Introduction: Christine Haupt is an example of the modern German international co-producer - she has three finished international minority feature co-productions under her belt.
The first of these, finished in 2014, was “Fair Play” – the Czech selection for the Oscars that year.
By coincidence the next film was (Stefan Komandarev’s) “ The Judgement” – the Bulgarian selection for the Oscars for 2015.
The latest title is Radu Muntuan’s “One Floor below”, which was in “Un Certain Regard” in Cannes this year (2015) and many other festivals around the world (i.e. Toronto). Further she received the Producers Award for international co-productions in Hamburg 2015.
Christine, you started around fifteen years ago at film school (Potsdam Babelsberg) with several shorts that had festival successes. You are from East Germany (and proud of it).
Christine Haupt: Many colleagues from the East in the German Film Industry kind of feel close to the East European countries.
Q: So these short film festival successes – which successes were those?
Christine Haupt: Well, my graduation film was a co-production with Switzerland. The title is “Wackelkontakt” (“Loose Contact” 20min.), finished in 2003.
We started from Berlinale and Locarno to worldwide over 50 festivals with roughly 20 awards, so it was quite a good start for a career. It was a good moment to realise that I wanted to continue working internationally.
Q: Then a couple of years later you were production coordinator on the famed German “Life of Others” – an Oscar winner, and again material to do with East Germany.
Christine Haupt: It was quite a big film and didn´t have a big budget, but it was my first work on a full feature film. It was great to be part of it and it took the production company and director Florian Henkel von Donnersmark almost 2 years to finish the film. So we shot in late 2004 and it was only released in 2006. Editing down from three to a two hour film took some time.
Q: So this started while you were still at film school.
Christine Haupt: Exactly.
Q: Then your CV reads that you spent time in Munich doing documentary production and then Leipzig as a production manager and then in Erfurt working on childrens’ films as junior producer. Tell us more, please.
CH: Since I grew up in Berlin, I decided after film school to go away and see more of the world and as I said I wanted to work internationally. I found a company in Munich that offered a job as production coordinator for international documentaries. However Munich is an expensive place and the production company was very new on the market, so they couldn’t really pay me. So I took the opportunity to move to Leipzig when the possibility came. I worked there as unit production manager for the broadcaster MDR. But I wanted to produce films. I met the CEO of Kinderfilm GmbH later that year in a festival jury we both were in. She was looking for a junior producer and I agreed to join.
Christine Haupt: Erfurt is very well known as a children’s film and television production centre, and Kinderfilm GmbH is a well known part of that. Among others we did some crime series – you probably know “Tatort” from German TV, so we did the equivalent for teenagers, then some fairytales (which are big in Germany), we produced 2 cinema features – all this was very productive since I worked on like 12 films in two years. But Erfurt was not becoming home, so I decided to leave and go back to Berlin.
Q: So apart from “Life of others” and the two theatrical films you mentioned, your grounding seems to have been more in television?
Christine Haupt: Yes. In fact to earn money during my studies at Babelsberg I worked for ZDF TV, which helped to create network and get adjusted to the German TV world. The reason I moved to Leipzig was because someone recommended me to the regional MDR (TV).
Q: You seem to have packed in a huge amount of activities into just a few years.
Christine Haupt: I finished film school at the beginning of 2005, I spent that year in Munich, went to Leipzig and left for Erfurt at the end of 2006, where I stayed for 2 years up to 2008, working as a junior producer. There I was given the chance to move away from production management and more into creative producing.
Q: Then came the time at LE Vision (The LE stands for Leipzig – CH).
Christine Haupt: Yes someone recommended me to Simone Baumann, and I started working for her company in Leipzig. LE Vision was very well known for documentaries at the time, but not so much for fiction. So I moved in to set up a fiction department, also because Simone said it was becoming increasingly difficult to finance documentaries.
The intention was to do minority co-production at first. Both “Fair Play” and “The Judgment” come from this time – we found the project “The Judgment” for example at the Sofia Meetings in 2009.
Q: Why look in Central Europe?
Christine Haupt: Because Simone Baumann studied in Russia, and has very good contacts in Eastern Europe. She’s the also German Films representative for Central and Eastern Europe, based in Leipzig, and lives partly in Moscow as well.
Q: So projects “came out” of LE Vision. Does that mean the company stopped? Why?
