Thomas Peter Friedl tells Martin Blaney why running the new German film company UFA Cinema is his dream job
Even before the first metre of film has been shot, Germany’s new player, UFA Cinema, has been grabbing the headlines over the past 18 months.
“We felt there was a gap for someone to come in to produce -commercial product on a large scale”
Thomas Peter Friedl, UFA Cinema
It started at the end of 2007, when the RTL Group and FremantleMedia announced they would -reactivate the decades-old UFA brand and create a -producer-distributor to deliver features for the local German market.
Based in Potsdam and Munich, the new outfit landed something of a coup in April 2008 by enticing Thomas Peter Friedl from 18 years at Constantin Film to join UFA Cinema as its chief executive. His co-CEOs are Wolf Bauer and Nico -Hofmann, CEO of UFA subsidiary teamWorx, and teamWorx managing director Jürgen Schuster.
Since then, the company has unveiled an ambitious and eclectic production slate. Otto Alexander Jahrreiss’ screwball comedy Pigeons On The Roof appears beside Enid Blyton adaptation The O’Sullivan Twins, an English-language adaptation of Noah Gordon’s bestseller The Physician, student Oscar winner Toke Constantin Hebbeln’s feature Niemandsland, and a big-screen version of Robert Harris’s novel Fatherland, to be shot in German as Vaterland.
The decision to set up UFA Cinema could not have been better timed, says Friedl. “We believe the market for German productions has developed very strongly, not least because of the [incentive scheme] DFFF,” he says. “At the same time, the number of -players who can really manage a higher volume of cinema productions each year has been significantly reduced in recent years.
“Ten years ago, there were five or six big players who were producing more than 54 films on a yearly basis, but now you only really have Constantin and maybe X Filme. So we felt there was a gap for someone to come in to produce -commercial product on a large scale.”
With its production activities up and running — The O’Sullivan Twins and -Devil’s Kickers start shooting in North Rhine-Westphalia in July — UFA Cinema again grabbed the headlines this spring with news of its distribution plans.
In April, a strategic partnership was unveiled with Universal Pictures International (UPI) and Focus Features -International (FFI), in which UPI becomes the exclusive theatrical and home entertainment distributor for UFA Cinema -productions in German-speaking territories. In addition, FFI may partner UFA on key co-productions aimed at the international market and has the option of -handling international sales on selected UFA Cinema titles.
Given his background at Constantin, many had expected Friedl to set up UFA’s own in-house distribution arm. But he points out: “In addition to our annual output of eight to 10 films, we would have had to acquire [a further] 10 movies. I don’t see this product available on the independent market at the moment. That’s why we chose the option of entering into a partnership with an existing distributor.
“We looked at the kinds of partnership that were possible and how we could complement one another as partners,” he continues. “From the outset, Universal and Focus Features were our dream partners since a number of important elements came together. It was extremely important for us to have a distribution partner that produced and had a strong focus on international markets.
“Although our focus is on German-language projects, we have quite a number of English ones in development, so we were keen to have a partner that has experience of production, sales and distribution in the global markets,”
“It is a strategic partnership that -functions in both directions — we will work together in all those areas where it makes sense. Thus, we could also be involved in projects Focus or Universal plan to do here in Germany, where we can bring in our know-how.
“I have realised a dream I’ve had for the past 20 years, including during the time when I was at Constantin — the idea of gathering strong studio product with strong local titles into one distribution structure,” says Friedl proudly.
“Nobody had managed to do this consistently up until now. There were always successful periods — with local productions at US studios or independent -companies such as Constantin with US product — but it was never both at the same time. The market is constantly demanding strong studio and local -product from one source, and that’s what we aim to provide.”
THOMAS PETER FRIEDL
- 1990: Classic Media Werbeagentur and
- other companies of the Constantin Film Group
- 1992: managing director of Classic Media
- 1996: also appointed executive director distribution and marketing for Constantin KG
- 1999: board member for distribution, marketing and central services at Constantin Film AG following IPO
- Oversaw the distribution of a slew of successful films including Manitou’s Shoe, Downfall, The House Of The Spirits and Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer
- April 2008: moves to UFA as a member of the new company’s management
- Responsible for the production of UFA Cinema’s films as well as their marketing and distribution
- Studied architecture and town planning at the Fachhochschule in Munich