Germany is one of the top film and TV production markets in the world. While US films take a substantial share of the domestic box office, German films still take a respectable share. This, coupled with a dynamic domestic TV business, means that there is a talented pool of producers, directors and crews as well as a first class array of studios and post-production houses. Although it is a relatively expensive place to shoot, the film infrastructure is second to none, so you do get what you pay for.
While German movies tend to be shot at home for storytelling reasons, high-end TV productions and commercials are often produced abroad because of cost considerations. There has, for example, been a big swing towards German-backed TV mini-series in recent years. But many of these are shot in cheaper markets. Likewise, it’s standard practice for Germany-based ad agencies to use Eastern European locations to shoot their TV commercials.
Having said this, Germany has a lot to offer as a potential shooting location for international productions. Aside from its great geographic diversity and historic/cultural sites, it also has some superb cityscapes – Berlin being very in vogue right now. There’s also strong support for producers from the German Federal Film Fund and the country’s network of regional film agencies. Not to be overlooked either is the fact that the country has an excellent air and road transport infrastructure.
French director Claire Denis' English language debut, High Life, starring Robert Pattinson and Mia Goth, chose Cologne as its main production base for an April 2016 shoot.
Alone in Berlin starring Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl and Brendan Gleeson was filmed in Berlin, Cologne and Görlitz in 2015. Director Gore Verbinksi chose Berlin as the primary location for his supernatural thriller, A Cure for Wellness, filming during the summer of 2015.
International film productions have been in and out of Germany on a regular basis for decades. Recent credits include The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2 (2015), the fourth movie in Francis Lawrence’s adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ popular series of young adult novels, and The Grand Budapest Hotel by award-winning director Wes Anderson, which premiered at the Berlinale in 2014. Both were shot at Studio Babelsberg, on the outskirts of Berlin.
Studio Babelsberg is also a prolific co-producer, having recently been involved with Duncan Jones' Mute, Fede Alvarez's The Girl in the Spider's Web, action movie Renegades and Wes Anderson's animated adventure Isle of Dogs.
The decision on whether to shoot international TV or commercials in Germany is inevitably influenced by price. Recent TV productions to have been partly filmed in the country include the Wachowski siblings' sci-fi drama for Netflix, Sense8 (2015) and the high-profile US show Homeland became the first US drama to shoot entirely in Germany when it was announced that all 12 episodes of season five would be filmed there from June 2015, based at Studio Babelsberg.
As for commercials, it’s straightforward for agencies to shoot in cheaper Eastern European locations. So there are two main reasons why ads are shot in Germany. Firstly, because they are for the German market and need a local feel. Secondly, because the agency wants to achieve a distinctive look. In the latter category, for example, Berlin has become a popular choice for car brands. Companies that have used the city as a location include Audi for its A6 Avant and Nissan for its Juke.
As a general rule, Germany is a film-friendly country, however obtaining permits is not always straightforward. A single location may require several different permits. However, the process is very well organised and an experienced service producer can arrange permits quickly and efficiently. Germany’s regional film commissions call themselves “a central coordination and information point for all matters concerning shooting and production in their respective regions”.
Although they are not responsible for the granting and obtaining of shooting permits, the commissions can act in an intermediary capacity using their contacts. Their service covers information on the responsible authorities and application procedures, together with the contact addresses of service providers for location scouting, the procurement of shooting permits, street cordoning, equipment, etc.
Germany is a large country with various regional production hubs. Berlin, for example, has numerous quality studios including a state of the art facility run by Pinewood, where studios range in size from 6000 to 26000 square feet. Bavaria, the home of Bavaria Studios, is also an important centre.
One of the most famous studios in Germany is the Babelsberg Film Studio, located in Potsdam-Babelsberg. Founded in 1912, it found early fame as the home of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The Monuments Men (2014) and was also home to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks when they filmed Bridge of Spies, a Cold War spy thriller, in 2014. It also recently had a new permanent exterior hybrid set built called New Berlin Road.
MMC Studios Cologne also housed its fair share of productions and gets recommendations from a variety of big names such as Dame Helen Mirren, Ben Kingsley and Jim Jarmusch.
Most of the regional film commissions can advise on studio availability. MDM Film Commission cites the city of Leipzig as a prominent media business location, as home to state-of-the-art studios at MCA (Media City Atelier).
Perfect vision, perfect pictures, perfect sound and amazing visual effects and 3D-animation, offered by professional and experienced companies, studios and creative talent with high-end equipment.
While many of Germany’s major studios offer post production facilities, there are dozens of smaller post production companies operating across the country, servicing the healthy local filmmaking industry.
For a list of post production companies, click here.
Major post production outlets
With offices in Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Halle, CinePostproduction offers all main services involved in film lab, digital lab, digital post-production and sound studios. CinePostproduction offers its services in all formats with film, digital intermediate, in HD or TV resolution. The company’s film experts, colourists and specialists for visual and sound effects ensure that pictures are displayed to their full effect on the cinema screen.
With multiple locations, Bavaria Production Services GmbH (BPS) has successfully positioned itself on the market in the past few years as a complete production technique service company for film, television and advertising. BPS resulted from the fusion of the individual technical areas of Bavaria Film in 1997. Founded as a subsidiary of Bavaria Film, BPS entails the areas of recording, post-production, transmission handling and media service for system planning and consulting.
Germany is blessed with beautiful and impressive locations. Among the more prominent is capital city Berlin, which offers a wealth of iconic sites such as the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, Communist-era, contemporary and period architecture along with trendy street scenes.
Other cities with interesting urban locations include Dresden, a Baroque city on the Elbe river; Cologne, with its Christmas market and Roman ruins; Munich, with castles, lakes and nearby Alps; and Hamburg with its container ports. Outside of the cities, there’s a mix of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, castles, coasts and islands.
Most key locations of this kind can be sourced via the regional film commissions, who support location scouting by providing free, publicly available location guides in the form of online/offline databanks and/or in print, which may be added to by local location scouts and agencies. For an overview, Location Germany at the German Film Commission’s website has plenty of information.
Germany is home to a wide array of top class equipment rental firms. Possibly the best know is ARRI Rental, which has its HQ in Munich but can also supply a wide range of equipment via Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Leipzig. Dozens more companies from across Germany are listed on the KFTV website including MBF Filmtechnik, which supplies cameras, lighting and grip equipment via offices in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin; Delight Rental Services, which has a full range of equipment in Berlin and Stuttgart; and Cinegate, which can supply equipment from bases including Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Leipzig.
There’s no shortage of talented crews in Germany. Likewise, the country is very multicultural, meaning that there is no problem finding the right ethnic mix for casting purposes.