Christine Haupt: There were five original members (writers and directors) when the Wall came down in 1989, and the expansion was natural over the years, but also there became more separate areas of interest, so it was decided to close the company down without any debts.
I started in 2008 and the close-down came in 2010. I was a free-lance producer there, not a full-time employee. I started my own company during this period and did some other projects as well, so I wasn’t so very lost when LE Vision closed down. There were some projects that were very near to my heart so I took “Fair Play” and “Judgment” with me, especially since the co-producers said they would really like me to stay on those projects.
I asked the local funder (MDM) if I could take over the two projects with HauptFilm and the word came back that my company was considered too small.
So I remembered there were other companies in the MDM region that were interested in the projects so in the case of “The Judgment” I went to Alexander Ris to take over the project with me and he agreed. Same with “Fair Play” and Departures Film Leipzig.
Q: Hauptfilm produced some short films, based in the MDM and Medienboard region. Could you throw some light on how one approaches further funders from other regions in Germany?
Christine Haupt: It´s not necessary to establish a separate company in each region, it is enough to have a functioning office with one employed person there. But the funders are getting more critical: they really want to see a paid employee in such an office. And they physically go and check now. (October 2015).
I have been in Berlin so long that the local funder (Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg) know me quite well and I’ve been working from Leipzig for some 8 years so they know me quite well there too.
In the case of “Fair Play” and “The Judgment” the funders knew that the projects had started at LE Vision and they really wanted them to happen.
Q: What would happen if you needed to work out of Berlin? Do you just go to a friend’s office and take over or what? If you don’t mind illustrating.
Christine Haupt: I personally have two offices, I can apply in both regions. For other Producers, it depends on the nature of the project. If you go to Hamburg, you don’t need an office there – different regional funds set different conditions and project can fit in another fund better than in your own. But the regional spend is very important in every regional fund.
You can use colleagues, but you need to check that their fund will agree to the arrangement.
You communicate with your fund on a regular basis, since things can change from year to year. For example they can warn you one year that perhaps the next year they will try to approach more mainstream projects.
Q: So it is urgently important to keep a strong presence?
Christine Haupt: Yes.
Q: To sum up this part of our conversation: you have told me that as a German producer you make national productions to make money and international co-production to lose money?
Christine Haupt: Well, I wouldn´t quite put it like that. It’s true that from 2015, after focusing some years on the international co-productions, I have started to work nationally more, especially on tv films.
Because international co-productions take so long to finish, and so many years out of your life. Art-house films don’t bring in much revenue, they bring festivals successes and renommé, but I can’t exist physically from that success as a producer. If there are money awards they usually go to the director.
Q: Let’s move on to “Fair Play” :
So how did “Fair Play” appear at the time at LE Vision?
Christine Haupt: Negativ Film is a very well established company in the Czech Republic, and they had been working with Simone Baumann. They sent the script and I felt that was a project I could connect to, and it was doable financially in Germany as well.
The film takes place mostly in Prague during the early 80ties. It concerns the 18 year old sprinter Anna who is training for the Olympic team. As part of this she is undergoing doping though she doesn’t know it – she thinks its just vitamin injections.
When she finds out the truth, she rebels. But her mother, without telling Anna, wants her to emigrate to Hamburg where her father lives. So since the mother supports the steroid programme, a strong conflict between mother and daughter develops.
Q: When you agreed to take over the German minority role, at what point was the project?
Christine Haupt: Well there was an advanced treatment, but no script yet. The director was also the scriptwriter (Andrea Sedlàckovà), with whom we shared the same socialist background and furthermore some passages of the film were set in Germany.
The script that came was very well researched and Andrea talked to a large set of people about sports details especially, to get everything right. So I didn’t need to influence the script a lot: the main issue was the ending – my standpoint was that for example it should have a link to our present society. Because a film set in the 80ties – well there was every chance of a problem for the German financing. But Andrea didn’t want that, in the end we decided differently.
The Czech funding was quite fine, and it arrived quite early. The problem was the Czech TV. My personal feeling was that there were some ex-Communist people in the network that were reluctant to allocate money for this kind of project. It took a year to get the TV on board, and that happened after some personnel changes there.
Q: So what were you preparing yourself for in a minority role for the project?
