The involvement of broadcasters in feature film production has a long tradition in Germany and hardly any film is made these days without some TV participation. Indeed, many film-makers who are now international household names, such as Wim Wenders and Volker Schlondorff, have been supported by commissioning editors when the local film industry showed little interest in their projects.
Most channels co-ordinate their co-production of feature films through divisions within their TV drama departments, such as ZDF, the ARD network of regional channels (WDR, NDR, BR and so on) and RTL.
The ProSiebenSat.1 Media Group has a standalone unit, SevenPictures, which co-produces four to five German films each year. Its credits include Marco Kreuzpaintner's Krabat (with Claussen + Wobke + Putz Filmproduktion) and Philipp Stolzl's Nordwand (Medienkontor Berlin). "With SevenPictures as a co-producer, we can make quicker decisions in the production process," says SevenPictures managing director Stefan Gartner. "In the event that gap financing is required, SevenPictures can provide that at relatively short notice."
The biggest television market in Europe, with 35 million TV households, Germany has a mix of public and private channels which have voluntary agreements with national and regional public film funds to invest in film.
And the commitment to features shows no sign of waning. According to Gartner, ProSiebenSat.1 has no plans to cut its commitment to feature film production under new owners KKR and Permira. Meanwhile Meinolf Zurhorst, director of the film department at ZDF/Arte, has not seen any change in the level of budgets for co-productions at the public stations.
Boris Schonfelder, producer at Neue Kinowelt Filmproduktion, says there is "a constantly high commitment of the TV networks to films. In theatrical production, the TV co-financiers are also willing to take a risk here and there, as we have seen with Nordwand. Also for our mystery thriller Kaifeck Murder, SevenPictures had the courage to step on board for a genre film."
"There is also a remarkable interest in young talent with some of the public broadcasters," adds his colleague Hermann Florin. "They are willing to risk co-producing debut movies by aspiring film-makers, such as Neele Vollmar's Friedliche Zeiten."
Over the years the public and private broadcasters have also entered into formal obligations with regional film funds such as Filmstiftung NRW and Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, as well as the German Federal Film Board (FFA) to support the local industry. For example, in the present Film/Television Agreement, ARD and ZDF annually provide $15.5m (EUR11m) for project funding and another $6.5m (EUR4.6m) for co-productions. The private channels stump up $7.1m (EUR5m) for project funding and $9.9m (EUR7m) worth of advertising slots for German films.
While debate next year on the new German Film Law (FFG) could focus on demands that broadcasters increase their financial commitment to the FFA from 2009, discussion this year revolved around the high-budget 'hybrid' productions of a theatrical film plus TV two-parter, as in the case of such films as Der Baader Meinhof Komplex and Die Buddenbrooks. It was claimed that TV was accessing the German Federal Film Fund incentive "through the back door".
SevenPictures' Gartner points out: "We make a clear distinction between a 2x90-minute product, which we produce as a TV event, and feature films which we prefer in the classic 1x90-minute format for refinancing reasons."
State of the ARTE
Franco-German TV network Arte suggests film as art can find an audience with TV viewers. "The most successful programmes we have shown in the last years have been cinema films," says Andreas Schreitmuller, chief editor for fiction and cinema at Arte. Films such as Goodbye Lenin! and Head-On have reached audiences of up to 2 million.
When Arte was founded in the early 1990s, its self-appointed task was to show the best of European culture. Cinema was seen as fundamental to this project. Recent projects it has backed include 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days and Grbavica.
"We back films that don't serve the cliches, that apply to creative values and show taboo topics," says Schreitmuller.
Arte is largely shielded from the debates that rage at other broadcasters with film production arms, where a balance always needs to be struck between backing new talent and finding an audience, between the cultural remit and the commercial mandate.
AT A GLANCE
German broadcasters do not have any obligation by law to invest in film but many of the German public and private broadcasters are shareholders of regional film funds or have agreements with the funds to make finance available.
MAJOR BROADCASTERS' FILM COMMITMENTS
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