“MMC has everything a successful lead film producer needs.``
07 June 2022
MMC Studios Köln is developing from a studio marketer for producers of TV shows, cinema and TV films into a one-stop shop modelled on traditional US film studios. Here, Co-Managing Director Jens Wolf (pictured left) and Bastie Griese (pictured right), head of the film division, give insights into their recently completed, first in-house production "The Peacock", MMC's production expertise, the film financing model, and the biggest growth driver.
Jens, Bastie, you recently finished shooting the comedy film "The Peacock". Are you happy with it?
Jens Wolf: The entire MMC team is more than happy. We are really looking forward to our upcoming lead productions now, because "The Peacock" was a chance for us to prove for the first time that we are more than ready to play our part as lead producer in the future of films.
So you will be placing a focus on lead film productions in future?
Jens Wolf: For sure! "The Peacock" was the start of a new growth phase for MMC. Lead productions of cinema and TV films are the latest step in our corporate strategy, which, in terms of percentage, also has the greatest potential for profitable growth. MMC's core business – the production of primetime shows for television – also continues to grow.
Let's stay with "Peacock" for a minute before we talk about what’s behind your activities as lead producer. What is the film about?
Bastie Griese: It is about five extremely stressed-out bankers who meet for a team-building event at a Scottish country estate. And about a crazy peacock who sees red at the colour blue. The film brings grotesque chaos, astute wordplay, delightful situational comedy and affectionate sweetness to the screen.
What must a film offer for MMC, as lead producer, to make money?
Bastie Griese: To put it loosely and relating purely to the product: above all, a captivating story. "The Peacock" is the film adaptation of the bestselling book of the same name by Isabel Bogdan. Captivating means that even top-class directors must be hooked.
You have enlisted shooting star and Grimme Award winner Lutz Heineking, Jr. as director.
Bastie Griese: That's right. He was immediately enthusiastic about the material. And someone like him attracts equally top-class leading actors. And then, of course, for a film to be successful, you need perfect studios, modern studio and field shooting technology, experienced professionals working on endless details in the background, and an innovative financing strategy. MMC meets all these criteria for success.
Who are the main actors in "The Peacock"?
Bastie Griese: Jürgen Vogel, Lavinia Wilson, David Kross, Tom Schilling, Annette Frier, Svenja Jung, Serkan Kaya, Philip Jackson, and Victoria Carling. To be able to grow with such personalities is a thrill.
You just spoke of an "innovative financing strategy". How would you define this?
Jens Wolf: The most tedious part of film producing is always the financing. When we want to make a film, however, our range of services basically means that the financing is already as good as secured. MMC offers such a comprehensive service portfolio that we can very well realise productions with budgets of up to 25 million euros in-house, working with international pre-sales partners and film funding mechanisms. That is quite unique in Germany.
"Since we do not start our lead productions until we have secured the financing, we minimise the cost risk and optimise the revenue opportunities."
What was the production budget for "The Peacock"?
Jens Wolf: About six million euros. On a side note: with our film productions, we generally focus on revenues from the value chain , but we do also generate revenues during production. And since we do not start our lead productions until we have secured the financing, we minimise the cost risk and optimise the revenue opportunities .
How do you participate in the revenues?
Jens Wolf: With the lead productions, we are building up our own film library, which we control one hundred percent. With the intellectual property rights, we are securing long-term distribution revenues, and thus acting in a similar way to the American film studios.
When will your strategy be reflected in your profit and loss statement?
Jens Wolf: Already this year. We are expecting a total turnover of more than 60 million euros for 2022. In 2018, it was 42.5 million. Our profits will also increase again this year – and the lead productions are a contributing factor.
You said “lead productions”. So there will be several this year? So far, "The Peacock" has been the only one, right?
Bastie Griese: That's right. But our second in-house production is set to follow this summer.
Tell us more!
Bastie Griese: It will be a science fiction time travel thriller by the title of "Replay". From 2023 onwards, we want to realise four to five national and international lead productions per year.
When you say "international", do you mean that US actors, too, are coming over for film shoots at your studios in Cologne-Ossendorf?
Bastie Griese: Among others, yes indeed. And "Replay" will even feature a Hollywood star.
Bastie Griese: We’re not going to reveal the name until the summer. It's no secret, however, that we regularly welcome international film and directing stars at our studios. In recent years, this has included directors such as David Cronenberg, Jim Jarmusch, and Ron Howard. Among the acting greats were Keira Knightley, Tom Hiddleston, Sir Ben Kingsley, Willem Dafoe, Diane Kruger, Anna Kendrick, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Hilary Swank.
How do you manage to get in touch with them?
Bastie Griese: We have first-class relationships with acting agencies in the USA. We also opened an office in Los Angeles in 2021. Our colleagues there read and process scripts and project requests from the US, maintain and expand our network, create project packages and scout actors. Incidentally, the Office Manager, Carolin Springborn, is one of MMC’s home-grown talents. Before moving to L.A., she was a member of our producer team here in Cologne.
Jens, you and your colleague Hacik Kölcü have been leading the MMC Group since 2019. Why have you waited until now to enter the promising world of lead producing?
