Studio Babelsberg at 100

Since taking over Studio Babelsberg in 2004, Charlie Woebcken and Christoph Fisser have attracted a slew of high-profile international filmmakers to Berlin, overseeing the facility’s expansion and seeking greater cooperation with European rivals.

Woebcken, the company’s prexy and CEO, and his team — which also includes VP Fisser, finance chief Marius Schwarz and Henning Molfenter, head of production services — have turned the landmark German movie studio into a real international player.

Babelsberg’s most recent productions have included the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer’s “Cloud Atlas,” Joe Wright’s “Hanna,” Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous” and Paul W.S. Anderson’s “The Three Musketeers.”

The studio has in recent years lured such big-name filmmakers as Bryan Singer, Roman Polanski and Quentin Tarantino to the complex, located some 20 miles southwest from downtown Berlin.

Babelsberg serves as co-producer and equity partner on about 50% of the films that shoot at the studio, usually investing between $250,000 and $2 million depending on the project.

It has a production deal with Hollywood producer Joel Silver, who has brought a slew of movies to the facility, including Liam Neeson starrer “Unknown,” “The Apparition” and “Speed Racer.” In 2010, Babelsberg also teamed up with Paris-based Celluloid Dreams and Munich equity firm Clou Partners to form the Manipulators, which produced Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s “Chicken With Plums.”

Under Woebcken and Fisser, Babelsberg enjoyed its most profitable year in 2007 since its privatization in 1992, hosting 12 feature films, including “Valkyrie,” “The International” and “Speed Racer,” and earning record revenue of €87.1 million ($113 million) compared to $21.2 million in 2006.

More recently, however, the studio has seen business decline and is expecting an operating loss for 2011 due to fewer productions.

According to the studio execs, the overall market is suffering from a worldwide reduction in film projects in the $30 million-$65 million range. The studio also has faced increased competition from the introduction and expansion of more attractive subsidy schemes in other countries.

For Woebcken, it’s time for European studios to start working together and offer a more united front against growing competition in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Despite Germany’s generous film subsidies, there’s a need to harness and bundle subsidy programs throughout Europe in order to make the region more attractive, Woebcken argues.

“One of our biggest challenges is to streamline and optimize our soft money schemes in cooperation with other European schemes,” he says. “We are trying to bring films to Europe. It’s very important for us to optimize the possibilities to co-produce bigger films in the European community.”

By cooperating and pooling resources, Woebcken says, European studios can offer international location and studio shoots, post production and visual effects, all in one package, satisfying producers’ demands to consolidate their resources due to time and budgetary pressures.

“I think it is wise to not to be too much in competition within Europe but rather to try more to partner up and find joint projects.”

Babelsberg’s last co-production with the U.K. was “V for Vendetta” in 2005, when the sale-and-leaseback system was still in effect in Britain.

“Since then, it has become more difficult to find possibilities to use soft monies from both countries in one film. This is a challenge we have to solve in the European community in order to really be competitive against Canada and New Zealand and Australia.”

While Babelsberg’s execs are calling for greater unity among European studios, Woebcken is equally eager about partnering with foreign producers, particularly Chinese players.

Woebcken points to one of Babelsberg’s most recent productions, “Cloud Atlas,” as a perfect example.

“The producing, the ownership and the marketing of films has become much more diverse today,” he says. ” ‘Cloud Atlas’ is a film that is partly financed out of China, and that is quite a new development, which I think will come to many independent films in the next years because the Chinese market is growing fast and minimum guarantees and license fees coming out of that territory are increasing.

“In the end, it’s a strong story, a very good director and a strong cast that will finance a project. So I’m positive that this new emerging market in Asia will be for the good of European filmmakers.”

BERLIN DAILY SPOTLIGHT: STUDIO BABELSBERG AT 100
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