“You can’t stay out of production if you want to be in the TV business,” says Tele-Munchen topper Herbert Kloiber.
Producing may be one of TM’s less profitable divisions but “it’s a necessary tool for a company that wants to be integrated into the market,” he continues. “I don’t hate producing; I just prefer leaving it to others.
“On a commissioned production, you can take about 7.5% of the budget as producer’s fee,” he adds, “and another 6% for the financing. At six to seven shows a year, at 2 million marks ($1.35 million) each, that’s peanuts; but it’s something if you keep it up. More importantly, it brings you into the mix.”
“Production in Germany is always difficult,” notes sales chief Philip von Alvensleben. “German networks don’t give producers access to their own products. You cannot build a library. Even a deal where 50% of subsequent profits would return to the network would be fine. Until then, it’s like starting from scratch every time. Producing is a service here; it’s not a way of building up assets.”
According to von Alvensleben, international sales are low. “The problem is, no one buys German product but Germans. If you make a movie as a director or an independent producer, a TV station finances the project, you get paid well, and you’re happy. But a company with overhead never makes a real profit.”
Despite all this, TM plans to step up production in the future instead of easing off. “In some years, we’ve produced next to nothing,” says von Alvensleben. “This year, if you include productions like game shows and other entertainment, we’re spending maybe 20 (million) to 30 million marks ($13 million to $20 million).”
In the early ’90s, TM produced its first hands-on English-language theatrical feature, “The Lucona Affair,” with David Suchet and Juergen Prochnow. The pic was profitable on TV, selling to 80 countries, but was otherwise not a hit. Since then, the company hasn’t ventured back into the waters of big-budget international features in English.
It has, however, continued producing telfilms, series and shows, and the occasional German theatrical pic. In early September, TM Produktion began lensing the comedy feature “Workaholic” in Munich.
The company also co-finances many Yank and other international features, including this year’s French Cannes opener, “The City of Lost Children,” and Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys,” with Bruce Willis and Brad Pitt. Kloiber projects that TM spent around $50 million on international coproductions last year.
In fall ’92, TM tried another production tack: Hannibal.
Hannibal Prods. was set up as a 50/50 joint venture with Italy’s RCS Video (owned by Fiat/Rizzoli), with administrative offices in Munich and managing director Timothy Buxton running the creative side in London, where the joint venture Hannibal Portman makes TV dramas. London-based Majestic handles distribution.
Productions so far include the $8 million “Red Eagle,” based on Ken Follett’s “Lie Down with Lions,” (starring Timothy Dalton) and Rosemunde Pilcher’s $7.5 million “September” (Michael York, Jacqueline Bisset). A TV remake of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca” is skedded to go into production next year.
Hannibal Portman turns over around $10 million-$13 million a year.
“We founded Hannibal with RCS based on the idea that Italy is the continental European country whose take on American-style international production is most similar to the German take,” says Kloiber. “We set up (the creative side) in London because the writers and directors and actors are there.”
“Hannibal developed TM’s increasing desire to be involved in high-quality, high-budget drama programming conceived and produced for international audiences,” says Buxton.
“In all these productions,” Buxton continues, “there’s a careful and sometimes difficult development process on all levels of the production.”
“The principle,” says von Alvensleben, “is to find mainstream programming that we can sell here and to the States – if not to the networks, then to cable.”
The limitation imposed by Germany as a market is a major problem. Though von Alvensleben says, “Our primary goal is domestic programming,” he adds, “If it makes sense to go international with a project, we will.”
“It’s hard to get into the U.S. network market,” he continues.
“For a theatrical production, you have to make sure it works in America,” says von Alvensleben. “And the Americans are the only ones who know how to do that well.
“Europeans look up to Hollywood. We’re overwhelmed by it,” claims von Alvensleben. “Having lunch with a producer in Hollywood is far more impressive than virtually anything in Europe – though it may be worth less practically.”