Berlin: European Film Market Supremo on Berlin’s Hectic Trading, Big Film Surge and Euro slide

Beki Probst takes a wider-angle view on changes, priorities at one of the biggest film markets in the world

Beki Probst

Beki Probst, president of the Berlinale European Film Market, and its director from 1988 to 2014, is an inseparable figure at Europe’s second largest film trade fair, and in a privileged position to take the long view on market trends. What’s so impressive about her, however, is not just her take on change but her passion. After so many years steering an industry event that is one of the year’s easiest to work but still a challenge, as are all major markets, that passion and excitement are still there.

What are key factors for a successful film market?

One of the main key factors is finding good films. For me, that’s the most important key factor for the market. People only come if they feel that there’s enough stuff for them, enough to see, and to discuss coming projects. Berlin’s been quite strong in pre-sales.

And what do you see as the major changes in international markets since you’ve been at the European Film Market?

The main change is that everything’s become very hectic. Everyone is running. You can feel it in the atmosphere. When you look in the first four-five days, it’s very active, hectic. People try, in that short time, to do as much as possible. A big distributor told me that even before coming to Berlin he had received 100 screenplays and didn’t know how to deal with that. The world’s become more hectic altogether. Due to new media, etc., everything must be done in a very short time, everyone’s very well informed of what’s going on, and nobody wants to miss out on good deals. The entry of new players that want to make films – Netflix, Amazon, for example, which was seen at Sundance – just adds to the hectic nature of everything.

Talking about Sundance and Berlin, they could be seen as very different markets. How would you characterize Berlin, in terms of the kind of market it is?

Berlin’s become, in the last four years, more of a mixed bag. We used to be a very specialist, arthouse market. Today, we have a larger selection of offers here. Besides arthouse, there are also lots of action films. Berlin is not just a speciality arthouse market, but more of a mixture of arthouse and entertainment-driven films. When I say entertainment, I don’t mean “The Hobbit,” but still, we are going in that direction, where you have bigger films than arthouse.

One take on 2015’s European Film Market is that there seem to have been slightly less big films, and many art film distributors are now waiting, as one saw at Cannes last year, to see how films perform in competition or in the major sidebars before buying.

Distributors have became much more cautious. There were too many disappointments. Projects looked good on paper but did not perform. In Berlin, many buyers, distributors that are here put a large importance on going to the public screenings to see audience reactions. That’s a big advantage of Berlin; you have public screenings, unlike Cannes. They can take the temperature of a film’s audience play.

FilmNation’s Glen Basner commented before the European Film Market began that the international film business is a bit like whack-a-mole: When one problem goes away, another one pops up. One talking point at the market is the Euro’s slide against the dollar….

No one was expecting that. It’s one big shift: The chief executive of Swatch compared it to a tsunami. We were very lucky this year in the sense that all our deals were made before that happened, but we don’t know how it will be in the future. As for consequences for films’ distribution in the future, if distributors calculate films’ prices in Euros, they’ll be even more cautious, and that’s not to speak about the Russian ruble.

What personally do you enjoy most about the European Film Market?

The excitement of a new “cinema year“ and also the idea of seeing all those faces of “usual suspects“ being back, and they are all alive and kicking.