex."

Local players are for the most part welcoming the major studios with open arms. Companies such as Studio Hamburg, UFA and Studio Babelsberg are eager to work with them, providing production facilities and services for their local operations.

German talent also welcomes the move.

"I think this is, in a way, about building bridges, which is what film should be about," said Armin Mueller Stahl, who is at the Berlin International Film Festival promoting his latest project, Heinrich Breloer's $21 million epic "Buddenbrooks."

"People sometimes forget that Germany has a long film tradition -- originally it was German filmmakers like Fritz Lang who went to Hollywood to teach them how to do things."

But Stefan Arndt, head of Berlin's X Filme Creative Pool, is more skeptical.

"Good luck to them. We welcome the competition, it's always good for business," the "Goodbye, Lenin!" producer said. "But before we get too excited, let's wait and see what they do. (The studios) have tried this before, and it didn't always work out.

"First they have to prove they can do what we have been doing for years."


Producers looking to shoot their entire project or a big chunk of it in Germany, often take advantage of the country's generous subsidy systems -- be it nationwide funds like the DFFF or the FFA-subsidies or local state funds. The most important rules are that production has not yet begun, most of the financing must be secured and a cinematic window of six months must often be given for the German market. In general, it is advisable to access subsidies together with a German co-producer, since even in the states where this is not required, it pays to have detailed knowledge of the deciding panels and their little quirks and preferences on one's side. Rules often vary in regards to low-budget-films. Funds are often given out as interest-free loans, with the producer having the option to invest the money (in case of recoupment) into a new project in the state. The following are the most important funding sources:

Germany's newest funding scheme reimburses a producer for up to 20% of his German expenses. Main requirements are a German co-producer (who acts as applicant), a legally binding distribution contract (Only theatrical features or documentaries are funded) and at least 25% of the budget being spent in Germany. There is also a point system in place for German hires in key positions, German content and production requirements. Funding is regularly up to 4 million euros, but can be extended to 10 euros under special circumstances.

Contact: Christine Berg, project director, berg[at]ffa.de
Phone: +49 (0) 3027577525
Fax: +49 (0) 3027577555
Region: Nationwide
Application deadlines: throughout the year
Budget (2008): 60 million euros
Recently funded: "Valkyre," "Speed Racer," "The International"

German Federal Film Board (FFA)
The German Federal Film Board grants interest-free loans of up to 250,000 euros (up to 1 million euros under special circumstances) to German films and German co-productions. Only theatrical features are funded. Though there is no ironclad rule, the rule of thumb is that the grant should not be more than 10% of the money spent in Germany. A letter of intent or deal memo for German theatrical distribution is deemed sufficient. The screenplay has to be submitted in German. Funding decisions are made by committee, about a month and a half after the application deadline.

Contact: Daniela Sutor, Volker Engelmann, sutor[at]ffa.de, engelmann[at]ffa.de
Phone: +49 (0) 3027577421420
Fax: +49 (0) 3027577444
Region: Nationwide
Application deadlines: 03.31.2008, 05.31.2008, 09.30.2008
Budget (2007): 13.51 million euros
Recently funded: "The Lives of Others," "The Reader," "The Desert Flower," "The Last Station"

Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg

The Medienboard funds projects that are produced in Berlin or Brandenburg, the state that surrounds it. A producer with a permanent base in Berlin-Brandenburg or at least in Germany can apply. One hundred percent of the funds must be spent within the region. Before projects can be submitted, a meeting with one of the Medienboard's funding consultants is mandatory. Decisions are announced one and a half to two months after the application deadline.

Contact: Christian Berg, c.berg[at]medienboard.de
Phone: +49 (0) 3317438723
Fax: +49 (0) 3317438799
Region: Berlin, Brandenburg
Major cities: Berlin, Potsdam
Application deadlines: 02.19.2008, 04. 29.2008, 07.07.2008, 11.25.2008
Budget (2007): 26 million euros
Recently funded: "The Reader," "Speed Racer," "Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex"

Filmstiftung NRW

Producers applying for a grant from the Filmstiftung do not necessarily have to be German or reside in Germany. The interest-free loan may not exceed 50% of the applying producers own investment; 150% of the loan will have to be spent in North Rhine-Westphalia. Television films are also eligible for funding. Decisions are made about six weeks after the application deadline.

