Industry Report: Jan Naszewski • Sales agent, New Europe Film Sales
Marketing Case Study - Sophie Scholl, The Final Days
by Annika Pham
- Case study: collaboration between the domestic German distributor X Verleih and the international sales agent Bavaria Film International, for the production of Sophie Scholl: The Final Days. How to maximize the earning potential both nationally and internationally.
The first test case focuses on the German film Sophie Scholl -The Final Days [+see also:
film profile] by Marc Rothemund, which has just been selected to compete for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category. The film also won three awards at the last European Film Awards including a Best Actress Award for Julia Jentsch.
The challenge with Sophie Scholl was to market a film that has no major marketing hooks but follows similar subject content as recent international successes Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Downfall [+see also:
interview: Bernd Eichinger
interview: Joachim Fest
interview: Oliver Hirschbiegel
film profile] and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist [+see also:
film profile]. Cineuropa took the opportunity to examine how the domestic German distributor X Verleih and international sales agent Bavaria Film International worked together with the film’s producers to maximise the earning potential of the film both nationally and internationally.
1. Sophie Scholl - X Verleih’s marketing campaign in Germany
X Verleih is an important distributor of German and international films, the distribution arm of X-Filme, one of Germany’s most dynamic and successful production companies co-managed by filmmaker Tom Tykwer and responsible for such hits as Run Lola Run and GoodBye Lenin! [+see also:
interview: Wolfgang Becker
Here under is a broad description of the marketing campaign that was put together by X Verleih for the release of Sophie Scholl- The Final Days in Germany.
Target audience for the film
According to Marc Klocker, Head of Marketing at X Verleih, the target audience for the film was the following:
Primary audience: 22-40 years old
Secondary audience: school children
-The story itself
Topical and gripping subject matter about a young group of German students who formed a resistance movement dedicated to the downfall of the Third Reich.
Although other films such as Michael Verhoeven’s White Rose (o.t. Die Weisse Rose) and Percy Adlon’s Fünf letzte Tage (Five Last Days) had already focused on the White Rose movement, the strength of Marc Rothemund’s film was that it used exclusive new historical documents, including new-found transcripts of Scholl’s interrogations by Gestapo officer Robert Mohr that had been hidden away in East-German archives for decades and were only made available in 1990.
the lead actress Julia Jentsch did one big German film before: The Edukators, and the director also had a hit at home with his previous feature film Just The Two Of Us (o.t. Harte Jungs) that scored 1.7m admissions. But the names of the director and actors were not enough in themselves as a marketing hook.
X Verleih built its campaign on the Berlin selection and capitalized on the two Bear awards for the film’s opening the following week in Germany and for the film’s release in other German speaking territories.
Release date and pattern of release
X Verleih decided to set the film’s release date immediately after the Berlin Film Festival (from 10-20 February), ie on 24 February to build on the film’s awareness that had developed during the biggest film festival in Germany and one of the biggest A festivals in the world.
Based on the film’s strong subject matter, the Berlin awards and high visibility following Berlin, X Verleih put together a day and date release with an initial print run of 202 copies, a medium release pattern for Germany. The maximum number of prints in third week was 250.
-Teaser and Trailer
The first element of the marketing campaign to reach the audience was a teaser trailer that played alongside Olivier Hirschbiegel’s Downfall (o.t. Der Untergang) 4-5 months before the release of Sophie Scholl.
The teaser trailer and the trailer were made in-house. At that stage there was no artwork yet for the film.
Two different artworks were created just before Berlin, one brighter with a big image of the actress, then a second poster a bit darker, but perhaps more mainstream, showing Sophie Scholl in the interrogation room and giving more information about the story (used by Bavaria Film International).
Both posters were printed in the same amount and were offered to exhibitors.
Marc Klocker said that keeping two different artworks was really exceptional for X Verleih, but they just couldn’t decide which one to choose…
X Verleigh used the usual outdoor posters, TV spots, newspaper ads to create awareness. After the successful opening of the film, the distribution company started a radio campaign in the second week of release.
X Verleih did a huge school campaign with a government organisation promoting film at schools. A brochure about the film was published, giving background information about the White Rose movement. And as stressed by Marc Klocker, for the first time, X Verleih attached a DVD with the Making of and extracts of interviews with various key people who had been close to Sophie Scholl and/or who had been important witnesses of what had happened at the time. 2,500 copies of the DVD were made and sent to schools across Germany.
