Indie tops Geman market but sees moves ahead

Constantin Film has not only solidified its position as Germany’s most successful independent producer and distributor in the last decade, it’s also launched hugely successful international film franchises and become a major force in television production. Now part of a major media conglom, Constantin is expanding across Europe.

Constantin went public in 1999 and was later acquired by Swiss media giant Highlight Communications, which took the company private last year following a squeeze-out of minority shareholders. A corporate merger by Munich-based TV and rights company EM.Sport last year resulted in the creation of Constantin Medien, of which Constantin Film forms a core segment.

Constantin Medien, in which media entrepreneur Leo Kirch is the largest single shareholder, is also active in sports and owns sports channel DSF, production company Plazamedia and sports rights sales agency Team. The company also produces the Bundesliga soccer channel LIGA total! for Deutsche Telekom’s IPTV and mobile TV platforms.

For Constantin, the new ownership structure has brought greater opportunities. Constantin Film CEO Bernhard Burgener, who also serves as chief exec of parent Constantin Medien and directly oversees the conglom’s other main segments, has set out to establish the group as a new power in the European entertainment arena.

That includes plenty of opportunities for Constantin Film and a lot of possibilities for growth.

“We are expanding heavily internationally,” says Martin Moszkowicz, Constantin’s head of film and television, “mainly at the moment in the television field — but I can imagine there are other areas that we will continue to (grow), and that is definitely something that is easier within a bigger group. We are looking for growth not just because we need growth, we are looking for growth when it makes sense.”

The company has been especially successful with the export of entertainment formats from its Constantin Entertainment TV subsidiary, itself one of Germany’s leading TV production companies.

Constantin has come a long way since Bernd Eichinger took it over in 1977. Under Eichinger’s management, it became a leading production company with a keen sense for material that would play beyond German borders.

Among its early successes were international hits like Wolfgang Petersen’s fantasy epic “The Neverending Story” and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “The Name of the Rose,” starring Sean Connery. Throughout the 1990s, Constantin scored big with a slew of comedies like “Der bewegte Mann” (Maybe … Maybe Not), “The Superwife” and “Ballermann 6.”

Constantin has continued to turn out critically acclaimed hits as well as mainstream comedies and family fare and retains by far the biggest box office market share among independent distribs. Last year it finished fourth overall with a 10.6% market share, ahead of Disney, Universal and Paramount, thanks to the phenomenal success of its tyke adventure “Vicky the Viking,” which garnered some $40 million at the box office and became Germany’s most successful film of 2009.

“Besides Bernie (Eichinger), who is the master of all classes, there are about 15, 16 producers within Constantin and within our subsidiary structure that are providing us with product, either feature film or television, or both,” Moszkowicz says. “And that is the huge strength that we have.”

Constantin’s biggest box office draws of the past decade have included such high-profile titles as “Pope Joan,” “The Baader Meinhof Complex,” “The Wave,” “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,” “Downfall” and the Oscar-winning “Nowhere in Africa.”

This year’s slate kicks off in a big way with Uli Edel’s “Zeiten aendern dich,” a rags-to-riches story of a Berlin rapper, loosely based on the life of hip-hop artist Bushido, who also toplines the pic.

Also coming to theaters this year are such high-profile titles as “Jerry Cotton,” an action comedy based on Germany’s most successful pulp fiction series; “Animals United,” a stereoscopic CGI feature production based on Erich Kaestner’s classic book; and “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” the fourth installment of the franchise and Constantin’s first stereoscopic 3D live-action movie.

Other highly anticipated pics include “We Are the Night,” a new take on the urban vampire genre by Dennis Gansel (“The Wave”); tyke title “Hier kommt Lola”; and Doris Doerrie’s “The Hairdresser,” which unspools at this year’s Berlinale.

Moszkowicz credits the talent at the group’s various production shingles behind Constantin’s success, among them Christian Becker’s Munich-based Rat Pack Filmproduktion, which was Germany’s most successful production company last year thanks to “Vicky the Viking.” Rat Pack is also producing “Jerry Cotton.”

Constantin’s other main shingles include Olga Film, which is active in both TV and film and produced Doerrie’s recent hit, “Cherry Blossoms.”

“In the feature film and television business, Constantin has no comparison in the German market,” says Moszkowicz. “There is no one that has a similar profile when it comes to the producers that work with Constantin.”

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