In an extract from Screen’s new Independent Distribution Report, Martin Blaney looks at how larger German independents grew their market share despite an overall dip in box office.

Editor’s note, this is an extract from Screen’s Independent Distribution In Western Europe 2011, a new report offering insight, analysis and data on the health and size of the indie sectors in a range of key markets: the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Benelux and the Nordic region. (See more about the report here.)

Many German distributors will want to forget 2010, as total box-office revenues fell 9% year-on-year to $1.3bn (€920.4m) and admissions tumbled to 127 million from 146 million in 2009.

But for some, 2010 was a triumph: in particular Concorde Filmverleih which increased its market share from 5.7% in 2009 to 7.9% thanks to a powerhouse slate fuelled by The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Shutter Island and Iron Man 2.

It was the country’s leading independent distributor, eclipsing Constantin Film (6.8%) and even overtaking Universal Pictures Germany (7.4%), the seventh-ranking distributor in the territory.

Constantin stumbled for the first time in many years due to the absence of a steady stream of heavy-hitters, However, the 3D releases of in-house productions Resident Evil: Afterlife and the animated Animals United together brought in almost $28m in box-office revenue.

Kinowelt, the third most successful independent distributor in 2010, saw its market share more than double from 1.8% to 4.5%, boosted by the release of Saw 3D, Belgian animated film A Turtle’s Tale: Sammy’s Adventures and The Tourist. The latter was directed by celebrated local film-maker Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck and grossed an impressive $12.1m in Germany to make the territory one of the film’s biggest markets.

“Good movies will sell well across all genres,” says Kinowelt CEO Wolfgang Braun, who acquires titles such as The Tourist jointly within the StudioCanal group, of which Kinowelt is part (along with the UK’s Optimum Releasing).

Jasna Vavra, head of theatrical entertainment at Universum Film, believes “high-quality action fare and family films function best for us”. She says Universum tries other genres if the opportunity arises — such as the French romantic comedy Heartbreaker, which it released with Square-One Entertainment at the beginning of January 2011. It grossed more than $2m in its first month on release.

Local films under-performed at the German box office in 2010, with 50% fewer tickets sold for homegrown fare — including international co-productions — compared with the previous year. The total box-office share for local films slipped from 25.5% to 13.6%.

“Many of the releases didn’t touch a nerve with the audience,” says Benjamin Herrmann, managing director of Majestic Filmverleih. Majestic’s When We Leave, the award-winning feature debut by Feo Aladag, was one of the few small-scale local successes, garnering $1.15m (¤827,907). Awareness of the film was high following its premiere in the Berlinal International Film Festival’s Panorama section in February 2010 and its subsequent selection as Germany’s entry for the foreign-language Oscar.

“Smaller films without any name [talent] have a harder time finding an audience,” says Torsten Frehse, managing director of Neue Visionen and board member of AG Verleih, an interest group of 25 independent arthouse distributors.

“One of the growing challenges is to get people to come to the cinema,” he adds. “The way people spend their leisure time has changed and it seems there are football matches on television now every day.”

Frehse also suggests the consistently high popularity of the Tatort television detective films on Sunday evenings “can really weaken the 20:15 slot in a cinema” on that night.

Marketing costs mount

German distributors bemoan the rising cost of marketing as they recognise the need to spend more to put their product in front of busy, choice-rich consumers. “If you want a good campaign, you can’t spend any less than $340,000 (¤250,000), and the more mainstream we become, the more advertising we have to book,” says Majestic’s Herrmann.

“We prepare a tailor-made campaign aimed exactly at the target group for each film,” says Universum’s Vavra. “For certain target groups, TV is absolutely necessary and will then make up most of the budget.”

Online marketing and social-networking sites have become significant elements of many campaigns. Even the smaller independents are working with websites to showcase trailers and exclusive footage from films ahead of theatrical release. NFP Marketing & Distribution held trailer premieres of Olivier Assayas’ Carlos on and and ran exclusive scenes from The Last Station on and

However it is a strategy which works best for bigger films. “If you have a trailer premiere for The Twilight Saga, that’s quite a different matter from most German films because they aren’t the kind of brands which can generate a lot of attention three to four months ahead of the release,” says Herrmann. “You could perhaps do it with a new film with Til Schweiger or Vicky, but that’s it.”

2011: a look ahead

A stronger line-up of local titles could put the German market back on track in 2011. “It is likely to be a much better year for German films,” predicts Herrmann, who will be releasing the first European big-screen adaptation of the children’s classic Tom Sawyer in November.

Constantin Film is hoping to snatch back the title of top independent distributor from Concorde Film. It has the potential to pull this off with its schedule of in-house productions. These include the third outing in The Crocodiles family franchise, Vorstadtkrokodile 3, which notched up almost 200,000 admissions ($1.3m) on its opening weekend in January 2011, compared with the total 700,000 admissions garnered by the second instalment in 2010 throughout its entire run ($4.9m).

Three Constantin-produced heavy-hitters will roll out in the autumn: Paul WS Anderson’s The Three Musketeers 3D (September 1), starring Milla Jovovich and Orlando Bloom, Vicky And The Treasure Of The Gods (also in 3D, September 29), and Leander Haussmann’s tragi-comedy Hotel Lux (October 27), starring German comedian Michael ‘Bully’ Herbig and Jürgen Vogel.

While Concorde Film has a box-office slam-dunk in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 towards the end of the year, it also has a slate of interesting European and US indie releases. In March the company will open Kevin Macdonald’s historical drama The Eagle and Francois Ozon’s French hit Potiche, a comedy starring Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu.

Kinowelt is readying a slate of titles including the Berlin-set thriller Unknown (March 3) starring Liam Neeson, which screened out of competition at this year’s Berlinale; Simon West’s action film The Mechanic starring Jason Statham (April 7); and Rowan Joffe’s Brighton Rock (April 21).

Universum will aim to build on the success of Earth and Oceans with its latest nature documentary, Serengeti, while Senator Film has both The King’s Speech (February 17) and The Fighter (April 17) which will arrive in German cinemas buffed with awards glitter.

NFP Marketing & Distribution is moving into uncharted territory with the 3D release of two arthouse films: Wim Wenders’ dance documentary Pina — shown for the first time at the Berlinale in February — and the classical concert film Berliner Philharmoniker 3D.

Top 10 Distributors, Germany, 2010

1 Warner Bros, $220.2m
2 20th Century Fox, $189.3m
3 Walt Disney Pictures, $124m
4 Sony Pictures Releasing Int’l, $111.4m
5 Paramount Pictures Int’l, $95m
6 Concorde Filmverleih, $89.9m
7 Universal Pictures Int’l, $89.6m
8 Constantin Filmverleih, $76.7m
9 Kinowelt Filmverleih, $50.9m
10 Universum, $18.5m

Source: Rentrak EDI