Industry Report: Produce - Coproduce...
Berlinale 2006 Co-production Market - Case study, Grbavica, Golden Bear
by Frédéric Violeau
06/04/2006 - For three years now, the Berlin Film Festival has launched its own Co-production Market within the European Film Market. Besides the one-on-one meetings between producers, the Co-production Market offers 3 case studies, along with many other activities.
As a partner of the Berlinale Co-production Market 2006, Cineuropa.org offers those who couldn’t attend the event an insight into three different processes that brought a project onto the big screen.
Moderated by Amra Bakšić from the Sarajevo Film Festival, in the presence of director of Grbavica [trailer, film focus] Jasmila Žbanić (Deblokada – Bosnia), Bruno Wagner (Coop 99 – Austria), Boris Michalski (Noirfilm – Germany) and Jörg Schneider (ZDF – Germany).
Amra Bakšić: Jasmila, could you tell us more about the story? How did you develop it?
Jasmila Žbanić: I wanted to make something about a rape and started discussing it with some people. Barbara from Coop99 was one of the first to whom I talked about the idea. Once I had written the script, I started thinking about how to finance it but first I have to tell you a bit about the situation in Bosnia. At that time, we didn’t have a proper film fund established. We didn’t have and still don’t have a 35mm print laboratory.
But we believed strongly in the story. And we knew it could only happen through an international co-production as Bosnia is a poor country having suffered a war few years ago. Fortunately while we were developing the film, the Bosnian government decided to create a film fund to which we applied and got the first part of the financing. I have to say that before that, the script was developed thanks to the funding of the Hubert Bals Fund – funding that was crucial to us at that point since Deblokada is an independent production company that is fully dependent on its own daily work.
For our short films, we had already had some support from Austrian friends that let us cameras and film. So it was kind of logical to continue with this friendship and partnership. After the script was written, I attended the 2003 European Pitch Point that was part of the Talent Campus here in Berlin and pitched the project. It was actually here in Berlin that everything got serious. We met with Barbara again and had the first talk with Bruno from Coop99, who was interested in producing it.
We also met Boris Michalski and Didi Danquart who liked the pitch and who already had a good relationship with Coop99. Finally, we met with editor Jörg Schneider from the ZDF. So it is really here in Berlin in the same year when it all started. But it was only a series of first meetings and we were still in the process of figuring out how we could make it.
The Balkan Film Fund also supported us in 2004 while we were already in the preparation for the financing. This development money was very important for us to enable us to continue with many aspects like rehearsals with actors and the polishing of the script. It really helped us make the preparation much better.
Bruno Wagner: For us at Coop99, it all started a few days before the Berlinale when Barbara pitched the idea of the project within the company where there are five partners.
We decided we could try to accompany this project and find financing. It worked quite well since from the beginning we had good reactions, especially from Jörg Schneider. So we were quite confident we could get financing from Austria. The Austrian part comes primarily from the Austrian Film Institute to which we applied and received funding immediately.
Then Boris applied to the Film Fund Baden-Württemberg but it wasn’t that straightforward to get funding from this source.
I think it was in summer 2003, when the co-producer at Deblokada and I went to Zagreb to meet Zagran Film because Daniel showed interest in the project and his company had a laboratory and all the shooting equipment. He was able to participate in the project with an investment in kind, especially for post-production.
Since there were four countries involved we decided to apply to Eurimages for gap financing actually. We were lucky that at the time, the Eurimages meeting took place in Zagreb, as thanks to our good public relations there they gave us the support.
But we were still missing a small part of the budget. At the beginning of the project we had decided we would not make a film for more than one million euro because for more money we would have needed maybe one more year to put the financing in place.
At the very end we contacted the Vienna Film Fund that was interested in co-operating, especially with Bosnia.
Jasmila had already started pre-production in the summer. So at that time she was asking: “What do we do? Can I go on?” But since we didn’t have the whole financing in place we postponed the shooting that was originally planned for October. I think it was in December 2004 when we had all the money in place and we started shooting in February 2005.
Amra Bakšić: Now we come to the ZDF: how did you come on board?
Jörg Schneider: Actually for us, all this started thanks to a colleague of mine from ARTE who had worked with Jasmila on a documentary. She told me Jasmila would pitch her project in Berlin and that Deblokada would get in touch with me.
I have to say I am not really in this international co-production business, as you have to know the department I work for works primarily with German filmmakers on German topics. But we have the privilege that we can select for ARTE two or three projects a year.
With this project we met late at night, I got the script and read it, and from the first moment I was convinced! It is a very important and interesting topic and even in the first version I read I was touched by the story.
After that I presented the project to the team at ZDF and even the people from ARTE liked it from the very beginning.
Amra Bakšić: Boris, could you tell us how the project came about from your side. I think it was a little bit different.
Boris Michalski: Yes, it was. As Jasmila said, we met at the European Pitch Point in 2003. At that time, our company was very young. It was actually our very first co-production therefore we were very thankful that Jamila trusted us. Didi Danquart, my partner, is a long time filmmaker but for me it was the first film I produced.
It was very difficult to convince the MFG Baden-Württemberg Fund that this project was a German project and it was our main concern because without a Regional Fund we wouldn’t have been part of the co-production.
The Fund from our region first refused the project and we had a strong discussion about our work on it. We submitted it again and it was accepted but not with as much money as we thought. German funding available was actually quite small and we had to find solutions to qualify for the point systems. For example, the camerawoman is Austrian but she appears as German in the production for us to qualify…
Amra Bakšić: We now come to this point that I wanted to ask you about the moment in the creative process when you have to make sure you respect this system of points between the countries to be eligible for Austrian, German, Bosnian and Croatian funds. First of all, how was it for you Jasmila, knowing that your crew would come from so many different countries?
