Promotion of Film in Germany Hollywood between the Spree and the Elbe

Hollywood blockbusters bring money into the country.
Hollywood blockbusters bring money into the country. | Photo (detail): © Perseomedusa - Fotolia.com

What do Quentin Tarantino, George Clooney and Lars von Trier have in common? They have all made films in Germany – and with good reason, for they too profit from Germany’s promotion of film.

When Quentin Tarantino came to Germany in 2008 and 2009 to shoot his blockbuster Inglourious Basterds starring Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger, it was not only the original Second World War film locations that persuaded him. The production also received funding to the tune of 6.8 million euros from the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF). Since 2007, the DFFF has been making funding available for the production of cinema films in Germany, so long as they meet certain criteria. For example, a German co-producer must be involved, such as Studio Babelsberg. In addition, part of the funding must be spent in Germany, as the DFFF’s website explains: “If you produce your feature, documentary or animated film in Germany and spend at least 25% of your budget here, you can obtain a grant of up to 20% of the approved costs”. Carpenters from the local region build the film set, German cameras are borrowed or post-production takes place here in Germany. This is a very profitable business for the film industry in Germany, and something that Potsdam’s Studio Babelsberg in particular has been tapping into. As early as 2003/2004, The Bourne Supremacy was produced here, the second part of the Jason Bourne trilogy starring Matt Damon.

Promoting Germany as a film location

With an annual budget of 50 to 70 million euros, the DFFF is able to support all kinds of film projects. Both home-grown projects and international co-productions are the beneficiaries: of the 115 grants approved by the DFFF in 2013, 73 went to German and 42 to international co-productions. Although German productions are clearly ahead in terms of number, funding is almost equally divided between the two: 28.5 million euros were provided to national and 33.9 million euros to international productions.

Another potential source of funding is the German Federal Film Board (FFA), which has around 76 million euros to allocate. However, while the DFFF is tax-payer funded and its promotion activities are carried out according to a defined mechanism, the FFA derives its income solely via a film levy – a fixed amount that cinema operators, film distributors and television companies are required to pay. The FFA has a board comprising representatives of politics and the German film industry which decides on which productions to fund. The criteria are not so tough – there is no minimum amount that has to be spent in Germany, for instance. The basis for the FFA’s activities is always Germany’s Film Funding Act, however.

As an FFA spokesperson explains: “For every euro of funding made available to a film project by the DFFF, six euros on average are then spent in Germany.” The German method clearly works, he continues: “Other European countries are copying our approach to film promotion.” It is also the FFA’s job to handle the distribution of the DFFF’s funds. The funds made available by the DFFF, he explains, tend to be almost entirely exhausted, just as the FFA’s funds are also fully distributed.

In addition, almost all of Germany’s federal states have their own independent film promotion agencies – North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and Hesse, for example. Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia are jointly represented by a media promotion organization named Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung (MDM) and also actively support international blockbusters. Wes Andersen’s film The Grand Budapest Hotel was funded in part by 900,000 euros from the MDM.

The money must remain in the state

Michel Morales is a film producer and a member of the board at the Verband deutscher Filmproduzenten, the association of German film producers: “The main urban centres are Munich, Berlin and Cologne – Cologne primarily playing host to television productions such as TV shows and films for television. The major international “Hollywood productions” still always happen in Babelsberg.”

Anyone wishing to obtain funding from the film commissions in the federal states have to fulfil similar conditions as those imposed by the DFFF and are required to spend part of the money within the region. “Job hopping is par for the course in our industry. Crew members can be hired in any cities or regions where filming happens to be taking place”, explains Morales. The Grand Budapest Hotel for instance was partly filmed on location in the Saxon city of Görlitz. Young filmmakers are increasingly drawn to the German capital, however. “In recent years, there has been a growing migration to Berlin among qualified film professionals and indeed among young filmmakers who feel that the cities in the south have become too expensive”, says Morales, who goes on to point out that it is becoming increasingly difficult for people who receive funding from the state of Hesse, for example, to actually achieve the required expenditure in this region.

Cinematography excellence in Germany

The German film industry enjoys a good reputation abroad, attests Michel Morales – it is regarded as reliable and punctual, it remains within the required budget and finishes projects on schedule. Cinematography and post-production are considered to be leading in the international context – just one more reason why international productions are attracted to Germany. Although critics warn that promoting such productions means that German art-house films are often being neglected and that the diversity of the German cinema scene is at risk, there is no doubt that the German film industry profits from the money brought into the country by the Hollywood blockbusters.