An ambitious new international player has emerged from Germany in K5 Media Group, the Munich-based development, finance and sales outfit. Principals Oliver Simon and Daniel Baur speak to Mike Goodridge.

When K5 International burst onto the sales scene in 2007 with the acquisition of Tom McCarthy’s The Visitor, it was the first step onto the world stage for the aggressive Munich-based company which was founded a year earlier by Oliver Simon and Daniel Baur.

K5 Film itself was set up by then writer and agent Simon in 2001 with a first-look deal at Bavaria Film Group. The company has produced 11 features since then including Vanessa Jopp’s Lola-nominated Happy As One.

Simon was joined by Baur in 2006. Baur had cut his teeth in entertainment law before working for Bernie Stampfer in the film-financing and packaging division at Deutsche Bank.

Founding a partnership

“I got to know Oliver in 2005 and he was looking for a partner with legal and financing skills,” explains Baur. “I was looking to get away from film funds which were only interested in the package but not the projects themselves and so we decided to test a partnership for a year.”

In 2006, the two new partners hatched a plan to expand into international sales. Within six months, they had raised the funding from private investors to cashflow the development of K5 International. A trip to London in September 2006 saw them meet with a handful of top sales executives and the hiring of Film Four International veteran Bill Stephens.

“From the start we never wanted to be a German sales company,” says Stephens, “selling our own German productions. We wanted to kick off with the right internationally appealing theatrical projects.”

In late 2006 and early 2007, Simon, Baur and Stephens travelled to London, New York and Los Angeles to introduce K5 to producers and agents. At Toronto 2007, the company scored its first pick-up, taking international rights to The Visitor which would go on to be a big independent hit and an Oscar nominee in 2008. By AFM 2008, it was sold out. “We were immediately on the landscape,” says Simon.

K5’s second film, Get Low, was to prove an even more significant turning point. The company brought pre-sales and equity finance to Aaron Schneider’s $10m period drama set in Tennessee and starring Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray. The film was well-received at Toronto 2009 where Sony Pictures Classics picked up domestic rights. “The producer, Dean Zanuck, asked us if we could help package and finance the film and that has moved us more from being a pure sales company to a company that can also package and finance a project with producers,” says Baur.

Last year the company added financing division K5 Media Capital and a new partner in Sascha R Prestel, the former CEO of IM Internationalmedia, to run it. Simon and Baur could focus on development and packaging. “We are becoming more active on the development side,” says Baur, “which makes sense given Oliver’s background and also protects the investors. We now have three divisions — K5 Film, K5 International and K5 Media Capital — and ideally each project will go through all three divisions.”

The expanding slate

For its next slate of films K5 is reteaming with Zanuck on Hideo Nakata’s $15m supernatural thriller Voice From The Stone; it has formed a partnership with Kevin Frakes and Stephan Paternot’s Los Angeles-based Palmstar, the first fruit of which is a film of Bret Easton Ellis’ Lunar Park; and it has signed Shekhar Kapur to direct murder drama The Three Lawrences scripted by Iris Yamashita.

K5 Film continues to produce German films and some K5 International projects will shoot in Germany to take advantage of film funds and tax breaks. However, others — such as Lunar Park and The Three Lawrences — will by their very nature need to shoot in the US.

Meanwhile K5 is close to closing a deal with Studio Babelsberg to co-develop international films to shoot in Germany that would go through the Babelsberg and K5 structures.

The Visitor and Get Low have shown the US community that we can finance and package films,” says Baur. “As a European sales company, we apparently have a different business culture to some of our competitors. We always stick to our deals and deliver fast,” he concludes, adding: “Producers like to deal with us for that reason.”

Oliver Simon

Co-founded freeXm, the first German script development agency in 1994; since then he has been involved in 20 films as writer, co-writer or script editor.

Established production company K5 Film in 2001.

In 2006, teamed with Daniel Baur and went on to found K5 International, Nowtilus, K5 Independent, and K5 Media Capital with Sascha R Prestel.

Daniel Baur

Interned in the entertainment division of Deutsche Bank and the copyright department of the European Commission in 2001.

He has consulted on the packaging and financing of more than 50 international features including The Company, Ask The Dust and The Punisher and co-produced Eulogy, produced by Steven Haft.

In 2006, joined K5 Film as a partner and producer.