You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

How ‘Resident Evil’ Producer Constantin Film Conquered the Globe

As most everyone knows, “Resident Evil” was born of a video game. Playing it, according to co-producer Robert Kulzer, is “empowering.”

“You’re sitting at the controls and you try to really conquer a new world,” Kulzer says. “And the rules at first seem really, really foreign to you. But the more you play the game, the more you master it. And at a certain point, you own it. You are completely in charge of your destiny within that world.”

That description pretty well summarizes the history of Constantin Film, the Munich-based entertainment giant. It’s the story of a close-knit group of filmmakers and business people who saw an opportunity in postwar Europe and grabbed it with both hands, but slowly and carefully, as if ensuring a joystick’s pivots and buttons are second nature before proceeding to the next level.

It’s also the story of one particular visionary, the late Bernd Eichinger, whose 2011 death was described in a Der Spiegel headline as: “German Film Loses Its Leading Man.”

As described by current executive board chairman Martin Moszkowicz, a longtime associate and close friend, Eichinger emerged from Munich’s film school in the late 1970s at a time when the most positive adjective one could choose for the German film industry would’ve been “moribund.” The nation’s foremost postwar distributor, at 200 films a year, Constantin wasn’t immune to the economic woes affecting Europe generally.
Enter Eichinger.

“He was a very self-confident guy,” Moszkowicz fondly remembers. “Hadn’t made a lot of movies, but he was one of the Rat Pack-type independent producers of that time.”

Eichinger persuaded Constantin management to sell him a share of the firm as managing director, and he began to move the company in new directions inspired by a study of the industry in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Prior distribution practices had involved striking 50, maybe 60 prints which would circulate in Germany regionally. But a run of 500-plus prints of Dino De Laurentiis’ “Conan the Barbarian” helped that film become a local blockbuster, a U.S.-inspired model that dominated in subsequent years.

More importantly, Eichinger took Constantin into production in a big way, beginning with 1984’s “The NeverEnding Story” and “The Name of the Rose” two years later, something Moszkowicz claims “changed the German production and distribution landscape completely.”

The local norm, he recalls, had been films costing $1.2 million to $2 million. “But ‘NeverEnding Story’ was, I think, $40 million, completely unheard of. Nobody had made international movies of that size in Germany.”

Not all of Eichinger’s ventures were touched with gold. He relocated to Los Angeles in the late ’80s to establish Constantin as a presence there. Moszkowicz, who remained to oversee production at home, speaks painfully of his friend’s experience.

“Pretty soon, Bernd somehow — well, he didn’t lose interest, but the business in America was very different…. He was very charismatic, but was also burning the candle at both ends, as they say.”

Moszkowicz struggles to find the right words. “He had a very rock ’n’ roll lifestyle, and he just — he didn’t really like Los Angeles very much. It was hard for him because he had been a superstar in Europe, but struggled to find his footing in the U.S., even though we had a couple of properties, ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘Silver Surfer’ and so on. But it wasn’t easy to get the movies made there. We had to start basically from scratch.”

The IPO that took the company public in 1999 set an invigorated Constantin Films onto the strong course it maintains to this day. “Suddenly we had a lot of money,” Moszkowicz says. “A lot of German companies had gone public, we were one of the last ones. With that money we built up the company into something very, very different.”

A co-production, “Nowhere in Africa,” won 2002’s foreign-language film Oscar. Joint ventures with U.K.-based Impact Pictures began with the first of the “Resident Evil” movies in 2002.

As for TV production, now amounting to 2,000 hours per year, most had been in German, barring the occasional international one-off like “The Mists of Avalon.” But in the past two years Constantin has moved into English-language telefilms in earnest. “Shadowhunters,” for Disney Freeform, has just been renewed for a second season.As for Eichinger, the six years remaining between his voluntary withdrawal from Constantin management and fatal heart attack may have been his most impactful and personally rewarding period. He produced “Perfume,” and wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for two foreign-language film Oscar nominees: 2004’s “Downfall” generally regarded as the preeminent dramatization of Hitler’s world and psychology, and 2008’s “The Baader Meinhof Complex.”

His death was, in Moszkowicz’s words, “a huge blow to the company. He was the center of gravity for all of us….We lost our founding father and our main creative force.” Yet as an artist and a businessman, Eichinger remains an inspiration to the firm, still dedicated to big dreams grounded in solid economics.

And their employee loyalty is rare, in Germany or anywhere else. Everyone from the board and associated producers to the assistants refer to themselves as “Constantiners.” That’s a source of real pride to the chairman, who points out that he himself arrived there in the late 1980s, and that most serve “for 10, 15, 20 years or more … I guess it shows you we’re doing something right.”

More Film

  • Disney Fox Takeover Placeholder

    Disney, Fox Employees Grapple With Day One Transition on Two Hollywood Lots

    What kind of a boss will Disney be? That’s a question facing employees at 20th Century Fox, Fox Searchlight, National Geographic Partners, FX Networks, and other assorted parts of Rupert Murdoch’s former media empire. Wednesday was their first full day as staffers of the Walt Disney Co. and the initial moves have done little to [...]

  • Derek Tsang Hong Kong actor Derek

    'Better Days' Director Derek Tsang Lands in World Cinema Spotlight

    Hong Kong actor-director Derek Kwok-cheung Tsang has recently found himself in the spotlight of the world of cinema, but for the wrong reason. Tsang will be joining a Hong Kong filmmakers panel at FilMart on Thursday with Sunny Chan (“Man on the Dragon”) and Pang Ho-cheung (“Love in a Puff”). The 39-year-old filmmaker was expecting [...]

  • Jen Hollingsworth Lionsgate

    Lionsgate Promotes Jen Hollingsworth to Chief Operating Officer of Motion Picture Group

    Lionsgate veteran executive Jen Hollingsworth has been promoted to the newly created post of chief operating officer of Lionsgate Motion Picture Group. She will work closely with Motion Picture Group chairman Joe Drake to ensure the film division’s strategic initiatives and corporate priorities encourage filmmakers’ artistic visions to thrive. Hollingsworth will also head up the [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Solstice Studios Boards Thriller 'Unhinged' From 'Disturbia' Writer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Solstice Studios has acquired “Unhinged,” a psychological thriller from “Disturbia” screenwriter Carl Ellsworth and “Warrior” producer Lisa Ellzey. The studio is currently out to directors. The script revolves around an extreme case of “road rage.” It’s the story of a mother whose decision to hit her horn upsets the wrong guy and leads to some [...]

  • No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No

    'Bill & Ted 3' Sets 2020 Summer Release Date

    Excellent! “Bill & Ted 3” has a release date. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter will return to the big screen in “Bill & Ted Face the Music” on Aug. 21, 2020. The duo made the announcement in a short video shot at the Hollywood Bowl, where they’ll “never play.” Production began on Wednesday. Reeves will [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson Join Christopher Nolan's Next Film (EXCLUSIVE)

    Elizabeth Debicki and Robert Pattinson are on board to co-star with John David Washington in Christopher Nolan’s next movie, Variety has learned. Nolan recently finished the script for the currently untitled film and Warner Bros. quickly dated it for July 17, 2020 — a slot the studio often reserves for the director, most recently with “Dunkirk.” [...]

  • Sir Lionel Frost (left) voiced by

    Why 'Missing Link's' Title Character Was One of Laika's Biggest Challenges

    Stop-motion studio Laika pushes design boundaries in every film it makes, and the lead character in “Missing Link” is no exception. “It became pretty apparent that [the character] Link was going to be the cornerstone,” says director and writer Chris Butler. “I did this rough drawing many years ago, and it was basically like a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content