Many schools brought 3-4 classes to see the film.
Preview screenings are always essential for arthouse films (even with a cross-over potential) to build the word of mouth. The ‘problem’ for Sophie Scholl was that the film had been selected at Berlin and in the case of films selected at A Festivals, distributors are not allowed to have preview-screenings of the films before their official screening at the festival. So as soon as X Verleih had a competition slot, and a release date a few days after the end of the festival, they organised preview screenings in 10-15 cinemas tied-in with the magazine Stern.
Several previews were also organised for teachers.
During the Berlin Film Festival, the film had attracted a lot of positive media coverage and the level of awareness was already quite high for the opening of the film. Other interviews and talk shows were organised with Marc Rothemund and the actors, in particular Julia Jentsch.
A thorough press kit had been put together for Berlin and was also made available to the media after the festival.
Total admission figures in Germany
The film is available on DVD since 20 September 2005.
2. Sophie Scholl - International marketing campaign
According to Thorsten Ritter, Head of Bavaria Film International (BFI), Marketing and Acquisitions, his company was approached by the film’s producers at post-production stage, when the film was available as a rough cut. «It was the first time we were collaborating with the producers but we were pleased they thought of us for the film. They obviously appreciated our work on German films (including the 2004 Berlinale winning film Head-On [+see also:
film profile], 2003 international hit Goodbye Lenin! and the 2003 Oscar-winner Nowhere in Africa [+see also:
film profile]). So they brought us the project. The film was very good so I was confident we would be able to do good business with it. It was an emotionally engaging film, although I anticipated some problems with the interrogation scenes for the subtitled territories» said Ritter.
So what were the key marketing hooks of the film for foreign distributors who first saw the film in Berlin?
Marketing hooks for international distributors
-Name of the sales company
Bavaria Film International is a credible, respected and quality oriented sales company.
-Name of German distribution company
X Verleih is a successful and reputable distribution company well-known for its strong marketing campaigns.
For arthouse films in particular, festival awards can be important as a stamp of approval for potential audiences, but not determining per se.
-Box office hit in Germany
The success of a film in its domestic territory is among the key elements to attract buyers attention. Here, the film had a strong opening and is one of Germany’s biggest local hits of 2005.
-Success of previous films with a similar theme
As Downfall was one of the biggest German hits internationally in 2005, releasing another German film with a similar theme when Downfall’s success was still fresh in people’s mind was a good potential hook for distributors. Other recent WWII films such as The Pianist had also scored well at the international box office.
The lead actress Julia Jentsch was quite well-known internationally because of The Edukators, and she really carried the film, so BFI saw her as a very strong asset for the promotion of the film. They had also worked with her on her previous film Snowland.
Positioning of the film
The film’s producers and BFI had heated discussions about the positioning of the film according to Thorsten Ritter: «The producers wanted to focus on the subject matter and wanted to make sure nobody would be able to accuse them of being unfaithful to the historical events that took place», he explained. «New documents had just emerged about the ‘White Rose’ movement from Eastern German archives, documents that nobody before had been allowed to see.
But we at Bavaria thought that the international audience wouldn’t need too much detail about the historical facts and background information. We wanted to push on the emotional side of the story.
There was also Michael Verhoeven’s film The White Rose that had been shot before on the subject, an internationally renowned film that most buyers had seen. So we thought having Michael Verhoeven’s comments on Sophie Scholl would be good to promote the film. We wanted him on our side as his film was a milestone on the subject matter that dealt with the whole White Rose Resistance movement, whereas Sophie Scholl focused mostly on the last 6 days of one of the White Rose’s heroines.
The producers also consulted Sophie’s sister and other survivors of the White Rose movement to have their approval of the film. »
Strategy for the Berlinale 2005
Sophie Scholl was ready just in time for Berlin 2005 and as soon as the film’s selection in official competition was announced, BFI started to work on the festival strategy and platforming of Sophie Scholl in Berlin.
The first thing for the sales company was to send out a mailing to the buyers and give personal calls to key accounts to inform them of Sophie Scholl’s selection in competition, to give them general information about the film and BFI’s contact details in Berlin.