Jasmila Žbanić: Given the Bosnian situation where we are lacking so many technicians and professionals because of the war, from my point of view it was a blessing in disguise that we were in the process of a co-production since we would have needed foreign professionals anyway. I had known Christine, the DoP, for some years already and she was my first choice. Since she lives in Berlin she could be accepted as German. It was then obvious that she should use German technicians. From a production point of view, it was logical that we had a German-speaking crew for the lights. So they came from Austria. It all made things quick during the shooting. And these are professions that we are missing in Bosnia.
Amra Bakšić: Bruno, do you think, according to your great experience in production, that this co-production was easier because Bosnia is lacking film professionals?
Bruno Wagner: I don’t think it’s easier to do it that way. It’s even a little bit more difficult because we were shooting in Sarajevo, the laboratory was in Zagreb, after the shooting the film stock travelled to Vienna. I have to say that at the beginning we thought we would do the editing in Germany and the sound in Vienna…
Boris Michalski: …But since we didn’t get the money we expected from the regional fund we decided it would be easier to spend this money in Germany for the sound and do the editing in Austria. I don’t remember when but we had to change our strategy at a certain point.
Bruno Wagner: Yes, we switched very quickly and the editing was made at the laboratory here in Vienna and the mixing was done in Ludwigsburg and Munich. Finally, everything came back to Vienna where we made a dubbed German version to meet the regulations of the funds. This was also necessary for Jörg at ZDF!
To me it seemed much more complicated to move from country to country instead of shooting in one country and doing the whole post-production in the same country.
Amra Bakšić: I am sure you have all forgotten about the bad things that happened during the shooting but as a matter of fact you had to stop shooting and postpone it because the leading young actress broke her leg. How much did that make the whole thing even more complicated?
Bruno Wagner: It was indeed very complicated! I think we shot all scenes without her but there were still six shooting days left when we stopped everything. All the equipment and people had to travel back to Austria and then eight or nine weeks later, everybody had to go back to Sarajevo again. In terms of logistics, it was obviously double the work.
Jasmila Žbanić: But first we had snow and then we had spring…
Amra Bakšić: Jörg tell me, what was the interest of ZDF/ARTE in this project?
Jörg Schneider: First of all, they are interested in the story because we are looking for stories that are different from the German ones we are producing. We are now the right partner for a story that could take place anywhere. We want to give the German and French audience an insight into the country where the story takes place. And that was the great quality of Jasmila’s script: we knew directly where we were and that’s really what we look for!
Being in a community of four countries makes us feel safer in a way. Having people like Coop99 and Noirfilm to speak to is very important. I mean: I know as a commissioning editor how much one needs to produce a low budget documentary and feature film in Germany but I don’t know anything about the production aspects in Bosnia.
We recently produced films from the Czech Republic, Morocco and Slovenia. We don’t specialise in or don’t have a preference for any particular region, it all depends on the project. At the end of the day, we want a tape to broadcast the film.
Now that the film is finished we will broadcast it first on ARTE and then on ZDF. It will be in a night slot but the audience follows the programming and we receive feedback about these kind of films that take place far away from Germany.
Amra Bakšić: I would now like to ask you about the financing plan and how it evolved during the process?
Bruno Wagner: It changed in this way that at the beginning we thought Noirfilm would be the main producer since we thought the MFG would give quite a lot of money.
Boris Michalski: Now we represent 25% of the financing and at the beginning, we thought we would bring 40%. But we never thought we would be the delegate producer and we were happy Coop99 could do this.
Bruno Wagner: The other change was that we didn’t think at the beginning we would need the Vienna Film Fund.
Jasmila Žbanić: The first budget was made for 16mm because that was our first idea. But then with the DoP we thought the story deserved to be shot on 35mm. And thanks to the investment in kind from the Croatian part, it became possible. Also at the beginning, there were only three countries involved (Austria, Bosnia and Germany) and we found out we would need Eurimages money but at that time Bosnia was not a member of Eurimages. We were looking for a partner that was part of Eurimages and Croatia had entered the fund some time ago. We also needed to have a partner that could meet the Eurimages conditions that requires a part of the funding to be already secured. The Croatian part had some actors that we wanted to use and it became an argument to have a Croatian partner.
Amra Bakšić: You are now working on the theatrical release of the film, what do you expect from this in Austria, Bruno?
Bruno Wagner: As soon as we got the selection from the Berlinale we decided with the Austrian distributor to use it and release the film right after the festival. There is a woman’s film festival and they asked us if Grbavica [trailer, film focus] could be the opening film. So we are going to use this festival to launch the film nationwide.
Amra Bakšić: And in Bosnia, Jasmila distribution is also starting on the first of March.
Jasmila Žbanić: The situation about cinemas in Bosnia is that people really like to see domestic films and recent films have been very successful. We have big expectations on the one hand, but on the other hand we know it is a difficult topic and the economic situation in Bosnia is difficult. But since we have had very good press coverage we hope it will work.
Question from the audience: Did you think about changing the title for international release?
Jasmila Žbanić: All the producers and friends have tried to find another title but none was as powerful as Grbavica. I know it’s difficult to pronounce, but it is the place where the story takes place, it’s a kind of microcosm, and with its hard letters it has the kind of sound image of what we are going to see.
Jörg Schneider: We thought about this. It is like the question of the dubbed version: to me the film is so important that I would love to have it with subtitles. But the film will be broadcasted in Germany and France under the title Esma’s Secret. If you don’t work in TV it might not seem very important to change the title, but our experience has shown that in Germany it is important. In the case of Grbavica, we just hope to have found a good solution.
Bruno Wagner: In Austria we made a compromise and called it Grbavica, Esma’s Secret.