Cologne shingle brings ‘Clown’ action to cine

Pic follows former agent who fights crime as a masked vigilante

BERLIN — After years of orchestrating spectacular high-speed pileups and flinging burning cars over the Autobahn on hit series like “Alarm for Cobra 11” and “Motorcycle Cops,” Teutonic producer Action Concept is taking a cue from Hollywood and bringing its action skein “The Clown” to the bigscreen.

It may not have the nostalgic value of “Charlie’s Angels” or “Mission: Impossible,” but “The Clown” still enjoys a strong following and has helped solidify RTL Television’s position as Germany’s leading primetime broadcaster, where it ran from 1998 to 2001.

Last month RTL saw ratings leap after it replaced its low-rated primetime medical drama “Dr. Stefan Frank” with reruns of “The Clown.” A cross between “Batman” and “The A-Team,” “The Clown” follows the adventures of a former secret government agent who’s had his cover blown but continues to fight international crime as a clown-masked vigilante with the help of his helicopter-flying sidekick and a friendly female journalist. The new pic, helmed by Sebastian Vigg, stars Sven Martinek as the Clown, Goetz Otto (“Tomorrow Never Dies”) as the villainous Zorbek and Eva Habermann as the reporter in distress.

Adapting the show for the bigscreen gives Action Concept topper Hermann Joha and his crew plenty of opportunity to do what they do best — wrecking cars, detonating explosions and giving local air controllers the heebie-jeebies with their daring helicopter shots. The theatrical version of “The Clown,” budgeted at 4.2 million euros ($4.8 million) and due out early next year, is being distributed by Universum Film and has already been sold to French web M6.

Moving to feature films is the next step in what Joha sees as the company’s continued evolution. Joha is also keen to partner with Hollywood producers looking to shoot international projects in the vein of “The Fast and the Furious” and “XXX.”

With its own crew, equipment and post-production and digital studio, Action Concept can produce a feature film for a third of what it would cost in the U.S., at least below the line, says Joha. “And there’s no union here to worry about.”

Joha, a former stunt man, one-time Formula One aspirant and helicopter pilot, started the Dusseldorf-based stunt company Driving Unit in 1982 and 10 years later formed Action Concept, a film and stunt production company that also includes its own stunt school. The firm has since set up shop in Cologne, where it operates all-in-one production studios that include its own fleet of cars, trucks, motorcycles and helicopters as well as inhouse development, post-production and visual effects facilities.

Action Concept’s international recognition got a boost in June when its RTL series pilot “Wild Angels” won the Taurus World Stunt Award for foreign film. The company has raised the bar in Europe with its high-octane content. Not only have Action Concept series set ratings records, reaching auds of 6.5 million with a market share of up to 30%, they have also become mega exports for Germany, selling to more than 30 countries across Europe, Asia and South America. Both “The Clown” and “Alarm for Cobra 11” have even been turned into successful videogames.

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