Christine Haupt: Well, the main qualifiers for the Olympic selection historically always took place in Karl-Marx-Stadt. (Chemnitz –nowadays). So we shot the qualifying of the sprinters and some others scenes in Chemnitz and Dresden. In the end we had 5 days shooting in Germany. 5 days is also the minimum of shooting you may have when funded from MDM.
Q: and what other elements were you looking for as minority co-producer?
Christine Haupt: We supplied some technical equipment, some talent, make-up, sound crew. And we also did the sound post-production.
Q: And what did this come to in money terms?
Christine Haupt: Germany had 20% of the budget. In the end we had an overall budget of 1.3 million (euro).
The original aim would have been to get 1.7m, 1.8m. MDR would have been a good TV partner, but they didn’t really want the topic at that time.
Was it so “unsuitable for their audience”? Their argument was that they didn’t have the budget to support the film that year.
We tried to get Eurimages and didn’t get it either due to a lack of points for their system.
To fit the new budget level we had to reduce shooting days and production value. The story is spread over a year in the life of Anna, which meant several shooting periods and the enhanced expenditure that brings with it. On top of which the actress playing the mother became pregnant so we had additional scenes to shoot after childbirth.
We got 250,000 euros from MDM. Which is what we applied for.
Q: And how many extras did you have in Karl-Marx-Stadt?
Christine Haupt: 150. But we were not allowed to use the Stadium in Chemnitz, so we went to Dresden to shoot the competition scenes. Chemnitz didn’t really want us there, I think perhaps for the topic and because the stadium had construction works going on.
Q: And in Dresden they welcomed you with open arms. Was there anything about the differences in work culture on a Czech-German co-production?
Christine Haupt: there are always differences. The good thing here was that the Czech producer from Negativ Film (Katarina Cèrna) speaks fluent German and lived in Germany for quite a while. Also Negativ had co-produced with Germany before and they knew the system. So their professionalism was an obvious advantage.
Stelios Ziannis, producer, Leipzig (from the audience): And how did you manage with distribution in Germany – did you have a deal memo, seeing there was nothing from MDR?
Christine Haupt: There was an L.O.I. from a distributor. But the film took so long to finish that when we finally showed the finished film they said “Well in the meantime we changed our profile, and we want to make money - we don’t believe in a sports film because German audiences don’t go to sports films.”
We will screen the film in Cottbus FF this year (2015) and we sold it to Telepool. But it will not have a theatrical release in Germany.
Stelios Ziannis: And how did you deal with the regional spend?
Christine Haupt: As I mentioned, we were helped by funds from Negativ. Since in the Czech Republic you can spend a percentage of your funding abroad. In special cases that amount can even go over 50%.
Julietta Sichel (producer, Czech Republic, from the audience): The figure for foreign spend in Czech Republic is in fact 50% now. But my question is what were the advantages in this case for a foreign co-producer in having a German co-production partner since we know that Germany is more expensive – especially as in the case of Sound post-production. A Czech producer will want to make sure they reach their minimum spend to qualify for the tax incentives.
Christine Haupt: The tax incentive was not in place yet in the Czech Republic when we shot the film, so it would be different now, I agree.
I was surprised in fact about some of the Czech crew being more expensive than in Germany, so it does depend on which department you are discussing. This also applies to some equipment hire being cheaper in Germany. So you have to compare closely.
Julietta Sichel: well, the thing to remember about Czech Republic today is that the tax incentive is an important part of every Czech producer’s budget. But I have another question about Germany – producers from there are always saying don’t talk to me, I can’t get a distributor and/or television for your project. While here you are showing a perfect example of a co-production being funded that had neither.
Christine Haupt: well I could of course turn things round and say the same to you.
At the time we did have an L.o.I for distribution, or we would not have gone and received the funding.
And things have changed so much in the last three to four years in the system. Even an L.o.I is not enough today – Funds want to see a deal memo.
The German distributors could take a position that out of 10 projects 8 will not happen, or if they do it will be 4 years down the line, so why not give an L.o.I? But in fact they need the Funds to trust them, and so they are getting more careful.
Stelios Ziannis: To be more precise, there is a reference list of distribution companies that the Funds will take an L.o.I from, and this acceptance opens gates to other national funding (such as DFFF). Such distributors need to show they have made full distribution of three films at least per year.
Christine Haupt: What we use, in other cases when we don’t have TV is a post-production partner who acts like a local co-producer. And after all, if we hadn’t had the money from the Czech Republic we could not have done the project as a German co-producer, despite the positive backing of MDM.
