Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner’s Razor Film has become one of the most prolific production houses in Europe. The principals tell Mike Goodridge how they got there.
In just eight years since it was launched, Berlin-based production company Razor Film has made movies in Israel, the West Bank, Los Angeles and its native Germany. It is preparing new projects in Istanbul, Berlin and Saudi Arabia. The company, run by Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner, sets the standard for a new breed of production outfit which is effortlessly international, steering funds both private and public across borders to get its projects made.
“It was always our personal aim to work on an international basis,” explains Meixner. “It’s more complicated but you learn so much about other cultures and yourself in the process.”
“What’s great about being based in Germany is that Germany is very liberal in the politics of public money,” adds Paul. “They see a value in cultural exchange and promote the idea of working with Europe and the rest of the world.”
Paul and Meixner worked together at German distributor Senator Film, Paul as head of international acquisitions and Meixner as head of production in the late 1990s and early 2000s before leaving to set up Razor in September 2002. For the next four years, Paul also worked in acquisitions at Paris-based sales agent Celluloid Dreams.
“We called it Razor after the razor slitting through the eye in Un Chien Andalou and actually put the picture on our business plan, although that didn’t raise us any money,” laughs Paul. “Our plan was to make different, unique films that speak to the market, films that you can come to without too much film education. We wanted to avoid hardcore, esoteric arthouse films that might win awards but whose audience you could count on two hands.”
Their first project would prove defining for the Razor brand. Israeli producer Amir Harel suggested they read an early draft of Paradise Now, a story of Palestinian suicide bombers to be directed by Nazareth-born, Amsterdam-based Hany Abu-Assad.
Enthused by the early version of the script, the producers took on the project, brought in Celluloid Dreams as sales agent and production partner and assembled a financing package which included Filmstiftung NRW, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Dutch Film Fund, Eurimages, World Cinema Fund, Media i2i and ARTE.
They started shooting in early 2004 on the West Bank itself, with a mainly German crew and a $2.5m (€2m) budget. The shoot was hazardous but, says Paul, “It was an important film and worth the risk.”
Paradise Now was an international success, won the Golden Globe for best foreign-language film and an Oscar nomination. Razor followed it up with two award-winning German productions — Bülent Akinci’s Running On Empty and Tamara Staudt’s Where The Grass Is Greener. Working out of a small office, with a low overhead and development funding for five films from the Medienboard, they gradually built up a product line to sustain the company and allow Paul to focus full-time on Razor.
In 2006, they were introduced to Ari Folman and came on board his animated documentary Waltz With Bashir for which Folman needed additional funding. Razor brought finance, support and partners such as sales agent The Match Factory to the project which would go on to a Competition slot in Cannes 2008, bringing another Golden Globe and another Oscar nomination to Razor in early 2009.
“It’s always good for us as a company if we make a find like Waltz With Bashir,” says Paul. “We like to go with our intuition if we think it is animportant project.”
Since then, Razor has been furiously busy. Set for its world premiere this autumn is Womb, the first English-language film from Hungarian auteur Benedek Fliegauf, starring Eva Green and Matt Smith, which shot in Germany last year. “Benedek wanted to make a modern fairy tale set on the sea with international actors and he felt unable to do that in Hungary. So this is a European co-production because of content, not for the sake of financing,” explains Paul.
In post is Miranda July’s latest film The Future which is a co-production with Gina Kwon Production and the UK’s Film4 shot entirely in Los Angeles. Again The Match Factory is handling sales. “The finance for that all came out of Europe,” says Meixner.
Razor was also a minority co-producer on Danis Tanovic’s latest Cirkus Columbia, which is opening Sarajevo next month.
Up next is Wajda, the coming-of-age story of a girl in Saudi Arabia which will be directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, and Asphyxia (working title), aportrait of an upper middle-class family from Turkish director Asli Ozge (Men On The Bridge) which will be shot in Istanbul and Berlin. “We have a good network of contacts and film-makers who approach us and whom we approach,” says Meixner. “Projects are coming in to us on a regular basis now.”
■ Schooled in economics and marketing before studying film production and
media sciences in Munich and at UCLA in Los Angeles where he worked for
■ After graduation, worked as a freelance story editor and script reader for
various companies before beginning work at Senator Film, where he was
responsible for films including Sönke Wortmann’s The Hollywood Sign and Kees
Van Oostrum’s Dial 9 For Love.
■ Founded Razor Film Produktion in Berlin with Paul in October 2002.
■ Holds a masters degree in theatre, film and media studies and American and
German literature; was a Fulbright Scholar at New York University, an
Erasmus scholar at Université Paris VIII and won a grant from the
German-Japanese Association to study in Japan.
■ Started in film as director of acquisitions at Prokino in Munich then
became head of international acquisitions at Senator Film in Berlin and Los
■ Founded Razor Film Produktion with Meixner.