Babelsberg battle

Staffers protesting Viv U's sale of studio

Studio Babelsberg staffers are mounting a vociferous protest against Vivendi Universal’s sale of the studio to German investors Carl Woebcken and Christoph Fisser.

The employee committee sent an open letter to Viv U Monday, warning it would take “legal action to block the sale” if execs refused to meet to provide “a rapid clarification on the state of the sale and details related to that sale.”

Employee committee chairman Jan-Peter Schmarje met Viv U topper Jean-Rene Fourtou in Paris earlier this month and reportedly received assurances that he would be included in the sale discussions.

But Schmarje found out about the sale from newspaper reports just days after he returned to Germany.

On Thursday the employee committee appealed in an open letter to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to keep the Potsdam facility intact.

It claimed Woebcken and Fisser lacked the financial resources and industry know-how to run the studio.

“In their previous businesses, both have left a trail of litigation and bankruptcies, and neither has any knowledge of the film business,” Schmarje wrote.

He said neither Woebcken nor Fisser had provided any evidence that they have the capital to give the studio the financial boost it needs to remain a viable player.

The investors have declined to comment on the letter, but are due to meet studio employees Wednesday to outline their plans.

Woebcken heads Berlin Animation Film, a production outfit and film fund with production volume of more than $100 million, specializing in international animated television and theatrical projects.

Viv U last week agreed to sell the studio to Woebcken and Fisser for the symbolic amount of e1 and $22.4 million in debt.

Committee officials have not seen the sales contract and want to make sure the deal was conducted according to German rather than French law.

Schmarje said the big films needed to keep Babelsberg in business are now in danger, adding the local region stands to lose $120 million in annual revenue related to film production. He also expressed concern for the future of Babelsberg’s 220 full-time employees.

Viv U denied the sale would impede upcoming productions at the studio, including Charlize Theron actioner “Aeon Flux” and “Mission: Impossible 3,” although it remains to be seen how the production of the latter will be affected with the exit of director Joe Carnahan from that project (Daily Variety, July 19).

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