William Furnivall (Financial expert, Thailand, from the audience): After the selection for the Oscar entry did you try again to find a distributor?
Christine Haupt: It didn’t play a role in the German market. What did to a surprising extent was the film’s Czech origin. Even if it was dubbed into Gerrman, a very popular reaction from distributors were “It looks Czech” and then of course “Nobody wants to see a sports film”.
Q: But there was a release for “Fair Play” in the Czech Republic?
Christine Haupt: Yes and it was quite successful – with around 50,000 tickets sold.
Closing word on “Fair Play”: “Which would be a credible figure in Germany today as well…”
Introduction: The next film is “The Judgment”, directed by Bulgaria’s Stephan Komandarev and it was that country’s selection for the Oscars for this year (2015).
Christine Haupt: Bulgaria in the late 80ties. A young soldier Mityo has to shoot an East German couple escaping to the West over the Judgment Mountain.
Today Mityo has lost everything he ever had: his job, his wife, and his almost his house. To save the house, (for him and his teenage son) he has to smuggle illegal immigrants into the EU on the same path over the Judgment Mountain. He works for his previous Captain from the time they were both in the army. So he is facing his past again, and has to pray for forgiveness.
Q: And this is a project you came across at the Sofia Meetings in 2009. Did the magic work immediately?
Christine Haupt: It was not as “magical” as with Negativ Film and “Fair Play”, but the story was strong – in the beginning there was a much higher proportion of German elements in the treatment. At the beginning there was a daughter and not a son. She had an illness to be cured in Germany. The East German couple who get shot were much more exposed in the plot, and it was very convincing that this would be a good co-production for us to do as a German company.
Stephan Komandarev, who is also the producer on the film, then went to some script development programmes, such as Script East, he went to Greece and he did EAVE as well. So then there were many changes, and the financing took several years to complete.
Q: This was a first feature for him as a producer, right?
Christine Haupt: Yes he had produced his documentaries before. This was his first international feature co-production as lead producer. So it was good he did EAVE to have some more idea.
And in that period (2009 +) there were some financing difficulties in Bulgaria, with some of the Public Fund sessions dropping out. And there was no problem getting development, so we were in a position to start with the financing in Germany as well.
Q: what was the budget idea at that point?
Christine Haupt: well we wanted to have 2 million euros, and in the end, after 5 years, we were at 1.8.
Q: were the script changes irritating for your own applications? How did that go on?
Christine Haupt: Well, at LE Vision we applied for development at the Media programme, but when we got it we had to give it back when we understood LE Vision would close.
But Media was already a good sign for the German Funding bodies, and Stephan then applied for Media as well. We applied for development in Germany, but minority development support is not going to happen there any more, except under extremely exceptional circumstances – perhaps a very high level of needed research, and so on. With so many national productions, why support foreign directors who come from territories with local Funds themselves?
But we got around 40,000 euros project development from MDM – a sum you give back when you get production support. And they knew Stephan Komandarev from his previous film “The World is big...” that he wrote and directed - a German co-production as well, so they were willing to support him. So that helped to get the development money.
Q: How did you get on?
Christine Haupt: well one or two years passed with script development and Script East and EAVE, not forgetting the financing problems in Bulgaria. As soon as Bulgarian money was granted, we applied to MDM in Leipzig and MBB In Berlin-Brandenburg. We also applied for dfff. The German participation was around 40% , and dfff needs an input of at least 25%. But we knew there would not be enough money brought by 2 partners, and we would need a third.
So from the Macedonian Film Fund Darko Basevski, who wanted to be in on the project right from the beginning, helped bring Macedonia, but that was still not enough. Alexander Ris hooked us up with Croatia’s Propeler Film. We applied for Eurimages support as well and got it.
Q: On the German side you formally did this project for Neue Mediopolis, Alexander Ris, correct?
Christine Haupt: Yes. They are specialized in co-productions and at that point Hauptfilm as an entity was not, and of course that helped with the funding bodies.
In fact Alexander was in Sofia in 2009 too and he wanted to have the project as well. But Stephan decided back then for LE Vision. Later I asked Alexander if he wanted to join and he said yes.
Q: And Eurimages?
Christine Haupt: it came at around 140,000 euros.
Q: and your LoI in Germany?
