Studio veteran Wolfgang Braun talks to Martin Blaney about the challenges of his new role as head of recently galvanized German distributor Kinowelt

After almost 16 years in the driving seat of Disney’s German operation, Wolfgang Braun decided to join the ranks of independent producers by setting up his own production company, MoreMovies Entertainment, at the beginning of 2008.

“I wanted to become more involved in production, which is something I had really enjoyed doing with the German films we co-produced at Disney,” Braun recalls, noting, that this move “was a real challenge, especially as it came at the moment when financing films became more difficult than ever”.

He had begun development on a number of projects including Der Stern Von Indien and You Will Be Called when the offer came this summer from the Leipzig-based Kinowelt Group to take over the mantle of chairman and CEO from Jan-Pelgrom de Haas, who had been less than a year in the post.

“I found the idea of being at the head of Kinowelt interesting because this is an independent operator where you can do much more yourself than as the head of the local office of a US major,” says Braun to explain his motivation. “In companies like Disney, you are very dependent on the products you are sent. Here we are part of an international team going to the markets and festivals to acquire films.

“Compared to Kinowelt, my work at UCI and Disney saw me starting all alone in an office by myself and having to build up a team from zero. Here the situation is quite different — I am coming into a well-functioning team,” he continues. “But at Disney, I had been involved in home entertainment, theatrical and rights licensing for more than 16 years on a larger scale and also [for UCI] on the exhibitor’s side before that. I think Kinowelt will benefit from my different perspective; this combination is very positive.”

Braun points out that having read law and political science at university “comes in very useful for the film industry, especially in America where there are lots of lawyers sitting in important positions at the film companies”.

The Kinowelt Group was founded in 1984 when Michael Kölmel set up Kinowelt Filmverleih to release Gregory’s Girl in Germany. In 1999, Michael and brother Rainer took Kinowelt Medien AG to the stock exchange before selling it to StudioCanal at the beginning of 2008.

Independent ambitions

After almost three months in the job, Braun is resolutely bullish about the goals he is looking to achieve given that Kinowelt had a 2.1% market share at the German box office in the first nine months of this year.

“We want to develop Kinowelt in all segments as the leading German independent — in some areas we are already on the way to being the leading independent such as in home entertainment,” he says. “In the theatrical area, we had something of a barren period in the past couple of years, but that will now change with the product we have for the coming months and our highly motivated team. Naturally, it all comes back to the films in the line-up, but is also about how you market them.”

Kinowelt has injected new blood into the team with Kalle Friz, former head of Fox Searchlight and local acquisitions/co-productions at 20th Century Fox in Germany, on board as executive vice-president of theatrical distribution.

Braun, moreover, points to the synergies accruing from being part of the StudioCanal family. “The partnership with our parent company gives us access to attractive product, particularly commercial titles,” he explains. “In the past, Kinowelt had been able to acquire commercial titles like Mr & Mrs Smith, but only occasionally, whereas now the supply is more continuous.

I also see the chance for an exchange with Optimum Releasing for films produced in the UK where we can open up the German market for them and hopefully this can also function in the other direction with German films being released in France and the UK. The success of a film like Oscar-winning The Lives Of Others, which I co-financed at Disney, shows this can work quite well.”

A case of this exchange already working in practice is Rowan Joffe’s debut feature Brighton Rock, starring Helen Mirren, Pete Postlethwaite, Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough, which will begin shooting in Brighton and at locations in and around London later in October. Marking Optimum Releasing’s first major production investment, the adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1939 novel, now set in the Brighton of 1960s mods and rockers, will be released by Optimum in the UK, StudioCanal in France and by Kinowelt in Germany, with StudioCanal also handling international sales.

While Braun is planning to keep the number of releases at 20-24 titles per year, Kinowelt will keep true to its mix of arthouse, sophisticated mainstream and big commercial films, with the focus increasingly on productions for a wider audience.

Upcoming releases

The releases for the coming months range from horror titles such as Jaume Collet-Serra’s Orphan (November 5), Kevin Greutert’s Saw VI (December 3) and Breck Eisner’s The Crazies (April 8, 2010) through the Venice titles Brooklyn’s Finest (December 30), The Men Who Stare At Goats (March 4, 2010) and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2010), to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Micmacs (January 14, 2010), Roman Polanski’s The Ghost (currently scheduled for February 18, 2010) and local German productions such as Matthias Glasner’s San Sebastian competition film This Is Love (November 12) and Michael Dreher’s feature debut Die Zwei Leben Des Daniel Shore (December 12), starring Nikolai Kinski and Katharina Schüttler.

Kinowelt is taking on the 3D phenomenon as part of the company’s restructuring and integration into the StudioCanal family. “My Bloody Valentine was something of a 3D pioneer in Germany and has exceeded even our very ambitious plan at the box office,” Braun notes. The film was released on May 20 and has taken more than $3.2m (¤2.2m) at German cinemas so far.

Kinowelt will be releasing Alexandre Aja’s 3D remake of the horror classic Piranha next May and has scheduled the StudioCanal production of the family animation film Around The World In 50 Years by Ben Stassen for autumn 2010.

“The footage I have seen so far makes me feel that it offers even more entertainment value than the competition from America,” Braun says.
He is quietly confident of where the company will stand in a year’s time: “I think we should expect at least a doubling of Kinowelt’s market share in the cinemas within the next 12 months. That is the minimum when you look at the future line-up of titles.”

As for Kinowelt becoming involved in local German production, Braun is wary of creating additional overheads by setting up an inhouse production division. “Our policy is to work with German producers on the development of projects and to be the home for as broad a base as possible for successful German producers who want to make films that fit with Kinowelt’s profile,”
Braun explains.
Kinowelt is currently committed as a distributor to Rainer Matsutani’s psychological thriller Das Erste Semester and Johannes Naber illegal immigrant drama Der Albaner, produced by Neue Schönhauser Filmproduktion (previously Neue Kinowelt Filmproduktion).
Kinowelt is also keeping a close eye on projects being developed by Rainer Kölmel’s Starhaus Filmproduktion which produced Dreher’s Die Zwei Leben Des Daniel Shore.

Wolfgang Braun

  • Braun studied law and political science in Münster and Bochum.
  • During his studies, he bought an arthouse cinema in Bochum with friends, but sold his share in the company in 2000.
  • In 1987, he established United Cinema International Multiplex (UCI) for Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios, and opened Germany’s first ever multiplex cinema near Cologne and later, among others, the first multiplex in former East Germany, near Leipzig.
  • From 1992-2008, Braun was senior vice-president of the Walt Disney Company and general manager and managing director of Buena Vista International and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures in German-speaking Europe.
  • In 2008, he launched independent production company MoreMovies Entertainment, but relinquished his share to co-founder Florian Gmelch on being appointed chairman and CEO for the Kinowelt Group in July 2009.