Generous financing options, ambitious film-makers and world-class facilities are making Germany a vital co-producer.

It a time when financing films is tougher than ever, Germany is proving something of a beacon in the storm. With its generous national and regional film funds and its savvy, internationally minded producers the country has become a sought-after partner for a diverse range of projects.

The government-backed German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) — introduced in 2007 — has helped to make the territory a real draw for foreign shoots and the incentive can be accessed alongside a network of generously endowed regional funds, as projects from Inglourious Basterds to Cloud Atlas have shown. The latter, a $100m production that shot at Babelsberg Studios with location shooting in Spain, Scotland and Germany, was able to tap six German funds, ranging from $7.5m (€6m) from the DFFF to $1.9m (€1.5m) from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg.

Other sizeable international projects to shoot in Germany over the past 18 months include Paramount Pictures’ Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which shot in Babelsberg; Ron Howard’s Rush, a UK-US-Germany co-production that shot at MMC Studios in Cologne and at locations in North Rhine-Westphalia; and Brian De Palma’s Passion, a France-Germany co-production which shot on location in Berlin.

Crucially, Germany’s financing power has not been dented by the global crisis, with some funds even increasing their subsidy budgets. Indeed, lively competition between federal states to attract production has resulted in a film-friendly climate. Germany also has no shortage of smart producers, a good local skills base and infrastructure that includes the world-renowned Babelsberg Studios, Munich’s Bavaria Film Studios, MMC Studios, Media City Atelier (MCA) in Leipzig and post-production outfits such as the Oscar-winning VFX operator Pixomondo, with credits including Hugo.

In the arthouse arena, Germany is a powerhouse — with the line-ups of recent major film festivals underlining its vitality as a co-producer. At Cannes this year five Competition titles were made with German partners: Michael Haneke’s Palme d’Or winner Amour was produced with Berlin-based X-Filme Creative Pool; Sergei Loznitsa’s In The Fog was a majority German co-production by with Latvia, Netherlands, Russia and Belarus; Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux was co-produced by The Match Factory; Leos Carax’s Holy Motors was co-produced by Pandora Filmproduktion and Pola Pandora; and Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love was made with Tatfilm in Germany.

Meanwhile, Locarno programmed 18 German co-productions, ranging from Australian director Cate Shortland’s Lore (with Rohfilm), to Markus Imhoof’s closing film More Than Honey (with zero one film) to Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio (with Geissendörfer Film & Fernsehproduktion and The Match Factory).

The Venice line-up features nine German co-productions, including the second part of Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Faith, with Tatfilm, De Palma’s Passion with Integral Film, and Wadjda from Saudi Arabia’s Haifaa Al Mansour, produced on the German side by Berlin-based Razor Film Produktion.

‘I don’t speak German and can’t communicate with the crew in German, but I’ve never had a better crew’

Karim Ainouz, director

Thanks to such initiatives as the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund and co-development funds with Turkey, Russia and Poland as well as participation in several of the MEDIA Programme’s training schemes, German producers are far from parochial, and they have been actively encouraged by the regional funds to build up networks beyond Germany’s borders.

“There is a very high level of professional experience among the younger and older German producers and a very open-minded approach to non-German subjects, [film-makers] and languages,” says Cedomir Kolar of Paris-based ASAP Films, which shot Bence Fliegauf’s Womb in Berlin with Razor Film as co-producer.

Other German production houses well versed in international co-production include Cologne-based Pandora Filmproduktion, Heimatfilm and Lichtblick Filmproduktion, Berlin-based Rohfilm, Flying Moon Filmproduktion, Endorphine Production, Unafilm and Senator Film, Leipzig-based and Neue Mediopolis and Munich’s Bavaria Pictures.

Rohfilm co-produced Lore, a story of children in the aftermath of the Second World War that shot in Germany and was structured as a Germany-Australia-UK co-production. Producer Karsten Stöter of Rohfilm says that “some funds were easy to get and the committee funded the film unanimously. Others had reservations about the story. In the end, we found six German funds and had support from some partners like MDM, FFA and DFFF who have funded our previous films. But we also had support from new partners like FilmForderung Hamburg, HessenInvestFilm and the MFG Baden-Württemburg who came on board because we could shoot in their region.”

