Babelsberg retains int’l film focus

Buyers to put studio 'back on the road to success'

BERLIN — The waters calmed at Germany’s Studio Babelsberg after its new owners Carl Woebcken and Christoph Fisser met production execs and studio employees Wednesday. The pair stressed that the Potsdam studio would continue to focus on international film productions, much to the relief of workers who had been up in arms after Vivendi Universal’s sudden sale of the facility last week.

Woebcken and Fisser declined to give details, but said they had come to “put Babelsberg back on the road to success.”

“With productions like ‘The Pianist,’ ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ and upcoming productions like ‘Mission: Impossible 3’ and ‘Aeon Flux,’ a good starting point has been created,” Woebcken added.

“They have presented a reasonable plan and we are optimistic,” said Jan-Peter Schmarje, the studio’s employee committee chairman. He had led a vociferous protest against the sale — including letters of complaint to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Viv U topper Jean-Rene Fourtou — until he actually met the two investors.

Woebcken, who heads Berlin Animation Film, a private media fund and production outfit, and Fisser, who runs a movie and TV studio facility in Munich, picked up the loss-making Babelsberg for a symbolic one euro last week and secured a $22 million investment from Viv U to help keep the studio operational for the next two to three years. They aim to reach breakeven in the next 12 months.

Although the sale won’t close for eight weeks, Studio Babelsberg chief exec Gerhard Bergfried was sacked Wednesday. In an unusually frank written statement, the studio said Bergfried had “resigned upon the request of the shareholder, Vivendi Universal.”

Bergfried had headed the studio’s service division since 1997. Thierry Potok, head of Babelsberg parent Vivendi Deutschland, will assume Bergfried’s duties and remain in his own post as chief exec of Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures until the sale is completed.

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