Babelsberg at H’wood’s command

New structure will best serve ready-to-shoot projects

BERLIN — Studio Babelsberg wants Hollywood to know it’s open for business.

Following pics from outside producers like Mandalay (“Enemy at the Gate”) and Hallmark (“Hans Christian Andersen”), the studio has done away with its own development arm and has instead set up a structure execs say will best serve ready-to-shoot projects large and small.

The newly dubbed Babelsberg Production Services will offer producers a three-pronged setup: a soon-to-be-launched multimillion-dollar film fund from parent company Vivendi Germany, co-production opportunities through gap financing, and technical know-how for moviemakers looking for something cheaper than studios in Los Angeles.

Fund parameters

While the Vivendi funds are still in development, Babelsberg’s parent company is aiming to provide between $150 million and $500 million for each fund.

Looking to finance 50% of the projects, the funds are targeted mainly at U.S. pics with budgets ranging from $14 million to as high as $100 million. The funds “will cover the whole range, from little independent projects to potential big-budget blockbusters,” says Udo Happel, production exec at the studio.

Vivendi is planning to launch three funds this fall: two single-producer funds to back four to six pics each and a third multiproducer fund that will finance up to six projects from six different producers. While the single-producer funds will most likely be attached to U.S.-based filmmakers, the multiproducer fund is to include a more diverse list.

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to Babelsberg,” says an enthusiastic Happel.

The new funds are set up for projects that are ready to shoot with a producer attached and pre-sales in the bag.

While Babelsberg has given up developing its own material, it has been actively co-producing projects, such as Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” and Istvan Szabo’s “Taking Sides” as well as simply offering its facilities to projects like “Enemy at the Gates” or Jean-Marie Poire’s upcoming French comedy “Ma femme s’appelle Maurice,” which starts shooting in Babelsberg this month.

Babelsberg execs are ecstatic at having lured the French pic to the studio’s Potsdam location on the outskirts of Berlin. “We didn’t just beat out the competition in France — every European studio wanted to have this project,” production exec Henning Molfenter says.

Eyeing new exec

Happel and Molfenter head Babelsberg’s production division, but the studio is still looking for a replacement for production chief Rainer Schaper, who died in March.

Known as a hands-on manager, Schaper had a clear view of what was going on at the studio, say insiders. His death not only left Babelsberg without someone in charge of production, but also without the international contacts enjoyed by Schaper.

The studio has talked with a number of candidates, and an appointment is expected later this year.

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