BERLIN — Werner Koenig, 37, co-founder and driving force behind upstart German distrib Helkon Media died Sunday in Lausanne, Switzerland, after he was caught in an avalanche in the Swiss Alps.
One of the German industry’s most promising players, Koenig was scouting locations for the upcoming Helkon pic “The Extremists” near Verbier, Switzerland, when the avalanche occurred. Koenig was previously a professional skier.
Koenig’s death came in the wake of several key deals that had turned the German company into one of the hottest outfits on the international scene. Koenig and partner Martin Heldmann founded Helkon Media in 1991.
Under Koenig’s leadership, the company made key inroads Stateside over the past year, including joint ventures with producers Chuck Roven, Joseph Singer, Joel Silver and Warren Zide/Craig Perry. Koenig was in talks to ink a similar deal with Bob Cooper’s company.
Last May, Helkon acquired a 51% stake in U.S. financing boutique Newmarket Capital, the backers of the upcoming Julia Roberts/Brad Pitt starrer “The Mexican,” and formed a U.S. distribution/production subsidiary, Helkon Intl. Pictures.
Koenig firmly believed that the Hollywood studios would continue to move away from financing the biggest movies, and that he and other cash-rich German companies had been given a unique opportunity to gain a foothold in the mainstream film biz.
“It’s a unique moment in time for German companies, doing deals in Hollywood and controlling global distribution,” he recently told Daily Variety. “Many foreigners have lost money doing that in the past, but I hope that Hollywood is sophisticated enough to know that if they burn their German partners now, it’ll be harder to deal with them in the future. Success will be to our mutual benefit.”
Koenig was also at work on plans for a Polygram-like European studio; to that end, Helkon recently took a majority stake in British distrib Redbus and formed output deals with European players TriPictures in Spain and Eagle in Italy.
Helkon Intl. Pictures boss Christian Halsey Solomon and Helkon Kinofilm subsid head Markus Reischl will take over Koenig’s production and programming responsibilities — Solomon internationally and Reischl in Germany.
“You could be talking about huge deals, but in the middle of all that it was clear Werner cared about how you were doing, how your life was. He had become a major player, partly because of the size of Helkon, but also because of his presence and personality,” Singer told Daily Variety on Monday.
Helkon’s stock, which is quoted on the Neuer Markt, fell by 25% Monday on the news of Koenig’s death.
(Michael Fleming in New York contributed to this report.)