TV and film business go 2-for-1 route

Smallscreen, theatrical productions cross paths

COLOGNE — The increasing practice of creating TV versions of theatrical features from the outset of production recently led to a public row between one of Germany’s most famous auteurs and its leading film production company.

The controversy, which resulted in Constantin Film sacking director Volker Schloendorff from the production of medieval drama “Pope Joan,” highlighted what local producers say is an increasing necessity in order to finance ambitious projects.

Schloendorff had publicly criticized the industry’s tendency to simultaneously make extended TV versions of feature films, a practice that gives TV exploitation equal weight as theatrical distribution. According to Schloendorff, these “amphibian films” undermine the artistic integrity of filmmakers.

Constantin execs have stressed the shingle’s commitment to cinematic films but also underlined that many big-budgeted projects would not come about without the financial involvement of TV partners. Producer Bernd Eichinger has said the longer TV version of “The Downfall” (2005) secured the necessary funding for the World War II drama, giving him the freedom to realize the project as intended.

The debate has cast light on the close relationship between cinema and TV in Germany, a marriage that is becoming ever more intimate. The vast majority of bigscreen Teutonic productions involves TV webs, mostly pubcasters, as production partners.

“The big difference to the U.S. is that here, the role of TV in cinema is not only that of a licensee at a later stage, but that of a co-producer at the actual time of production,” says Georgia Tornow, head of Germany’s producers’ association Film 20.

According to producer Guenther Rohrbach (“Das Boot”), TV became a vital backer of cinematic projects in the late 1960s, in the early era of New German Film.

“It was actually the producers at public TV that supported young filmmakers of the generation of which Schloendorff also belongs to,” Rohrbach recalls. “Many films then were 100% financed through TV, but given an upfront run in the theaters.”

Rohrbach stands for the classical case of a hybrid project as producer of Wolfgang Petersen’s “Das Boot” (1981), which was originally commissioned as a four-part TV series.

“Then I decided with Wolfgang Petersen that it could be for the bigscreen as well, and we got Constantin onboard as distributor,” Rohrback says. The two co-producing pubcasters agreed to the plan, and the pic went on to become one of the biggest Teutonic successes to this day.

But “Das Boot” remained the only major hybrid production for a long time while multipart TV event movies went out of fashion, until the concept was revived for Eichinger’s “Downfall.” Upcoming hybrid projects also include Constantin’s Eichinger-produced “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” and Max Faerberboeck’s WWII drama “Anonyma,” which Rohrbach is producing at a budget of $16 million.

“Under this scheme, we get up to 50% of the costs (from) broadcasters, whereas normally their limit of contribution was at around $2.5 million,” Rohrbach says.

Per Tornow, it was the commercial webs that since 2000 have given fresh momentum to creating big-budgeted TV event movies, often with themes from recent history.

“The commercial stations for a long time had put their bets and money mainly on American license fare, until it occurred to them that the audience might want to see local sceneries rather than the streets of San Francisco,” Tornow says.

Berlin-based shingle TeamWorx was the pacemaker of this movement with “Der Tunnel,” about a real-life escape from East Berlin. Meanwhile, event movie production has become a matter of image and ratings for both public and commercial broadcasters.

The “amphibian” principle has also worked the other way round, with pics migrating from TV to the bigscreen for international sales. “Der Tunnel” and pubcaster ZDF’s 2006 WWII drama “Dresden” both went to theatrical exploitation abroad in a cinematic version.