Contact: Claudia Droste-Deselaers, info[at]filmstiftung.de
Phone: +49 (0) 211930500
Fax: +49 (0) 211930505
Region: North Rhine-Westphalia
Major cities: Cologne, Dusseldorf, Ruhrgebiet (Essen, Bochum, Dortmund)
Application deadlines: 02.7.2008, 04.10.2008, 06.19.2008, 09.11.2008, 11.20.2008
Budget (2008): 33 million euros
Recently funded: "The Reader," "Klimt," "The Palermo Shooting"

FilmFensehFonds Bayern

Films can be funded for up to 30% of the budget and may not exceed 1.6 million euros (motion pictures) or 530,000 euros (television films). No less than 150% of the loan has to be spent in Bavaria. The screenplay and the application have to be submitted in German. The decision will be announced four weeks after the application deadline.

Contact: Dr. Michaela Haberlander, michaela.haberlander[at]fff-bayern.de
Phone: +49 (0) 8954460215
Fax: +49 (0) 8954460221
Region: Bavaria
Major cities: Munich
Application deadlines: 04.01.2008, 06.10.2008, 09.16.2008, 11.11.2008
Budget (2006): 25 million euros
Recently funded:    "Perfume," "Downfall," "The Girl Cut in Two"

FilmForderung Hamburg

The FilmForderung Hamburg funds films that are produced in the city of Hamburg or the state of Schleswig Holstein. Films may receive an interest-free loan for up to 50% of their budget. Under special circumstances the committee can decide to fund up to 70 (budget over 800,000 euros) to 80% (budget under 800,000 euros). The screenplay has to be submitted in German. The decision will be announced six weeks after the application deadline.

Contact: Sybille Consten
Phone: +49 (0) 403983728
Fax: +49 (0) 403983711
PC-Fax: +49 (0) 40398372528
Region: Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein
Major cities: Hamburg, Kiel
Application deadlines: 01.16.2008, 04.02.2008, 08.27.2008 (budgets over 800,000 euros)
02.20.2008, 04.23.2008, 09.24.2008 (budgets under 800,000 euros)
Budget (2007): 8.3 million euros
Recently funded: "Eyes Wide Open," "35 Rhums," "Mamarosh"


Nordmedia, which handles funding for the state of Lower Saxony and the city-state of Bremen, funds theatrical movies and television-films on an equal basis. The decision is announced ten weeks after the application deadline.

Contact: Jochen Coldewey, j.coldewey[at]nordmedia.de
Phone: +49 (0) 51112345650
Fax: + 49 (0) 511123456 29
Region: Lower Saxony, Bremen
Major cities: Hannover, Bremen
Application deadlines:    04.10.2008, 09.03.2008
Budget (2008): 9 million euros
Recently funded:     Little Amadeus (TV), Baltic Storm, Der Weg der Taifune (TV)

Mitteldeutsche Medienforderung (MDM)

In order to obtain funding from the MDM, a meeting with a funding consultant has to take place at least 14 days before the application deadline. At least 100% of the funding must be spent in Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt or Thuringia. Since the committee making the funding decision is comprised of delegates from all three states, producers might want to make sure that there spending is not limited to only one of them. Decisions are announced about 2 1⁄2 months after the application deadline.

Contact: Dr. Markus Gorsch, markus.goersch[at]mdm-online.de
Phone: +49 (0) 3412698712
Fax: +49 (0) 3412698765
Region: Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia
Major cities: Dresden, Leipzig
Application deadlines: 02.28.2008, 04.24.2008, 07.10.2008, 09.11.2008, 12.04.2008
Budget (2008): 11 million euros
Recently funded: "Irina Palm," "The Trap," "The Reader"

Other funding institutions:

Der Beauftragte der Bundesregierung fur Kultur und Medien (BKM) (state ministry; nationwide) www.filmfoerderung-bkm.de

Kuratorium Junger deutscher Film (cultural funding; nationwide) www.kuratorium-junger-film.de

MFG Medien- und Filmgesellschaft Baden-Wurttemberg mbH (state of Baden-Wurttemberg)

Filmburo Bremen e.V. (funding for the city-state of Bremen)

Hessian Film Fund

Kulturelle Filmforderung MV (cultural funding for production in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern)

Saarland Medien GmbH (funding body for films shot in the state of Saarland)

Compiled by Karsten Kastelan