RTL backs new production/distribution arm

BERLIN — Germany’s indie film biz is bustling as major domestic players launch new production and distribution arms, and foreign players move in to take over leading local companies.

The biggest change hitting the local industry is UFA Cinema, the new production and distribution shingle being launched by RTL Group’s Potsdam-based UFA Film & TV Produktion, which has long focused on TV but is now setting its sights on the bigscreen.

Company lured away Constantin Film exec Thomas Friedl, who will oversee distribution at the company and join fellow toppers Nico Hofmann and Juergen Schuster of UFA-owned Teamworx and UFA chief Wolf Bauer.

Bauer says the new company will build on UFA’s long cinema tradition, which dates back to the 1920s with such classic works as “Metropolis” and Marlene Dietrich starrer “The Blue Angel.” UFA’s theatrical production wound down after Bertelsmann acquired it in 1964 and shifted its focus to TV.

“The German market is growing and changing rapidly, and we sense there is great potential for a new ambitious commercial player with quality in mind,” Bauer says, adding that the conditions for higher-quality films with bigger budgets in Germany have improved considerably in view of the government’s ramped-up film support.

The company has so far only announced its first title, Urs Odermatt’s “Mein Kampf,” an adaptation of George Tabori’s theatrical work about the life of Adolf Hitler as a young man in Vienna, although UFA has some 40 projects in development. Bauer says UFA will produce up to eight films a year with budgets ranging from

E4 million to E15 million ($6.4 million-$24 million), but stresses that in order to raise the appeal of German film, it’s looking at projects with considerably larger budgets.

UFA Cinema is sure to become a major counterweight to Constantin’s long-standing dominance of the market.

Constantin, as usual, leads the pack of indie distribs so far this year, and in recent weeks has even become the No. 1 distributor overall with its hit drama “The Wave,” about a political science class experiment that goes awry and transforms a beloved teacher into a hip, modern-day Fuehrer. Company also enjoyed a big success with “Asterix at the Olympic Games” and is sure to fill cinemas with 1970s terrorist drama “The Baader-Meinhof Complex,” which hits theaters this fall.

Local distribs have been eating away at the majors’ market base with a combination of homegrown product and attractive acquisitions.

Concorde looks set to smash the competition and capture a major piece of the pie this year with its Marvel double-whammy “Iron Man” and “The Incredible Hulk.”

Universum, albeit partnering with Disney, scored the biggest local hit of the year so far with German-U.K. documentary “Earth,” while Tobis managed to boost its market share in the first four months of the year with its boffo hit “P.S. I Love You.”

The German market has become so enticing that it’s attracting foreign players eager for some of the sizeable Teutonic box office.

StudioCanal purchased 100% of Kinowelt earlier this year for an estimated $142 million, giving the Gallic major an important foothold in Germany and beefing up Kinowelt’s film muscle. The distrib’s upcoming pics include local drama “Run for Your Life,” starring Max Riemelt, and U.K. heist thriller “The Bank Job.”

Germany’s subsidy coffers and production infrastructure have made the country an attractive location for both local and international filmmakers. Last year, federal and state subsidies put up a total of $385 million for production of features, TV movies, documentaries and short films as well as support for script and development.

That sum includes $95 million from the government’s Federal Film Fund (DFFF), which launched last year and bolstered local and international production well beyond initial expectations. The DFFF grants productions that shoot in Germany a 20% refund on local spend.

So far this year, 16 productions have been selected for DFFF funding, including Michael Haneke’s upcoming “The White Band” and Anno Saul’s supernatural thriller “Past Perfect,” starring Mads Mikkelsen. In 2007, the fund backed 99 local and international productions, including Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie” and the Wachowskis’ “Speed Racer.”

GERMANY STATS

FILM FINANCE AT A GLANCE
Total number of film starts in 2007:
397
Total film production investment: estimated at $1 billion
Total film production spend in 2007: N/A
Local subsidy and grant spends in 2007: $385 million
Anticipated subsidy/grant spend for 2008: $448 million

INCENTIVES
German Federal Film Fund (DFFF):
A $95 million-a-year fund granting productions that shoot in Germany a 20% refund on local spend.
Federal Film Board (FFA): The FFA has some $55 million annually for film production and script development. Financing is allotted to previous recipients who have met certain commercial and critical criteria as well as in the form of a conditionally repayable, interest-free loan, depending on the project and on certain criteria. Funding can range between $395,000 and $1.6 million.
Similar to the FFA, the regional subsidy offices require that part of the production or post take part in their home states or regions.
Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg: Production and development coin: $38 million
The org will be raising its overall budget $4.8 million) through 2009.
Filmstiftung NRW: Production and development coin: $47 million
FFF Bayern: Production and development coin: $35 million

WEB
German Federal Film Fund:
ffa.de/content_dfff/dfff_leitfaden.phtml?language=en
Federal Film Board: ffa.de
Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg: medienboard.de
Filmstiftung NRW: filmstiftung.de
FFF Bayern: fff-bayern.de

B.O. Stats 2007
Top film:
“Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” $63.1 million
Total B.O.: $1.05 billion
Total number of releases: 484

PICKUPS
“Babylon A.D.,” Concorde
“Defiance,” Constantin Film
“Blindness,” Kinowelt
“Splice,” Senator
“Happy-Go-Lucky,” Tobis

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