Christine Haupt: it came from Farbfilm. Unfortunately, without blame on the distributor, the theatrical result was very bad.
Q: well its not really a film for German theatrical audiences. Did you expect more?
Christine Haupt: Well of course we expected more, and so did Farbfilm. But they liked the story from the beginning, but it is not sure they will go down the East European path this way again.
Q: is German Tv on board?
Christine Haupt: Once again German TV is not on board, we really tried to convince Arte for this project, but they claimed lack of budget.
Q: And Neue Mediopolis are based in Berlin?
Christine Haupt: Yes, the main office is in Leipzig, with a sub-office in Berlin.
Q: And in this international set-up who in fact prepared the Eurimages application?
Christine Haupt: the lead producer.
Q: which must have taken some time?
Christine Haupt: yes it is a complicated process. Some producers use outside specialists, but we did not.
Q: Coming back to original expectations – what was the German contribution in co-production elements in the end?
Christine Haupt: well we had a week of shooting. There was the reduced German couple, the daughter’s German operation was away, we wanted to shoot the river scenes in Germany, but we couldn’t get permission from the natural protection agency due to breeding birds at that lake. So we went to Stendal in Saxony.
And we supplied extras of course, but no major acting talent. Sound crew and make-up. Picture post partly in Berlin because of the MBB funding, some Visual Effects in Leipzig and sound post in Halle. And the post formally came through a local co-producer owning the post production facility. Which helped with the regional effect. Own investment (the “Eigenanteil”) was 20%.
Q: Your German funding came from 3 sources (Leipzig, Berlin and dfff). How did you decide how to divide that up?
Christine Haupt: Well, Berlin provides a very good post-production facility and equipment. MDM have improved such services now as well, and we needed to shoot countryside more in the MDM Leipzig region.
Q: So there were two applications from Mediopolis to two different German funds running concurrently from offices local to each region?
Christine Haupt: Exactly. And we now have exactly 37% of the production, as second largest partner. It is worth mentioning that when we applied for Eurimages, Croatia wasn’t a partner yet, (we didn’t want to wait a sixth year for full funding) so there was a lot of re-doing of paperwork.
Q: the Music? Which budget did that come from?
Christine Haupt: Well the composer is a friend of Stephan from Bulgaria, but performance and recording took place in Croatia.
Q: You needed to spend money in Croatia. How big was their participation?
Christine Haupt: 120,000 euros. Apart from music recording, they supplied the set photographer, some equipment, and money – quite similar to the Czech Republic for “Fair Play”, not all the Croatian grant needs to be spent in the country, so some money went to Bulgaria.
Pavo Marinkovic, Croatia (from the audience): Very flexible our Croatian Fund, sometimes perhaps too flexible, but there is a comment: there is a rule that a film with Croatian public funding has to be shown at the national film festival,(Pula) as part of the competition, but in 2015 the only minority co-production that was not shown is “Judgment”. The film has been shown theatrically in Croatia because the Croatian co-producer owns the cinema it was shown in.
Q: Coming up to the end slowly, please tell us about your satisfaction level with the co-production. What would you have done differently?
Christine Haupt: well perhaps the toughest cookie was that we had to deal with a director who was a first time producer. There was the experience factor, and the feeling - that must happen quite often in such situations - that sometimes one needed to act as the majority producer and not as director. But in the end we trusted each other as partners.
I learnt a lot and I know the Bulgarian system quite well, I learnt that the Bulgarian system is almost as bureaucratic as Germany (smile)
Closing: Well it’s lunchtime and we’ve only covered two thirds of Christine Haupt’s co-production life, so perhaps it’s best that you, the audience, go to see the third item (Radu Muntean’s “One Floor Below”, shown in “Un Certain Regard” in Cannes in 2015) but so far (October 2015) without a German theatrical distributor. The co-producers there come from Romania, France, Sweden and Germany.
Christine Haupt: The Swedes came in when we didn’t receive support from MBB (Berlin Brandenburg).
William Furnivall: how did you arrive at a position where you can say “oh we got the Swedes, we got the Croatians, we got the Bulgarians…”? Because in fact we know it is not so easy…
Christine Haupt: you know someone who knows someone. In this case Alexander Ris knew the French partner. The French partner then recommended the Swedish partner…It’s all about network, recommending, hard work and being trusted and trusting – you learn to know your partners after 5 years of co-existence and if you want to work with them again or not...