The region of Berlin-Brandenburg not only boasts a long history of film production, but it is also the modern hub of the German movie industry and the main attraction for international productions that shoot in the country.
Many foreign filmmakers have been lured to the region by generous subsidies, the expertise and facilities of Studio Babelsberg and the bustling metropolis of the German capital, not to mention the scenic expanse of the surrounding state of Brandenburg, with its lush meadows, winding rivers, placid lakes, dense forests, villages that date back to the Middle Ages and lavish country palaces from the Renaissance and Baroque periods.
Berlin and Brandenburg have film-friendly administrations eager to host major international productions, not to mention the second-biggest regional film subsidy in the country. Coupled with federal funding support and a large roster of local production companies ready and willing to partner on international projects, the Berlin-Brandenburg region has plenty to offer foreign film teams, as long as they have a German co-producer or production partner.
While other German states offer comparable or even greater film support, notably Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia, a deciding factor for many large-scale productions that come to shoot in Germany is Studio Babelsberg, located 18 miles from downtown Berlin.
“Of course everybody wants to attract big-budget productions, but it depends on what these productions are looking for,” says Kirsten Niehuus, managing director of regional funder Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg. “If they need really big studio space, the only studio that can offer that is Babelsberg. Cologne has studios, but they are smaller.”
Studio Babelsberg is not only a major facility but also a key co-production partner for international filmmakers looking to shoot in Germany.
Recent co-productions that have lensed at Babelsberg and received local funding include Tommy Wirkola’s “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” with Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton; Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous,” featuring Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave; and Jaume Collet-Serra’s “Unknown,” starring Liam Neeson.
“Cloud Atlas,” whose producers include Berlin-based X Filme and A Co., also shot largely at Babelsberg, with the studio providing production services, stage rental, set construction, props and set dressing for the production.
The ambitious pic by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer, which stars Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, secured some $11.2 million from a total of six funding sources, the German Federal Film Board (FFA), the Federal Film Fund (DFFF) and four regional funders, including Medienboard.
The Medienboard itself has an annual budget of some $36 million, more than half of which is slated specifically towards feature film production.
Niehuus points out that the Medienboard’s support system has grown considerably in recent years, adding, “We are a well-equipped fund that can be combined with all different funding (schemes) in Germany. That has been done for many productions, including ‘Cloud Atlas.'”
Federal government programs include the FFA with its $125 million budget, and the Federal Culture and Media Office (BKM), with $123 million, including the $75 million-a-year DFFF rebate incentive. Unlike the other subsidy programs, the DFFF offers a 16% rebate on total spend in Germany, capped at $12.5 million.
The DFFF in particular has been key to attracting major productions to Babelsberg. “A lot of money from the DFFF goes to Berlin and Brandenburg because larger productions that come to Germany usually come to this region,” adds Niehuus.
Babelsberg has been making a concerted effort of late to increase cooperation with other European facilities in order to attract big international projects. Studio topper Charlie Woebcken recently unveiled a financing plan that would make it possible to combine film production incentives in Germany and the U.K.
Under the plan, a U.S. studio could first commission a German company with its production, allowing it to access the German DFFF rebate and other subsidies. The German producer would in turn commission a U.K. entity to entirely produce the project, making it possible for the production to tap Britain’s tax incetives system.
“Circumstances in Europe call for greater cooperation and unity within the film industry, especially with regards to studio capacity, and in that way attract more big productions to Europe,” Woebcken says.
Niehuus says most international co-productions that shoot in the region, big or small, are partnered with production companies from Berlin-Brandenburg, like Studio Babelsberg or X Filme, but also smaller companies such as Rohfilm, which co-produced Cate Shortland’s World War II drama “Lore,” and Razor Film, producer of Miranda July’s “The Future,” which shot in Los Angeles and came to Berlin for post-production.
“You probably have the broadest variety of options to work with,” Niehuus says.
Nevertheless, Niehuus admits that the number of big Hollywood productions in Germany has declined in recent years, due partly to the weak international economy, the strong European currency and, perhaps, changing strategies among U.S. studios. At the same time, she sees growing opportunities for big independent international productions like “Cloud Atlas.”
“American studios are focusing on different kinds of productions. They are focusing on what they perceive as no-brainers, like the Marvel films and these big Superman and Batman movies – you invest a lot of money, you show it worldwide everywhere on every screen and you get the money back.”
She says the mid-budget indies are looking for European money. “When you think of ‘Cloud Atlas,’ how this film is financed, it might be an interesting model for future films of that size. Films of this size find it very difficult to get money in the U.S.”
Niehuus also points to the strong perfs high-profile films that have shot in the region have enjoyed on the international festival circuit.
“Films from this region, that have been shot here or initiated here, have had an enormous presence at international film festivals. That has contributed a great deal. The Berlinale brings many people from around the world to see films that have their origin here, that either have been shot here or were developed in this region.”
She also points to the success of Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” which was co-produced by Studio Babelsberg, and Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” and “Amour,” both of which were co-produced with X Filme.
“I think if this not only happened once, but several times, then it adds to the reputation of the region as source of good producers and good films,” she says. “This is why we are always happy and proud when we have films that get an international festival audience and a certain acknowledgement.”
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