Studio Hamburg’s SHIP, finance set sail

Division looks to attract Euro co-prod'ns with $5 mil-$15 mil budgets

BERLIN — Studio Hamburg, one of Germany’s oldest players, is moving to fill some of the holes left on the international stage by now-extinct rivals and looking to beef up English-language production on two fronts.

Company’s core film and TV unit, Studio Hamburg Production for Film and Television, has launched a new English-language feature film production division. Headed by L.A.-based Scottish producer Stuart Pollok, Studio Hamburg Intl. Production (SHIP) will focus on the development of commercially attractive European co-productions with budgets ranging from the average $5 million up to $15 million or higher.

Pollok, a former executive VP at Prelude Pictures, says the company will look to make commercial signature projects for both European and worldwide auds, pointing to “Bend It Like Beckham,” which was partially shot in Hamburg, as the kind of project SHIP would find attractive.

Sytze van der Laan, head of Studio Hamburg Production, adds that “the business strategy is ultimately to own our own productions and build a library, and the key to that is utilizing as many relationships and financing tools as possible.”

Move signals an intensification of Studio Hamburg’s international engagement following the disappearance of the once cash-rich Neuer Markt players and severe cost-cutting in the local TV industry that has locked out many indie players.

“A bad time for business means a good time for new ideas,” says van der Laan.

Adds Pollok, “If the climate is bad, you can either walk away from it all or you can invest where you think the future lies, and investing is what Studio Hamburg is doing.”

While Studio Hamburg is a subsidiary of Germany’s deep-pocketed regional pubcaster NDR, van der Laan says the company has to operate and compete like any other player in the business. Likewise, SHIP’s activities will remain independent of the studio. “We aim to encourage co-productions with Germany, but not to the exclusion of pursuing the right project that we believe in.”

SHIP’s mission remains the discovery of “fresh, original and commercial projects for international audiences,” Pollok says. “And for SHIP to be as creative on the financing side as on the project selection and script development side, SHIP aims to use relationships within Germany, and to encourage cooperation, rather than competition, domestically, so that a critical mass of financing can be brought to the table to increase the attractiveness of shooting in Germany.

“Obviously filming in Germany would be cheaper — right now, crews in Hamburg are approximately 25% cheaper than in London, but it ultimately depends on the project.”

Meanwhile, Studio Hamburg’s other international production arm, WorldWide Pictures, is actively looking for English-lingo projects to fully finance this year. Unlike SHIP, which is developing projects from the point of inception, WWP is looking to back more advanced projects that already have a foreign sales company and a U.S. distributor attached in addition to a bankable minimum revenue guarantee.

“The revenue guarantee can be combined from different sources,” says WWP CEO Wolfgang Esenwein. “As long as a split of the copyright can be avoided, presales, minimum guarantees, equity and soft money can be used jointly as collateral for a standby letter of credit from a bank.”

Company is aiming to amass north of $100 million by the end of the year via a private investment fund. WWP has secured a placement guarantee for the fund from Dutch investment bank ING Lease, which is partnering on the venture. The guarantee, says Esenwein, “enables us to negotiate and commit our first pictures for this year immediately.”

The fund has so far raised nearly $28 million. WWP is looking to start with two projects budgeted at $5 million each. “We will be sourcing pictures with larger budgets towards the second half of the year,” Esenwein says.

Company recently produced its first project, the $8 million Irish comedy “The Boys from County Clare.”

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