Films by Peter Chelsom, Maria von Heland, and Oliver Hirschbiegel are among the projects being lined up by a reinvigorated Egoli Tossell Film (ETF) for its 2011/2012 slate following the restructuring of the Berlin-based production company after its insolvency at the beginning of this year.
Speaking exclusively to Screen Daily, ETF’s founders Jens Meurer and Judy Tossell stated that none of the projects previously in development had to be abandoned because of the need to bring a new shareholder – Film House Germany – onboard as part of the reorganisation.
“Our slate has not changed overnight, it is the result of a gradual development over the past ten years,” Tossell explains. “We have steadily worked towards both bigger European international films, and films for the German market that are more commercial and mainstream. It is that type of project – both developed in-house and acquired in the market – which has made us attractive to Film House Germany.”
This year should see principal photography beginning in the autumn on Hector And The Search For Happiness, based on the bestselling novels by Francois Lelord, with UK-born Peter Chelsom signed to direct.
“We’re a very good fit,” says Tossell about Chelsom. “And he’s not the first great European director we helped bring home from Hollywood. Think of Paul Verhoeven and Black Book.”
The €14m co-production with France’s Fidélité Films, South Africa’s Film Afrika and the private German investor Erfttal Films will shoot at locations in Paris, Germany, China and South Africa, and will also have Wild Bunch Germany co-producing and handling theatrical distribution in Germany.
Meanwhile, Tossell is set to work for the fifth time with writer-director Maria von Heland and fourth time with actress Heike Makatsch on the €4.5m “chick flick” Lexi to go into production at the end of 2011.
“Heike is really keen to do comedy again – think of her early successes with Männerpension and the like,” she says. “This is one that’s really for the chicks – swimming against the current trend of male-dominated German comedies. We want to do Sex In The City meets Bridget Jones.”
ETF will also be serving as the German partners for the €7m epic drama Traveller, set in Vietnam, Berlin and Sarajevo in 1989, which had been developed until now by US producers Ross Katz and Fred Berger of Civil Dawn Pictures whose past credits include Lost In Translation and In The Bedroom.
The project came to the Berlin-based producers via the UK agent Rachel Holroyd and has Oliver Hirschbiegel attached to direct, Meurer says.
The original story by UK screenwriter Daniel Hardy (The Escapist) is about an American war photographer who falls in love with a German girl in Vietnam and her sister in East Berlin and gets caught up in the events during the fall of the Wall and the war in Bosnia.
“It is very international, but has a very strong German connection,” Meurer notes, pointing out that they have now started on setting up the financing for a shoot in 2012.
In addition, ETF formally became attached at this year’s Cannes to Iain Softley’s €24m action-packed and romantic drama Ivanhoe which will be a co-production with Spain’s Morena Films.
ETF’s production slate now includes Icelandic filmmaker Agust Gudmundsson’s €6.5m thriller War Below Zero which is based on a screenplay by Academy Award winner Anders Thomas Jensen.
“We are in talks for Mads Mikkelsen and Til Schweiger to star as two Danish and German meteorologists, pitted against each other in icy Greenland during WWII,” Meurer says. “Whoever controlled the weather reports from that region also controlled the U Boat War in the North Atlantic. So they had to take each other out – but also depended on each other for survival in this super-hostile environment. Danish M&M Productions had come to Til to star in the film and his production company Barefoot Films decided to team up with us so that we could guide the project internationally.”
Meanwhile, after the success of their collaboration on The Last Station, Meurer and Tossell are set to be reunited with US director Michael Hoffman for a Shakespeare In Love-style take on Charles Dickens in Samantha Silva’s scripted Dickens.
“The rights to the screenplay were with a US studio in turnaround. With the backing of our new partners - Film House Germany - we were able to acquire them,” Meurer recalls. “We have known the script by Sam Silva for a while and are very keen to work with Michael Hoffman again after The Last Station. This is a project which screams out for a UK coproduction, but you never know. If you look at our experiences on The Last Station and Black Death – both of them rather ‘British’ films, but neither of them UK co-productions – one wonders about the UK as a co-production territory. Not good for us or UK producers.”
Moreover, Meurer will be teaming up with Russian producer Andrey Deryabin and F&ME’s Mike Downey for Symphony, based on the true story of the performance of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony during the 900-day siege of Leningrad by the Nazi army. A director has yet to be attached, but initial Russian financing was confirmed last week.
ETF is also involved as a minority co-producer in Vadim Perelman’s The Song Of Names, based on the Whitbread Prize-winning novel by Norman Le Brecht and starring Anthony Hopkins. Shooting on the Belgian-Polish-Canadian-German co-production is scheduled to begin this August. And the company is “in advanced talks” to become a partner on London To Brighton director Paul Andrew Williams’ next feature Song For Marion, to be produced by Steel Mill Pictures.
Speaking about having brought Film House Germany onboard as a new partner, Meurer notes that the search had lasted more than a year: “Finding an investor takes up more energy and capacity than one initially imagines, especially if you are more a filmmaker than a business consultant. This is something they never teach you at co-production workshops!
“Film House Germany doesn’t have ‘Germany’ in its name without a reason,” he adds. “It is to set it apart from previous tax-driven schemes and show that there is a clear connection to Germany and that they want to be of benefit to the German film industry.”
“I would almost defy anyone to say that there isn’t some necessity about losing your independence and finding some kind of backing for film production,” Meurer argues. “We are now more to do with the projects and the creative part of producing. We still have a lot to do with the financing of the films, but less with the actual financing of the company.”
Launched in early 2011 by the Angermayer, Brumm & Lange Group of Companies (ABL Group), Film House Germany has already taken stakes in two production companies (Marco Kreuzpaintner’s Summerstorm Entertainment and Egoli Tossell Film) with the aim of producing films out of Germany for the world market – both in English and German – using their own production units as well as cooperating with international partners.