Tom Tykwer’s ‘The Light’ Heads to Studio Babelsberg Ahead of Expected Film Funding Overhaul Biz Boom (EXCLUSIVE)

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Tom Tykwer’s first feature film since 2016, “Das Licht” (“The Light”), is set to start rolling this month at Studio Babelsberg near Berlin.

The X Filme Creative Pool production, about a troubled family who take in a Syrian immigrant as their new housekeeper, is one of a number of projects heading to the renowned studio as business picks up following a lull this year stemming from the Writers Guild of America and SAG-AFTRA strikes.

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Indeed, company execs are upbeat about the studio’s future prospects, not least due to the German government’s planned film funding overhaul that is expected to provide the local industry with a much needed boost.

Studio Babelsberg, which was taken over by TPG Real Estate Partners last year and integrated into its Cinespace Studios division, has also hosted such recent productions as “The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes,” the Liam Neeson thriller “Retribution” and Tykwer’s hit German series “Babylon Berlin.”

Yet the dip in business this year and intensifying competition around Europe have led to speculation about Babelsberg’s future prospects and even ignited rumors about real estate development on the property.

Speaking to Variety, Ashley Rice, president and co-managing partner at Cinespace Studios and Studio Babelsberg board member, dismisses the speculation.

“Neither Cinespace nor TPG have plans to sell or liquidate Studio Babelsberg or any of its real estate.

“Our goal is to combine the resources of Cinespace and Studio Babelsberg under one umbrella to help lead the company into its next phase of growth. We respect and value the heritage of the studio and will continue to sustain its future both locally and internationally to attract world-class feature film, streaming, and television productions.”

A number of new domestic and international productions are heading to Babelsberg soon, among them Tykwer’s film, she adds.

The company is also currently providing services for the German ARD Degeto family drama series “Die Zweiflers,” ZDF’s “Bosetti” late-night show and various commercial productions.

“[A]nd following the end of the SAG-AFTRA strike, a major U.S. film project will begin prep in 2024,” Rice adds. “We look forward to the restart of the industry both locally in Germany at Studio Babelsberg and globally.”

Rice welcomes the government’s planned film funding revamp, which may include new tax incentives that could boost international productions at Babelsberg. The government is aiming to reach a decision on the film subsidy overhaul next year.

“The recent announcement by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM) would open a new chapter in German film and TV production and is a positive step toward increasing Germany’s competitiveness with neighboring countries and globally overall,” Rice says.

“Germany has some of the most talented filmmakers and craftspeople in the world and the new funding that would be introduced in 2025-2026 would have a positive economic impact for decades to come.”

Pointing to recent new funding programs in other European countries, Rice stresses the necessity of similar incentives in Germany.

“With the introduction of new incentives, caps being raised and incentives to benefit high-end TV, there was an immediate impact in Austria, Spain, and the U.K.”

Netflix’s German historical series “The Empress” initially shot at Babelsberg but it moved to Prague for Season 2 due to more competitive TV incentives outside of Germany, Rice adds.

“The European Union’s mandate is to level the playing field between member nations and the current German model is not competitive with neighboring countries. We’re confident that the decision-makers will see the need for change and make the right choice to support a legacy industry that Germany holds.”

Rice is also bullish on Studio Babelsberg’s ability to compete internationally, stressing that it can “absolutely” go toe to toe with rivals in Prague and Budapest on a level playing field.

“Studio Babelsberg provides a quality facility that can manage multiple productions at the same time, talented crew and craftspeople, and globally recognized production services including set and scenery construction.

“However, in an international comparison of incentive systems, Germany loses out due to the annual limitation of the total funding available and the production incentive currently doesn’t support higher-budgeted series not intended for theatrical distribution. Supporting changes to the funding program will make Germany a more stable and supportive destination for filmmakers and studios.”

Federal and state funding for film and series productions in 2022 totaled €370 million ($392 million), including €175 million for the two federal programs aimed at big international productions, the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) and German Motion Picture Fund (GMPF) for TV series and movies. This year the government cut DFFF and GMPF funding to €166 million and a further reduction to €150 million is expected for 2024.

As part of its planned overhaul, the government is aiming to streamline film funding by creating a more centralized system that would bring together federal and state-level regional funders under one roof. Also planned is a streaming revenue levy that would replace the tax-based grants currently offered by the DFFF and GMPF as well as a tax incentive model, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

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