Germany boasts a thriving local industry, a film-friendly shooting climate and world-class facilities, which is why international producers have been drawn back to the country in recent times, despite hot competition from neighbouring territories.
French director Leos Carax’s multi international co-production musical, Annette, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, was one of the most high-profile projects to shoot in the country recently across the North Rhine-Westphalia region.
Another is the action comedy film Kung Fury 2, starring Michael Fassbender and Arnold Schwarzenegger, which filmed in the country last year. The film is directed by and starring David Sandberg as a time-travelling kung fu cop, with Schwarzenegger playing a cigar-chomping US President and Fassbender as a gun-toting sidekick.
A large part of the shoot took place at the Nu Boyana Studios facility in Bulgaria (with a strong use of green screen), but filming also moved to Germany and left an impression on the director who was “beyond grateful to the amazing crew and everyone who contributed to the production”.
Studio Babelsberg, the world’s oldest large-scale film studio, based just outside Berlin, has also played host to a number of major projects in recent times, including Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch, starring Frances McDormand, Benicio del Toro and Timothée Chalamet; Columbia Pictures’ Charlie’s Angels reboot and Terrence Malick’s Cannes Competition title A Hidden Life.
Hollywood movies have also carried out post-production work in Germany and producers can access a grant of up to $22.5m (€20m) via the second federal film fund, DFFF 2, aimed at production service companies. However, it cannot be combined with DFFF 1. Marvel/Walt Disney Studios’ Black Panther and Guardians Of The Galaxy carried out portions of their VFX work at German facilities. Companies including Berlin-based Rise FX, Frankfurt and Stuttgart’s Pixomondo, and Munich-based Trixter and Scanline are leading players in their fields and rated highly by their US clients thanks to the excellent training backgrounds of the VFX artists from German film schools.
But it is undoubtedly more expensive to shoot in Germany than in Eastern European countries like Hungary, Croatia and the Czech Republic — either due to the more attractive financial incentives in those countries or generally lower shooting costs.
Plus, Germany’s DFFF 1 has a cap of $4.5m per project on each grant it awards and does not back local or incoming high-end TV drama productions. The German Motion Picture Fund aims to attract incoming productions but has a modest annual budget of $11.3m (€15m).
Despite this, Germany has proven resilient, partly thanks to the studios, but also its film-friendly approach and fantastic array of locations.
Although it is more expensive to shoot in Germany than European countries further east, the country is proving a resilient international location. This is thanks largely to its world-class studios, film-friendly approach and wide array of locations, including the historic capital Berlin.
"Germany has a lot of diversity to offer, from coastline to picturesque landscapes with lots of forest and mountains. Also German cities and towns are surprisingly varied," says Christina Naber, a producer at Berlin based outfit Television Interactive News Agency, which has worked with leading brands like Microsoft and Expedia, and on top shows, including Amazon's Making The Cut and Race Across the World (BBC, TV 2 Denmark). "Take for example Berlin: apart from all the typical Berlin shots, you can find locations that could easily be in Moscow, Paris or other European cities."
“It’s such a city of culture and a tribute to what’s gone before,” adds experienced location manager Georgette Turner (Wonder Woman 1984, Mission: Impossible – Fallout). “The people of Berlin are so accommodating and logistically it was easy to get permits to shoot. The last mayor was so pro filming that he made it his agenda to really make it simple to shoot and he left a lasting legacy.”
Turner points to the ease of parking thanks to the wide roads and grid system, the fact it is surprisingly cost effective to film there, and the friendly, efficient locals. “You can ring someone in Berlin and it’s like talking to an old friend. They’re just so helpful and pro filming, it paves the way for a lot of things.”
Another popular shooting site in Germany is the 19th century Romanesque Neuschwanstein castle, which was the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty castles. “We get a lot of calls from companies wanting to shoot their shows at this ‘Disney Land’ like location,” enthuses Richard Carter at local production service outfit CineVision to KFTV.
Just one word of advice from Naber is that "Germany is a federal country and the rules in every state and town are different, so sometimes permits from several authorities are needed for just one location."
Studio Babelsberg is one of the country’s main production facilities, offering more than 21 sound stages with 300,000 sq ft floor space spread across a 42-acre lot. The facility also offers Germany’s largest water tank for underwater and action shoots. The studio also servers as a co-producer and production service provider through its subsidiary Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures.
Bavaria Studios near Munich offers 13 soundstages — 12 of which are available to producers — while the 13th is under permanent lease. Stage space ranges in size up to almost 34,000 square feet and the studios also offer a backlot with standing sets including mansions and urban streets.
MMC Studios in Cologne, Germany, is one of the largest and most modern studio lots in Europe with 20 TV studios and soundstages. The studio is looking to expand through studio rental and production, post-production and stage and set construction.
Internationally experienced, English-speaking local crews at all stages of production — from set construction through production services to VFX — mean visiting projects can dispense with bringing in their own heads of department. Leading service producers include Television Interactive News Agency, Shotz and Film Base in Berlin and First Frame in Munich.
"Germany has a high density of film schools and therefore very skilled crews, " says Naber at Television Interactive. "English is a common working language. Understandably production companies from abroad are sometimes nervous to work with local teams, but if they did they are not only happy they saved some costs, they also recommend them to others."
Flights between the main cities take little more than an hour, and budget-conscious producers can now benefit from the internal German services being operated by Easyjet and Ryanair. Studio Babelsberg and Bavaria Studios, as well as Cologne’s MMC Studios, are less than an hour’s drive from the city centre hotels.