Germany's most expensive new production in 2006, Niki Muellerschoen's $22.6m (Euros 18m) English-language production The Red Baron (Der Rote Baron), begins principal photography on July 3 in Prague as a 100% privately financed project.

The financing for the film about the legendary First World War fighter pilot Manfred von Richthofen has come exclusively from well-to-do private individuals living in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg and was raised by the Stuttgart-based film financing and production house Niama Film, which was established by director Muellerschoen with partners Thomas Reisser, Roland Pellegrino and Dan Maag.

According to financial expert Pellegrino, who managed the CP Medien private film fund until 2003, "it is a brand new variant of financing - similar to a private placement - exclusively geared to making a return for the investors who participate in all stages of the film's exploitation. What is important here is there are no fees or soft costs, and we are always looking to find the most cost effective solutions."

"Thus, it made financial sense to locate the production in the Czech Republic because the film can be shot at much more favourable prices and there are not the kind of shooting restrictions as in Germany," Pellegrino said.

"At one stage, the project was planned as a much more expensive project with US partners and Val Kilmer cast as von Richthofen," Muellerschoen told "But then we went back to the original idea of thinking that it must be possible to produce big cinema out of Germany, to make a summer movie about our history in a form that is internationally marketable."

The role of von Richthofen, who was one of the most successful fighter pilots of all time between 1914 and 1918, has been cast with the up-and-coming German actor Matthias Schweighoefer, whose previous credits include Soloalbum, Off Beat, Polly Blue Eyes and Schiller. Other roles are taken by Til Schweiger, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Hanno Kofler, Tino Mewes and Jan Josef Liefers, with Brothers Grimm veteran Lena Headey to play the love interest.

"Von Richthofen is a real legend outside of Germany, he's a superstar in places like USA and China," Muellerschoen explains. "But, it's a bit like the 'Titanic syndrome' - most people know the Baron, but they don't know the details."

Nevertheless, Muellerschoen is not aiming for a meticulous reconstruction of the Baron's life and the historical setting. "It is more important to see what is relevant for people today," he argues. "I saw no sense in making the film like a well-researched documentary. However, looking into the story of his life, the man seems to be more as I thought he should be."

"At the end of the day, the film is an extremely modern film: these pilots were in love with the technology and slaves to the modern age," Muellerschoen adds. "Their main goal was to master this age with skill, fun and technical knowhow. In fact, they are not much different from my sons sitting in front of a computer and communicating in a chatroom. The aeroplanes with their garish colours and logos are in some ways like the world of skateboarding and extreme sports and the Red Bull generation of today."

The Red Baron will be shooting in Prague for 60 days until the end of September, with Niama Film managing director Dan Maag overseeing the production.