For nearly two decades the European Film Market has had, at its core, the Berlinale Co-Production Market, where hundreds of producers, sales agents, distributors, broadcasters and, more recently, some streamer execs have been drawn to a bunch of curated projects.
The EFM has always been Europe’s quintessential co-production germinator. But the pandemic has made it much tougher to make movies across multiple territories, while the streamers, which tend to fully finance their projects, get bigger — accelerating a pre-existing market dynamic. What might these accelerated shifts mean for the current state of the co-production in Europe where it’s been such an integral part of the industry ecosystem?
Martina Bleis, who heads the Berlinale Co-Production Market, says they had approximately the same number of submissions, roughly 300, for their 35-title Official Selection this year. But while she noticed that producers took “more time and care” to fill out their applications, and there are fewer submissions for comedies, the application’s budget line proved problematic. “Obviously people know that budgets rise due to the pandemic, so it’s more difficult to estimate budgets,” she says.
On top of that, producers simply don’t know how much longer travel and other restrictions will be in place.
Over at Eurimages, which is Europe’s top co-production fund, its chief Roberto Olla says the pandemic has had no impact for the moment in terms of the number of projects submitted to them. In all, 196 projects were deemed eligible for funding in 2020 (to qualify for support, projects must have at least 50% of financing in place).
But the fact that those projects have approved EU funding for projects, doesn’t mean these pics will actually get made, Olla cautions. “In 2020, there’s been a lot fewer shoots,” he notes. “In terms of cash flow [they’ve] paid out a lot less.”
“The industry formally continues to work. Projects are packaged and presented, and supported,” says Olla. “But the number of these projects that has actually gone into production has drastically dropped.”
He points to an alarming figure: in 2020 only 5% of projects approved by Eurimages actually went into production. It’s still early to gauge the full impact of the pandemic and other ongoing film market dynamics on co-prods, though it’s clear that producers want
them to continue.
“Co-productions have always been complicated creatively and financially, but they are worth it,” says Martin Moszkowicz, head of film and TV at German powerhouse Constantin Film. He notes that these days it’s “even more important that companies in Europe, which is made up of many small markets, join forces.”
Moszkowicz also points out that, in terms of scope, co-productions now are more important in television than in the traditional theatrical arena.
“You have all these huge free-TV companies all throughout Europe — Mediaset, TF1, the BBC, ZDF — and they are feeling pressure from the streamers, who have a unified way of approaching productions, both creatively and financially,” he says.
“I think there is a new opportunity for Europe — those big television stations could join forces to create content and programming that is actually on a par in terms of production values with the streaming giants.”
As for the prospects of co-producing with streamers, Moszkowicz and others say every streamer has a different modus operandi. Some are more open to splitting the market than others. In the case of Constantin’s latest series, “Christiana F — We Children From Banhof Zoo,” which recently went out on Amazon Prime Video in most of the world, it was mounted as a co-production with several partners, including ITV-owned Cattleya in Italy and Wilma Film in the Czech Republic, and with Fremantle handling international sales.
“[It’s] a model that is creatively very intriguing to both filmmakers and producers,” Moszkowicz says.
Bleis points out that Netflix’s first Austrian original series, “Freud,” which launched from the Berlinale Series last year, was a German/Austrian co-production that German pubcaster ZDF distributed internationally.
But the “Christiana F” series and “Freud” are rare exceptions in a scenario that by and large sees giant streamers commission European originals using a Hollywood studio model in which they fully finance and take all rights — a model not conducive to co-prods.
“I think producers are very much aware of the opportunities, but also the limitations, that this brings,” Bleis says. “There are projects where producers
say: ‘I don’t want to go to a streamer with this because I want to keep rights and build up a library, and there are others where they are happy to say, ‘OK, this is fully financed and we can do it,’” she notes.
As an example of a standout project that encapsulates why co-productions are of vital importance in Europe, the Berlinale Co-Production Market chief cites Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić’s “Quo Vadis Aida?” (pictured), a potent telling of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which germinated at the Berlin mart. The eight-country co-production project was presented in 2016, launched at Venice in 2020 and is now shortlisted for the international film Oscar.
“In Bosnia we don’t have enough film professionals, so co-productions are a natural,” says Zbanic, who besides directing also produced “Aida” with partner Damir Ibrahimović and Deblokada, the artists’ association and production shingle they founded. Just as importantly, co-prods also impact “the artistic value of the film,” she adds.
When they brought the project to Berlin in 2016, the “Aida” producers knew they needed more than €4 million ($4.8 million) to get the pic made “and would need many more countries,” they say. The first person they spoke to was British producer Mike Goodridge, who connected them with Germany’s Razor Film, one of the eight partners. The clincher was getting N279 Entertainment of the Netherlands on board since the Dutch armed forces were manning the U.N. base at Srebrenica during the massacre.
Ultimately, for Euro producers, co-prod are key to artistic freedom.
“It’s the thing that gives us the edge as producers,” says Maximilian Leo, co-founder of German indie Augenschein Filmproduktion, which specializes in elevated genre fare such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt hijack thriller “7500” that Amazon acquired for the U.S.
“They are crucial, not only financially. They are crucial for getting an understanding of the market beyond your home market. They make us what we are and have made it possible for us to make movies that are not just local comedies. If we weren’t doing international co-productions, that would be our only option.”
Select Berlin Co-Production Market Titles
The Business Women’s Club
Director: Anna Muylaert
In an alternate Brazil where gender stereotypes are flipped, two young male journalists visit the retreat of the Business Women’s Club. The summit is derailed when three jaguars escape from their private zoo. Glaz Entertainment and Africa Filmes, Brazil
Director: Konstantinos Antonopoulos
Two convicts shipwreck on a desert island: Justinian is a dethroned emperor, while Zaharias a peaceful beekeeper. To survive they need to work together. Falliro House Productions, Greece.
Handling the Undead
Director: Thea Hvistendahl
A strange electrical field hits Oslo, reanimating the dead. Yet those who lost loved ones soon discover that the children, wives and mothers who come to life are not the same as the ones they buried. Einar Film, Norway
Land of Savages
Director: Fernando Guzzoni
Chile, 1830. Jan is a slave owner haunted by ominous nightmares and his dark past. Awake, he must deal with rebellions and a growing abolitionist movement that threatens his power. Fabula, Chile
Director: Youjia Qu
A dedicated C-pop idol trainee, Jing struggles as part of a newly formed girl group in preparation for its debut show. She must commit to a complete destruction of self in her rise to stardom. Radiance and Notation Film, China
Director: Yeşim Ustaoğlu
A small family, constrained in a big city and trapped by the dilemmas of the modern world, embark on separate journeys to purify their souls, and reconnect with their roots and their love for each other. +90 Film Production and Ustaoglu Film, Turkey.
Director: Benjamín Naishtat
Marcelo has been an insecure professor of philosophy at a public university for years. In a politically volatile environment he must prove to his family, peers and himself that he is up to the task of being the successor to his late mentor. Pucara Cine and Pasto Cine, Argentina.
Shine of the Sun
Director: Jan Komasa
In 1968 Poland, in an atmosphere of extreme pressure and surveillance within the national junior teams, Tomek must survive an extreme test of sexuality, loyalty and self-preservation. Aurum Film, Poland
Director: Isabel Sandoval
Set in 1570 in the Philippines, pic is a colonial drama about a native priestess who pretends to be possessed by the spirit of her Spanish master’s dead wife, so that she can escape persecution as a witch. 7107 Entertainment, U.S.