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Teuton titans target Tinseltown

Senator, Bavaria join to draw Hollywood projects to Germany

BERLIN — A partnership between film giants Bavaria Film and Senator Entertainment is aiming to bring more Hollywood films to Germany.

Berlin-based Senator, which makes most of its coin as a distrib, is acquiring a stake in Bavaria’s feature film and TV movie division Bavaria Pictures. The deal will allow Senator to bring productions to the joint venture and access Bavaria’s vast infrastructure, which offer top studio facilities, set construction, comprehensive technical and post-production services.

“On the production level, with Bavaria, we can tell the world (to) come to us if you have anything relating to Germany or Europe,” says Senator CEO Helge Sasse, who is joining Bavaria Pictures’ current managing director Jan S. Kaiser in running the venture. “My strategy is to have half of the movies from the U.S. and half from Europe, mostly Germany.”

Sasse says international filmmakers who partner with Senator and Bavaria would gain access to Bavaria’s enormous group of production support companies, which include 19 soundstages in the Munich area. With many of those in constant use for TV, Bavaria is planning to build a studio to better serve major international feature film production.

While the companies hope the new partnership will generate more international production in Germany, they also have plenty of domestic films in the works. Among the first properties Senator is bringing to the venture are “Narcisus and Goldmund,” an adaptation of the Herman Hesse novel; and “Der Koch” (The Cook), based on the bestselling book by Swiss author Martin Suter.

Bavaria Pictures has secured rights to a slew of bestselling literary properties, including Czech writer Pavel Kohout’s thriller “The Widow Murderer” and Jan Weiler’s “Antonio Im Wunderland,” the follow-up to his hit tome “Maria, Ihm Schmeckt’s Nicht!” The story of an Italian-German family was adapted for the bigscreen in 2009 in Neele Leana Vollmar’s “Wedding Fever in Campobello.”

“Wedding Fever’s” sequel is partially set in New York, and Senator and Bavaria are teaming up with a New York-based producer on the pic.

While details of Senator’s equity investment in Bavaria Pictures have not been revealed, Sasse says it will be an equal partner in the venture while also serving as a co-producer on some Bavaria Pictures productions.

The deal grew out of the two companies’ work on Sandra Nettelbeck’s upcoming Michael Caine starrer “Mr. Morgan’s Last Love.” “It was a very good collaboration, and it gave us the inspiration to take the talks further,” Sasse says.

Indeed, Kaiser sees the new setup is a natural outgrowth of the two companies existing relationship. “Bavaria Pictures has always been organized as a network, which encouraged earlier co-operations with Senator, be it as distrib or co-producer. So it’s merely going the next step to solidify that successful cooperation in a joint venture.”

While Bavaria Pictures will continue to work with other distribs, including current collaborators such as Concorde and Warner Bros. Germany, the partnership nevertheless insures more film releases for Senator’s distribution arm — a key part of the company.

“Yes, we are producers,” Sasse say, “but the revenues are made in our domestic distribution division.”

The company’s distribution strategy relies on European titles and German productions as well as U.S. acquisitions.

Senator is flying high due to the stratospheric success of “The Intouchables.” With a box office cume of $75 million, the French hit has become Germany’s most successful film so far this year — an unheard of feat for a Gallic film here.

While Hollywood pics, such as upcoming releases “Our Idiot Brother” (Weinstein), “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D” (Dimension) and “Of Men and Mavericks” (Fox 2000) remain crucial for Senator, German and European co-productions are less risky (and in the case of “Intouchables,” hugely profitable), due in large part to production and distribution subsidies available to German and European entities. Hollywood pics can secure regional and federal production subsidies. Recent films that shot here, such as “Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters,” “Anonymous” and “Hanna,” all tapped local coin.

For Bavaria, the alliance broadens its traditional core business of theatrical feature production. The pact will “help leverage the risks of the intensive theatrical feature strategy Bavaria Studios has been pursuing in recent years, and represents a bold initiative by two mutually ideally compatible partners,” says Matthias Esche, managing director of the Bavaria Film group.

Bavaria Pictures’ recent international co-productions include Ian Fitzgibbon’s German-Irish co-production “Death of a Superhero,” starring Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

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