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Dec 9, 2020 5:03am PT
German Productions Wrap Safely Amid Pandemic
By Ed Meza
Film and TV productions in Germany have come back with gusto following the three-month COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year, albeit under stringent health protection requirements.
Despite a second lockdown in November due to the rise in coronavirus cases, shooting continues around the country, both in studios and on location. Warners’ “Matrix 4,” Sony’s “Uncharted,” Apple TV Plus’ “Foundation” and the Netflix pic “Munich” are among the big international productions that have recently shot in Germany.
At Studio Babelsberg, “Matrix 4” and “Uncharted” recently wrapped after being initially shut down in March. “We are happy that we were able to carry out both productions without any major incidents in the very difficult period after the lockdown and that everything went wonderfully,” says Studio Babelsberg COO Christoph Fisser.
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Peter Dinges, CEO of the German Federal Film Board (FFA), notes that “Matrix 4” in particular was “an absolutely major project for us, and the fact that everything went according to plan shows that we have the virus comparatively well under control in Germany.”
Dinges adds that contrary to expectations, the number of productions in Germany has not declined. “After initially seeing an increase in the number of applications in the spring, it has now returned to the level of 2019.”
For Berlin-based film services firm Bloc Inc Filmservice, business is booming. The company, which provides a wide range of logistical services, from street closures to equipment and trailer rentals, saw revenue drop 100% from mid-March through the end of June, according to managing director Folker Greisner. From July on, however, business picked up. The company provided services for both “Matrix 4” and “Uncharted” and a number of other international and domestic productions in Berlin.
“In August and September, the booking situation was comparable to 2019; in October and November it’s so far been better than 2019,” Greisner says.
For international productions in Germany there are no restrictions as long as they are in compliance with infection control regulations, Dinges adds. A number of international projects are set to shoot in Germany in the coming months.
Kirsten Niehuus, managing director of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, says she’s looking forward to the upcoming shoots of Pablo Larraín’s Princess Diana biopic “Spencer” and his Apple TV Plus Stephen King series “Lisey’s Story” (known here under its working title, “Faces”). She also notes that Liam Neeson starrer “Retribution” is set to shoot in Berlin in 2021. Recent productions that shot in and around Berlin include the Israeli-German co-production “America,” by Ofir Raul Graizer (“The Cakemaker”), and NENT Group’s TV series “Furia.”
Domestic production shoots are also up as companies catch up on delayed projects.
“We’re producing at full speed,” says Bavaria Fiction managing director Jan S. Kaiser. “We are likely to carry out most of the productions planned for 2020 thanks to all parties involved complying with the hygiene rules with the utmost discipline.”
Bavaria Fiction initially limited its productions to studio shoots but that gradually changed. “Now the ratio between shooting on-location and in-studio is more or less the same as it was before COVID-19,” Kaiser says. “However, we still limit traveling and the number of locations as much as possible whilst maintaining high production values.”
For Studio Hamburg subsidiary Real Film Berlin, Nov. 20 marked the last day of shooting on its seventh and final production of 2020, the ZDF movie “Nach eigenem Gesetz,” starring Nadja Uhl (pictured).
“Amidst all the uncertainty and madness I’m really proud of the team here at Real Film Berlin and thankful to all the people we’ve worked with,” says managing director Henning Kamm. “Everybody managed the extremely steep learning curve very well and we’ve been lucky and blessed to have had a relatively smooth production experience throughout the year with very few corona-induced hiccups.”
Real Film’s latest production was entirely shot on location, like most of its productions this year. “We had to halt one of our earlier productions in March, which we continued shooting right out of the lockdown at the beginning of May,” Kamm adds. “Two more features had to be postponed, one only by a couple of weeks, the other one for a couple of months due to scheduling issues. But we are lucky that none of the productions planned for this year had to be cancelled.”
Some major companies continued in-studio productions during the initial lockdown after developing and implementing health protection measures and tweaking scripts, particularly on daily series, to ensure that actors remain at least 1.5 meters apart. That was the case at entertainment giant UFA with its hit daily soaps like “Good Times, Bad Times,” which shoots at Studio Babelsberg.
As a member of the Producers Alliance, UFA provided input in the development of guidelines drawn up by the German labor ministry and industry liability insurers, says Joachim Kosack, managing director of UFA and UFA Serial Drama.
“In May we began again with on-location shoots and in summer we shot everything that we had scheduled to shoot, including delayed projects as well as new productions,” Kosack notes. “Every shoot is carried out under strict protection measures and regulations, with hygiene concepts, and those are very complicated guidelines.”
“The shoots take longer, they cost more money, and you often have to change the scripts,” he adds. “If you don’t want to send an actor into quarantine, you have to present a love scene in another manner.”
UFA’s current productions include ZDF’s hit crime dramas “Ein starkes Team” and “SOKO Leipzig.”
Constantin Film is similarly shooting on location and at studio facilities after major changes on many productions, including postponements and reschedulings, according to CEO Martin Moszkowicz.
The company has a number of feature films, series, TV movies and daily formats in production in Germany and abroad. Constantin’s Olga Film is currently shooting the Berlin-set TV legal drama “Die Heiland” for ARD’s Das Erste while Constantin Television is producing daily series “Dahoam is Dahoam” for Bayerischer Rundfunk in Munich.
While the industry is receiving financial assistance, producers say more needs to be done for TV productions in particular.
The federal government is supporting the sector with a €50 million ($59.5 million) fund for feature film and high-end series production to cushion COVID-19-related disruptions. Additionally, German funders have so far made around €15 million ($17.9 million) available for the sector, including support for cinemas, Niehuus says.
“The Medienboard has tried to help as quickly and flexibly as possible and has rededicated around €4 million [$4.8 million] from its support fund into emergency aid measures for film productions, cinemas and distributors,” she notes.
Reasonable costs for hygiene measures are also recognized as eligible production costs, Niehuus adds, stressing that “the safety of all employees on set is of the utmost priority for the Medienboard.”
Further COVID-19 assistance funding is expected for the TV sector.
“The additional cost-sharing of the broadcasting partners has been helpful, though not enough,” says Bavaria Fiction’s Kaiser. “We urgently need a contingency fund for TV productions to be established as well, as TV productions that are not in the high-end segment are currently left out.”
On top of the mounting costs of health safety measures and delayed projects, producers have also had to contend with personnel and equipment shortages due to the intense shooting currently taking place, according to Bloc Inc’s Greisner.
Film service providers have been at near full capacity as producers catch up on delayed productions ahead of the traditional slowdown in on-location shoots during the winter months, he says. “This means that the individual costs for productions become more expensive due to the non-availability of equipment and personnel.”