Film funding in Germany
What sources of film funding are there?

Germany offers a large number of film funding opportunities.
Germany offers a large number of film funding opportunities. | Photo (detail): Nathan Jones © iStockphoto

Producing a film is only possible in a team. That begins with the financing, as a film is usually made possible through a combination of different sources of funding. We survey the funding opportunities.

Germany offers a large number of film funding opportunities. On the one hand, there are national institutions. For the last five years, automatic funding has been available from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) without the need to convince a selection committee of a project’s merits. Each year, it provides some 60 million euro for producing feature films. International co-productions are also eligible for grants amounting to up to 20 per cent of the total cost. The main difference from other institutions is that the funding is delivered as soon as the formal criteria have been fulfilled. Also, this funding is not a loan and thus does not have to be repaid.

Post-production funding

So-called reference film funding from the German Federal Film Fund (FFA) is available for the producers of a successful German film. “When a large number of people go to see a film or when it wins awards at festivals, post-production funding is granted. The film-maker can invest this in a new project without a committee decision,” explains Thomas Schulz, FFA press spokesman. Some 12 million euro has been earmarked for this purpose each year. In total, the FFA awards some 75 million euro per year to convincing projects in a wide variety of areas, such as scriptwriting, production, distribution and marketing – and recently also to the digitalisation of cinemas. For newcomers to the film industry, the Committee on Young German Film in Wiesbaden is a good address. This institution sees itself as a source of start-up funding in various fields that is intended to pave the way for further support.

National and regional funding essential

In addition, nearly every Federal Land offers its own film funding. The rules vary on the details, but “for a film project to receive funding, it not only needs to be of high quality, but also to have a regional connection to the respective Federal Land,” says Dr Ursula Vossen, Project Manager at Hessen Invest Film, one of the two funding bodies in Land Hesse. That means, for example, making the film in the respective Federal Land and also spending the funds there, for instance on film equipment such as the camera and lights or on team members from that Federal Land.

While sponsors and product placement (commonplace in the USA or Great Britain – just think of James Bond) are also used in Germany, it is with considerably greater caution. One needs to be very aware of how much support to accept from whom without upsetting one’s audience, other funders, film distribution companies or critics, thereby risking a loss of credibility and film authenticity. A good compromise may be to obtain sponsorship for essential props instead of buying them, for example, to have costumes provided free of charge without explicitly naming the brands. It is also a matter at the discretion of film-makers whether to apply for a bank loan for their film project, thereby taking on the burden of a financial risk.

Greetings from America: Crowd funding and product placement

A fairly new form of film financing is crowd funding, which involves audiences and fans financing the film before and during production. In exchange, depending on the amount committed, sponsors may be offered a role as a film extra, for example, or a mention in the credits. This approach has been very successfully used recently in the planned feature film of the Stromberg series – a million euro was collected within just a week.

But one can benefit from this principle even when one does not have such a popular name. Janine Scharf, press spokesperson of the crowd funding website VisionBakery, gives the following advice: “The most successful projects are ones that request money for a very specific, limited purpose, such as a particularly expensive scene or actors’ fees.” And the chances of success are much greater when one advertises one’s project via the social media and brings along paying fans oneself. “Then others will be more willing to jump onto the bandwagon,” she says, speaking from experience. Used in this way, crowd funding can be a valuable piece in the film financing jigsaw.