With a terrain of vast forests, mountains and rivers, Germany has been a popular shooting destination for a long time
For years, Indian filmmakers have been acquainted with Germany as a land with surprising elements. Germany is a country known for refusing permits for foreign film shoots unlike the US, the UK and Thailand, where it is easy to obtain permission to shoot. There are strict conditions that are required to be met and one has to be very careful during the process.
Yet, Germany is one of the top film and TV production markets in the world. While US films take a substantial share of the domestic box office, German films still take a respectable 20-per cent share. This, coupled with a dynamic domestic TV business, means that there is a talented pool of producers, directors and crews as well as a first class array of studios and post-production houses. Although it is a relatively expensive place to shoot, the film infrastructure is second to none and you get what you pay for.
While German movies tend to be shot at home for storytelling reasons, high-end TV productions and commercials are often produced abroad for cost considerations. There has, for example, been a big swing towards German-backed TV mini-series in recent years. But many of these are shot in cheaper markets. Likewise, it’s standard practice for Germany-based ad agencies to use Eastern European locations to shoot their TV commercials.
Germany has a lot to offer as a potential shooting location for international productions. Aside from its great geographic diversity and historic/cultural sites, it also has some superb cityscapes – Berlin being very much in vogue right now. There’s also strong support for producers from the German Federal Film Fund and the country’s network of regional film agencies. Not to be overlooked either is the fact that the country has an excellent air and road transport infrastructure.
Germany is blessed with beautiful and impressive locations. Among the more prominent is the capital city Berlin, which offers a wealth of iconic sites such as the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate, Communist-era, contemporary and period architecture along with trendy street scenes.
Other cities with interesting urban locations include Dresden, a Baroque city on the Elbe River; Cologne, with its Christmas market and Roman ruins; Munich, with castles, lakes and nearby Alps; and Hamburg with its container ports. Outside the cities, there’s a mix of mountains, forests, lakes, rivers, castles, coasts and islands.
Most key locations of this kind can be sourced via the regional film commissions, who support location scouting by providing free, publicly available location guides in the form of online/offline databanks and/ or in print, which may be added to by local location scouts and agencies.
One of the biggest attractions of the year for Germany is Oktoberfest held in Munich. In spite of the name, the much-awaited event is held at the end of September to welcome the cooler autumn after bidding adieu to summer. This is a perfect time to capture the scenic beauty of the changing colours of the leaves and the buzzing city during autumn.
Another major attraction for film productions is the strong heritage that the country exhibits through its beautiful and captivating castles. Most of these castles are carved on mountain tops giving them a magnificent look. The castles are well maintained and stand tall and beautiful.
Today, Germany is home to 25,000 heritage castles some converted into luxury hotels. These serve as amazing backdrops for films portraying a historic plot. Owing to their ancient look and beauty, German castles have been the influence for a number of Disney movies. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping beauty have all been inspired by these castles.
As a general rule, Germany is a film-friendly country; however obtaining permits is not always straightforward. A single location may require several different permits. However, the process is very well organised and an experienced service producer can arrange permits quickly and efficiently. Germany’s regional film commissions call themselves “a central coordination and information point for all matters concerning shooting and production in their respective regions”.
Although they are not responsible for the granting and obtaining of shooting permits, the commissions can act in an intermediary capacity using their contacts. Their service covers information on the responsible authorities and application procedures, together with the contact addresses of service providers for location scouting, the procurement of shooting permits, street cordoning, equipment, etc.
Germany is home to a wide array of top class equipment rental firms. Possibly the best known is ARRI Rental, which has its HQ in Munich but can also supply a wide range of equipment via Berlin, Cologne, Hamburg and Leipzig, including MBF Filmtechnik, which supplies cameras, lighting and grip equipment via offices in Frankfurt, Hamburg and Berlin; Delight Rental Services, which has a full range of equipment in Berlin and Stuttgart; and Cinegate, which can supply equipment from bases including Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne, Munich and Leipzig.
There’s no shortage of talented crews in Germany. Likewise, the country is very multicultural, meaning that there is no problem finding the right ethnic mix for casting purposes.
While many major German studios offer post-production facilities, there are dozens of smaller post-production companies operating across the country, servicing the healthy local filmmaking industry.
In 2007, Germany launched the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF). Since then, the DFFF has supported over 520 film productions with grants totaling €296m. International co-productions can qualify for a rebate of up to 20 per cent. This funding measure has played a major role in raising Germany’s profile as a film location and increasing the international competitiveness of the German film industry versus rival countries.
Although still in existence, in 2014 the government cut funding for this popular federal film tax incentive, reducing the amount available to €50m for 2015. It had previously stood at €70m. The news of the cuts came as a shock to German and international producers, particularly after German culture minister Monika Grutters assured local producers in February 2014 that funding for DFFF would not be touched. Pledging to restore the finance, she succeeded as of December 2014, increasing the funding with effect from 2016.
The DFFF aside, German support isn’t just limited to the national level. A number of regional film funds provide efficient support to productions of any budget. Nearly all German states grant funds and additional soft money depending on local expenditure. The country has many regional film commissions, each of which is able to provide detailed information about regional and national filming incentives while also providing production support.
Flight time from Mumbai to Frankfurt is 8 hours 50 minutes. Non-stop flights could take up to 9 hours. The quickest one-stop flight takes close to 11 hours. However, some airlines could take as long as 35 hours based on the stopover destination and transit duration.
Germany has good infrastructure and is located very centrally in Europe. There are many ways to travel for all budgets. In Germany, most people talk English so you shouldn’t have problems with the communication. You can also easily drive through different cities and you don’t have to worry about any costs at the border.
If you want to visit the big cities and wouldn’t like to spend hours in a train, bus or car, you can alternatively fly. There are various domestic airlines like Lufthansa, Air Berlin, Germanwings, Condor, TUI Fly and more.
German Schengen Visa for Culture is required for the film crew. The Embassy/ Consulate recommends that you apply at least 3 weeks prior to your date of travel to accommodate any unforeseen processing delays.
It would be a good idea to get a good ground handling agent too for unexpected escalations.