Germany's steady incentives keep int'l biz flowing

Zurich hosts its first Film Finance Forum, with a heavyweight lineup examining financing and economic trends in the international film sector. But the potential of Switzerland as a location for the global film industry will also be on the table.

Topping the list of leading industry and finance experts attending the Sept. 25 event is Bernhard Burgener, who not only serves as chief exec of German entertainment conglom Constantin Medien but also of its main subsidiary, Swiss film and sports marketing group Highlight Communications, as well as Munich-based producer-distrib powerhouse Constantin Film, Germany’s most successful film company.

“The state of the European film industry has been impacted by the transformation of an analog into a digital world,” says Burgener. “This technological change is an opportunity as well as a challenge for all segments, from production to distribution and sales and exploitation in the cinema, home and mobile. It’s vital that the film industry manages to get beyond this transitional period as fast as possible.”

Constantin Film has remained Germany’s top local film producer and distributor with upcoming productions that include Paul W.S. Anderson’s 3D “The Three Musketeers” and Christian Ditter’s “Vicky and the Treasure of the Gods,” the sequel to Michael Herbig’s successful 2009 tyke adventure “Vicky the Viking,” which garnered some $40 million at the box office and became Germany’s most successful film of 2009.

“The German subsidy system is an example of a functioning system — which is clearly seen in the increasing market share and artistic success,” says Burgener. “But film support alone cannot solve all the problems. The best support for filmmakers and producers is a creative environment that allows them to bring extraordinary stories to the audience. My task at Constantin Film is to provide this creative environment.”

Also on hand at the Finance Forum will be Carl Woebcken, president and CEO of Studio Babelsberg, who will be discussing soft money and utilizing government and regional incentives.

Since taking over the studio from Vivendi Universal in 2004 with Christoph Fisser, Woebcken and his partner have solidified Babelsberg’s role as a key German partner for international productions, thanks not only to its soundstages and vast backlot, but also to its easy access state subsidies.

Germany’s combined federal and regional film and cultural subsidies amount to some $475 million a year, making it the envy of many of its less fortunate European neighbors.

While the flailing economy has forced some European film subsidies to slash their budgets or reduce spending, Bavarian regional funder FimFernsehFondsBayern (FFF) has recently increased its annual budget by some ?350,000 ($450,967).

The increase comes by way of pubcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk — the FFF’s second-biggest shareholder after the state of Bavaria — which is upping its contribution by 11.34% to $4.4 million a year. The FFF’s total annual budget will increase from its current $35.57 million to more than $36 million.

Bayerischer Rundfunk’s move follows a similar increase earlier this year by the Bavarian state government and, last year, by pubcaster ZDF.

The FFF is the third-largest regional funder in Germany after the Filmstiftung NRW in North Rhine-Westphalia, which has an annual funding budget of some $46 million, and the Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, which last year upped its budget by $1.3 million to $37.2 million and just recently saw commercial broadcaster RTL Television add $636,000 a year to its kitty.

RTL’s overall contributions to the country’s film subsidies now exceed $9 million.

Kirsten Niehuus, head of regional funder Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, says international filmmakers have been increasingly looking elsewhere for financing, and Germany is benefiting from the international talent it attracts.

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