An advertising campaign was booked in the daily trade publication Screen International with a front page to give the film a stature in the Berlin competition. A billboard campaign in collaboration with X Verleih was also visible outside the festival.
The film had two official screenings, the gala screening and the press screening, then four other market screenings. The film played in the beginning of the festival (on Sunday February 13) and was very well received.
As a result of Sophie Scholl’s positive word of mouth during the festival, several territories were closed during the market and a press release was issued on February 17 with the names of the buyers including Spain (Lola Films), Scandinavia (Future Film), Portugal (Ecofilmes) and the territories in negotiations such as France, the UK, and Italy.
A second press release was issued at the end of the Festival stressing the two Silver Bears won by Sophie Scholl, the territories sold and the upcoming release of the film through X Verleih.
After Berlin, Sophie Scholl continued its international festival round and screened at over 30 different festivals, winning awards notably in Brasilia, at the German Film Festival in Paris, and at the Hampton Film Festival in the US. The film also received major honours at the German Film Awards (Lola), including the Audience Award and Best Actress for Julia Jentsch. For Thorsten Ritter, one festival was particularly important: the Jerusalem Festival last July. Jewish audiences didn’t know much about the non-Jewish resistance in Germany and received the film with a lot of enthusiasm.
Sophie Scholl’s selection as Germany’s official entry in the Oscars nominations further boosted the sales on the film, and its subsequent official nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category will only help promoting the film. The US distributor Zeitgeist (who previously released the 2003 Oscar winning film Nowhere in Africa sold by BFI) is now pushing to raise the awareness of the film in the US and will release Sophie Scholl across the Atlantic in February.
Now that the film has been short-listed for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, BFI has hired hire a US publicist who will try to reach the opinion makers in the US and Academy members. BFI will use the successful campaign it put together for Nowhere in Africa in 2003 as a model for Sophie Scholl.
Marketing materials for international distributors
BFI wrote a synopsis for the film and had a set of stills selected by X Verleih. The German distribution company also created the teaser and trailer for the film that was made available to their foreign counterparts. The US distributor for instance loved the trailer but actually made a few modifications at the end, focusing more on Sophie’s courageous side, using an image of her at the end to stress her heroic stand.
Generally speaking, to help foreign distributors with the local release of a film, BFI provides them with the posters, all respective contracts, B.O. figures, print run and marketing campaign from other territories so that they can decide whether to use it or not or adjust and evaluate the data for their own market.
The Swedish distributor Atlantic Films created an excellent poster campaign for the Swedish release of the film last September which was then used for Denmark.
The producers of Sophie Scholl themselves are very experienced with helping with marketing materials. They helped BFI send emails to distributors, did a lot of travelling at festivals and collected many different promotional and marketing information for the various territories where Sophie Scholl was released and is going to be released.
MARKETING SUPPORT FROM THE MEDIA PROGRAMME
Over 14 territories benefited from the MEDIA Programme’s Selective Distribution Support Scheme offering a subsidy (up to €30,000/40,000) for dubbing and subtitling costs and up to 50% of eligible costs for the distribution campaign capped at €150,000.
3. Sophie Scholl - UK distribution
ICA Project released Sophie Scholl in the UK on October 28, 2005 with 8 prints. They adapted the campaign for their own territory, removing ‘The Last Days’ from the title and adding the actual interrogation scene and Nazi elements to give more information on the film’s historical context to the international campaign provided by Bavaria Film International.
ICA Projects had a small P&A budget so they didn’t do any outdoor posters campaign. Quad posters were sent to the cinemas that were playing the film, as well as press packs for the regional press.
Press advertising concentrated on the London weekly entertainment guide Time Out (½ page the week of release then ¼ pages) as well as in The Daily Telegraph to try to attract a wider audience.
Marc Rothemund did a Q&A session in Manchester and another one in London a week before the official UK release of the film.
A promotion campaign with preview screenings was co-ordinated with Film Education (promoting film at schools) and an education pack on the film and White Rose resistance movement was offered to UK schools.
At the ICA Cinema in London, several lectures were given during the two weeks following the UK release with prominent academics, historians and survivors of the Holocaust.
A big mailing out was co-ordinated with the Goethe Institute in London and London War Museum to attract core audiences.
Finally, as the film was released during the London Film Festival (LFF), flyers promoting Sophie Scholl were given out at the various LFF venues to further raise the level of awareness on the film.
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