Shooting in Germany was also a creative decision for Brazilian director Karim Ainouz with his latest Praia Do Futuro, a story set on the Brazilian coastline and in Berlin. Having received funding from the Hamburg and Berlin-Brandenburg funds and the DFFF, the project started shooting in Berlin in the spring and is due to continue shooting in Brazil in the autumn. Produced by Hamburg-based Detailfilm, Berlin’s Hank Levine Film and Brazil’s Coracao da Selva Transmidia, the film is expected to become the first official Germany-Brazil co-production.

Ainouz explains that Praia Do Futuro has been “about building a cultural bridge between two ways of making a film. It’s been interesting how the rigour and the planning and precision of working with the German crew has been a really wonderful experience for me. You can feel it in the material of the film. I don’t speak German and can’t communicate with the crew in German, but I’ve never had a better crew.”

Strong language

An increasing number of German producers are making forays into English-language production for the international market. Potsdam-based UFA Cinema, for example, is shooting Philipp Stölzl’s The Physician until the end of September in Germany and Morocco. The project is based on Noah Gordon’s bestseller and stars Tom Payne, Ben Kingsley, Stellan Skarsgard, Olivier Martinez and Emma Rigby.

Berlin-based Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv (SKF), which was majority co-producer on Agnieszka Holland’s Oscar-nominated In Darkness, is developing projects to shoot in English including The Black Art, about Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of modern printing, and Palace Of Tears, based on Russell Gilwee’s screenplay about a couple separated by the Berlin Wall in 1962. SKF will be seeking foreign partners.

German producers are also becoming more market oriented with local-language fare. As Peter Dinges, CEO of the German Federal Film Board (FFA), noted earlier this year in his presentation of industry statistics for 2011, the success of German films was the reason for the year’s overall box-office increase of 2.3%, with 129.6 million tickets sold. Hits included the comedies Kokowääh, What A Man, Men In The City 2 and Almanya — Willkommen In Deutschland, and the rise was also partly due to German film-makers exploring 3D in productions such as Wim Wenders’ Pina, Constantin Film’s The Three Musketeers and Vicky And The Treasure Of The Gods.

In the first half of 2012, German cinema’s market share of the box office was 16%. The most successful release, Turkish For Beginners, posted more than $20.3m (€16.4m) for distributor-producer Constantin. The second most successful local release so far this year has been Detlev Buck’s cross-dressing comedy Woman In Love, which opened a week before Christmas and took $10.3m (€8.3m) for Universal Pictures in 2012 alone.

The star of that film, Matthias Schweighöfer, moved into producing and directing with his debut What A Man for the local outpost of 20th Century Fox, with box office of $15.5m (€12.5m). Schweighöfer — whose second directorial outing, the comedy Schlussmacher, shot this spring — has signed a four-picture deal with Warner Bros Entertainment.

German producers are also very active in family entertainment. In the first six months of 2012, Fünf Freunde posted $6.7m (€5.4m) at the local box office for Constantin, while the second Hanni & Nanni film has amassed $5.3m (€4.3m) for Universal since its release in May. Constantin wrapped a sequel to Fünf Freunde at the end of August while the third film in the Hanni & Nanni franchise will be released next spring.

German federal film fund (DFFF) 2011

 No of projectsTotal prod costsGer prod costsTotal grants
Total projects supported111$572m (€463.1m)$417.6m (€338.1m)$73.5m (€59.5m)
International co-productions44$252.1m (€204.1m)$145.6m (€117.9m)$26.2m (€21.2m)
German co-productions67$319.8m (€259m)$271.9m (€220.2m)$47.3m (€38.3m)

Germany 2011

  • Total admissions 129.6 million
  • Total box-office $1.2bn (€958.1m)
  • Admissions per capita per annum 1.58
  • Number of cinema screens 4,640
  • Market share of German films 21.8%
  • Admissions to German films 27.9 million

Source: FFA