International feature film production is toremain a top priority at the Babelsberg studios, the new owners Carl Woebckenand Christoph Fisser said yesterday.

The pair were speaking at a press conferenceafter their first meeting with studio management and representatives of theworkforce.

The two owners' first public appearance came asthe news broke that Gerhard Bergfried, managing director of Studio BabelsbergGmbH, responsible for the studio facilities, has stepped down "at therequest of Vivendi" after seven years in the post.

Woebcken, managing director of media fund and productionoutfit Berlin Animation Film, and Fisser, managing director of Munich studiofacility Studio Atelierbetriebe Schwabing (SAS), bought the studio last weekfrom Vivendi Universal.

Revealing little detail about their proposedplans for the studios, Woebcken and Fisser explained that they "want tomake Babelsberg fit for the future so that in ten, twenty and fifty years timeis still a living myth and not a dead legend."

Woebcken also said that they had received Euros18m from Vivendi Universal as "start up financing" - money that would not, asreported last week, be used to pay off the studio's debts.

He suggested that the sum would be sufficientfor their investment in the next 2-3 years and that they planned to reachbreak-even within the next 12 months and stabilise the turnover with only"minor" reductions in the number of employees.

The new owners also want to increase the numberof television productions coming to the production complex.

But "the main strategy is and remains theorientation of the studios to large, international cinema. With a view tointernational producers, especially from the USA, we want to positionBabelsberg as a premium production service provider among the Europeancompetition," Woebcken said.

He pointed out that this strategy would involvemore in-service training for the studio workforce to keep Babelsberginternationally competitive as well as possible cooperative ventures with otherpartners in the film industry.

According to one observer, Babelsberg couldcooperate with private media funds to structure film financing deals to attractinternational productions to shoot at the studios. Another industry insidersuggested that closer collaboration might be sought in the field ofpostproduction with a company like VCC Perfect Pictures. VCC already has abranch on the studio lot and is a 25% shareholder in the Berlin Animation Filmfund which Woebcken co-manages.