German indie distribs up role in market

Global Indies 2011: Germany

In Germany, local indie distribs are playing an increasingly active role in the movies they choose to release.

From pre-buying at script stage and co-producing in an effort to better shape the film for local auds to simply concentrating on in-house productions, indie players are leaving less and less to chance.

For most, it’s a strategy that seems to be paying off. The German box office has seen more than an 8% increase so far this year (through Oct. 9) with revenue reaching some $713 million in the period.

Local distribs also served as producer or co-producer on three of the year’s top six independent films, including Constantin’s “The Three Musketeers” and tyke adventure “Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods” as well as Studiocanal’s thriller “Unknown,” starring Liam Neeson.

The highest grossing indie movie of the year, however, was the very British “The King’s Speech,” which grossed €16.6 million ($23 million) via Senator.

For Germany’s top indie distribs, a combination of genre pics and adult-skewed dramas make for a successful formula.

Senator followed the success of “The King’s Speech” with such releases as “The Fighter,” “The Bang Bang Club” and “Blue Valentine” as well as the upcoming “Apollo 18” and sci-fi romance “Perfect Sense” and next year’s release “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D.”

Constantin has enjoyed a successful year with muscular inhouse productions and co-productions, which also include Roman Polanski’s “Carnage.” Tarsem Singh’s “Immortals,” starring Henry Cavill, is the distrib’s other big release this year. Concorde, which saw strong performances from local Turkish-German family comedy “Almanya” as well as Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris,” is set to shake up the box office in November with “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1.”

As with “Unknown,” Studiocanal also co-produced its upcoming release “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” The company’s further licensed pickups include “Abduction,” Bertrand Tavernier’s “The Princess of Montpensier” and next year’s “Hunger Games.”German broadcasters remain important partners for high-profile indie productions. Pubcaster ARD’s production arm Degeto backed “Carnage” and Norwegian thriller “Headhunters” as well as such upcoming pics as “Cloud Atlas” from Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, and Ari Folman’s “The Congress.”

ZDF Enterprises, the commercial arm of German pubcaster ZDF, has been intensifying its focus on international indies and nabbing all rights in its acquisitions. Recent pickups include “Texas Killing Fields,” Stephen Sommers’ “Odd Thomas,” and Rob Cohen’s “I, Alex Cross.”

Margrit Staerk, head of ZDF Enterprises’ feature-film acquisitions unit, oversees theatrical exploitation (finding distrib partners for the pics).Pubcaster ZDF dedicates a weekly Monday night slot to indie films, both U.S. and European productions. It also supplies films to affiliate channels such as ZDFneo, Arte and 3Sat.

Most leading distribs in Germany acquire all rights to licensed titles to pass on to broadcasters.

Studiocanal spokesman Martin Wieandt says the German branch of the French production and distribution powerhouse generally acquires all rights to its movies. “We have a long-term supply agreement with the RTL group but do business with all other free-TV broadcasters as well, most notably the ProsiebenSat1 group.”3D pics continue to boost box office earnings. In the first six months of 2011, the local B.O. achieved its second-highest half-year revenue ever as 3D titles and hit local fare generated stellar ticket sales of some $650 million. Til Schweiger’s family comedy “Kokowaah,” with $43.5 million, helped push the market share of German films to 20.4%.

On the home entertainment front, some local distribs are decrying the lackluster DVD market and the depressingly narrow profit margins of VOD. Yet Germany’s home entertainment industry saw a drop of just 2.8% to $813 million in the first half of 2011 while achieving record figures in terms of units sold: With the sale of 50.7 million DVD and Blu-rays plus 1.7 million units sold over legitimate online platforms, the industry surpassed last year’s total of 52 million units sold. Only the slight 3.7% drop in the combined average price of all three formats to $15.49 prevented a new sales record in the period.

“The Expendables,” released by Splendid, became Germany’s highest-selling indie title in the first half of the year, coming in at No. 2 behind “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.”

Number of screens: 4,647
Number of 3D screens: 1,300
Top indie distribs (revenue Dec. 30, 2010 through Oct. 9, 2011): Constantin ($43.3 million); Concorde ($35.9 million); Senator ($29.1 million); Studiocanal ($29 million); Universum ($16.4 million)
Top exhibition chains for indie films: Cineplex, a nationwide association of independent multiplex and theater owners; CineStar; UCI
Typical minimum guarantee paid: Advances are generally based on the financing needs for films. For budgets of around €5 million ($6.9 million), advances range between 20% and 40% for theatrical and upto 20% for home entertainment.
Top 5 indie films: “The King’s Speech” ($23 million); “The Three Musketeeers” ($15.5 million); “Almanya” ($12.7 million); “Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods” ($10.35 million); “Midnight in Paris” ($6.26 million); “Unknown” ($6.24 million)
Upcoming foreign indie pickups: “The Hunter” and “Take Shelter” (Ascot Elite); “Moonrise Kingdom” (Tobis); “Shame” (Prokino)

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