International Co-Productions Curtain Call for German Cinema

More and more global cinema and TV productions are being filmed in Germany. Insiders attribute the trend to Berlin's increasing cultural draw, a growing pool of international talent and generous financing.
"Deutschland 83" is one of several German productions getting international attention.

When it comes to film production, Hollywood is the undisputed capital of the global film industry. But in recent years, the makers of international film and television shows are increasingly coming to a new location: Germany.

From Wes Anderson’s Oscar-winning “The Grand Budapest Hotel” to the latest season of U.S. television series “Homeland” to Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies," a growing list of productions are filming in Germany.

That includes three of the 23 films in competition at this year's Berlinale film festival, among them “Alone in Berlin,” an adaptation of a best-selling Nazi resistance novel starring Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson.

It’s one of 70 international-German co-productions that are screening among the festival’s 400 films, according to organizers.

“It's obvious over the last decade that Germany has established itself as a solid and viable option for productions, no matter what the scale,” said Jeremy Dawson, producer of "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which was shot in eastern Germany and headlined at the 2014 festival in Berlin.

"German film crews contain top level talent and experience,” he told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “They run their productions seamlessly in English, as well as providing strong, federal and regional financial support.”

Nine years ago the government launched the German Federal Film Fund, with €50 million a year to support the industry. Last year, 107 film projects received money from the fund and about a third were international co-productions.

The network of German film commissions also markets the country’s landscapes and backdrops to international film and TV productions, building on Germany's long cinema tradition and modern studios.

Insiders said the result has been a creative international give-and-take that has boosted Germany's reputation in film circles abroad.

Joachim Köhler, who heads a media financing team in Berlin at Commerzbank, Germany's second-largest bank, said international interest in Germany as a production locale is rising.

“Not only are producers coming to Germany from abroad, but German productions are becoming more successful internationally, which in turn increases interest in new co-productions,” he said.

Such interest is one reason why the bank, which finances small and mid-sized businesses, is focusing heavily on the film and TV industries, with five media teams across the country.

The industries together have an estimated market value of about €3.5 billion a year, the bank estimates.

In 2015, Commerzbank gave €300 million in credit to 110 film and TV productions, 20 percent of them international co-productions, Mr. Köhler said. Since 2013, the bank's share of German film financing has doubled to 30 percent.

"When I look at what’s currently in the pipeline, I’m absolutely convinced this area will continue to grow,” he said.

Two films financed by Commerzbank are premiering at the Berlinale this week: the German drama “24 Weeks” and a South African-German thriller,  “Shepherds and Butchers.” But Mr. Köhler isn't spending much time this week at the festival's movie theaters.

Instead, his team is busy behind the scenes networking and making new deals at screenings, parties and premiers. Attendace at Commerzbank’s networking lunches has been “crazy,” he said.

 

The main industry event at the Berlinale, the European Film Market, is seeing more participants than ever. Some 1,200 meetings of filmmakers, financiers, distributors, funding organizations and TV broadcasters are taking place.

The co-production marketing event "has become one of the most important platforms worldwide for trading film rights and film contents,” Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “Certainly this has a positive impact for the German film industry as well.”

Mr. Kosslick said new talent in Germany's film and TV industry is also bringing more international attention to its productions.

One such talent is American writer Anna Winger, who co-created the award-winning German TV series “Deutschland 83” with her husband, German producer Jörg Winger. The Cold War spy story won Berlinale’s first-ever TV showcase last year, premiered on U.S. channel Sundance TV last summer and aired early this year on Channel 4 in Britain.

 

 

Produced by German broadcaster RTL, the U.S. style series has a higher production quality than most German shows, which don’t typically feature a horizontal story arc.

The first German-language show to air in the United States, the series sold well abroad, and some critics have suggested the show’s breakthrough success proves Germany’s on-screen credibility is gaining momentum.

Hype this week surrounding the record €40-million budget allotted for German director Tom Tykwer's new series "Babylon Berlin" has reinforced that sentiment. Mr. Tykwer made his breakthrough in 1998 with the avant garde film "Run Lola Run,'' which was shot in Berlin. The series, scheduled to begin filming this spring, is based on best-selling noir thrillers set in Weimar Berlin and written by Volker Kutscher.

"Deutschland 83'' writer Ms. Winger said interest in German film and TV has much to do with the globalization of the media business. Though her series was produced by a German channel, she wrote it in English, making it easier to market to foreign broadcasters.

“It’s a really exciting time to be doing this because great stories are borderless,” Ms. Winger said, citing the international success of Danish political drama “Borgen” as both an inspiration and example.

A Berlin resident for 13 years, Ms. Winger is part of Berlin's growing international community, which has also helped the domestic industry. The cultural exchange has helped Berlin come into its own, she said.

“Berlin is maturing into a place like New York or London or Paris that has a lot of stories to tell,'' she said. "It’s a major city and has a lot of international people moving through, and it just becomes a part of the psychic landscape.”

Ms. Winger is appearing on several panels during the Berlinale, and recently consulted on another American-financed show, “Berlin Station,” which is to air on U.S. broadcaster Epix. She’s also working on a multi-language show for BBC America that takes place in Berlin.

In her experience, any financial incentives Germany offers are secondary to the creative allure of the city. A lot of places around the world offer attractive ways to finance films, she said. But filmmakers choose Berlin because it has a special appeal in addition to first-class production facilities and professionals.

“Germans have an incredible filmmaking tradition, so there’s no shortage of quality,” Ms. Winger said. “Not to mention that German actors are incredible. It’s all here. Both sides really benefit from it.”

 

Kristen Allen is a freelance editor at Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: k.allen@vhb.de

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