Jens Wolf: The preparations have been underway ever since we took over the management of the company. The years before that were mainly characterised by optimising studio and service marketing to other producers of TV shows, cinema and TV films. We mustn’t forget that, to date, this business segment has been by far our most important source of turnover and revenue.
However, MMC was already an established co-producer.
Jens Wolf: That’s right, and this development also took a few years. And the team, too, is essential. At MMC Movies, we encountered a team that wanted more, which meant creating a framework that would allow for this. And when this happens to be in complete alignment with the economic interests of the company as a whole: bingo!
"Successful films can also be successfully marketed for a long time through second- and third-party licensing."
Can you name some of MMC’s co-productions?
Bastie Griese: One of the first examples is the feature film "Amélie", which, incidentally, received five Oscar nominations. It was shot in our studios, among others, in 1999, so more than 20 years ago. And this film will continue to attract an audience for years to come. Successful films can also be successfully marketed for a long time through second- and third-party licensing.
Isn’t it risky that MMC doesn’t yet have a lot of experience as lead producer?
Jens Wolf: Let me repeat: we have more than 20 years of production experience – acquired through numerous national and international co-productions over the years. And with Bastie Griese on the team, we have a head of film who knows the business like the back of his hand.
Bastie Griese: MMC has been in this industry for about 30 years. Our staff and our network of licensees, financing partners, film funding institutions, directors, actors and "background artists" such as set and scenic designers, prop masters, lighting technicians, image editors and so forth are unique.
Jens Wolf: The public's perception of risk is certainly somewhat influenced by Hollywood. From time to time, headlines spill across the Atlantic to us here in Germany, saying that a film has not recouped its production costs. Using our financing concept, we can minimise this risk.
What would happen if an MMC film did less well than expected?
Jens Wolf: At worst, the short-term distribution chain may not generate the expected income, but the value of our film library will nonetheless increase with each film. The most important thing is that we have everything we need for successful films. Our network includes all the partners needed to successfully finance a film. And they value MMC as a production partner more than ever.
How did you actually come up with the idea of turning MMC into a lead producer of films? Was it sudden inspiration or natural progression?
Jens Wolf: The fact that we are moving from being solely a provider of recording studios and film or TV show production services to becoming a full-fledged film studio in the traditional American sense is the result of strategic considerations by the entire management team – especially our head of film, Bastie Griese. For all of us, lead producing is the logical progression in MMC's history to date.
And your shareholder Novum Capital fully supports the new film strategy?
Jens Wolf: Absolutely. Novum Capital has been the majority shareholder of MMC since 2019, has entrusted Hacik Kölcü and me with the management, trusts the entire management team, supports us in word and deed – and of course also challenges us when necessary.
And how annoying is that for you?
Jens Wolf: [laughs] It can be annoying at times. But in all seriousness: of course this helps us to move forward. We want to prove to the shareholder that our visions are realistic and our strategies profitable. And that our decisions make the company better.
Did Novum Capital always trust that you could increase the company's value with the lead productions?
Jens Wolf: Novum Capital is a private equity company, so being sceptical is second nature to them. Of course, we didn't immediately barge through Novum's door with every detail of our plans, but we had positive discussions with them. The final plan had several iterations. The hard work of everyone involved was worth it.
Let's take a look at the market: There are plenty of film producers and films already. Does the market still offer enough potential for MMC?
Jens Wolf: The market conditions have never been better for us to start up as a lead producer. The main reason is that we are experiencing a real demand boom for international content. This boom is currently the growth driver for the entire MMC business – and will remain so for quite a while. This has a lot to do with new content consumption technologies and new market players. Just think of streaming providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney, or even new areas like e-sports.
Bastie Griese: To give you just two numbers as an example: between 2013 and 2020, Netflix's expenditure on content productions rose from 2.4 billion US dollars to more than 17 billion. That is more than 600 per cent! Streaming is also booming in Germany: around twelve million people in this country already subscribe to video-on-demand services. And that number is growing. That's why local content is becoming more and more important.
"For a long time, Amazon and Netflix produced only films and series. Now, they are also getting into the business of producing shows, and they have big budgets. Shows and films are a billion-dollar market that still holds a lot of potential for MMC."
Show content as well?
Jens Wolf: Absolutely. For a long time, Amazon and Netflix produced only films and series. Now, they are also getting into the business of producing shows, and they have big budgets. Shows and films are a billion-dollar market that still holds a lot of potential for MMC. To come back to lead productions: the associated advantages for us are not limited to the large revenue potential that can be seen in the usual company key figures.
Bastie Griese: They also make us more efficient, because as an independent studio operator with our own productions, we can optimise our studio occupancy, for example. And when our studios are fully booked, as lead producer we can say: Then we'll just shoot somewhere else. It is our decision. A lack of studio space can no longer slow down our business. And the overall occupancy is on the rise.
Jens Wolf: It is important to note that this only applies to the film production sector. Show content productions remain under the sovereignty of MMC's customers, our partners and the TV stations.
Bastie, as head of film the lead productions mean more work for you. How do you feel about that?
Bastie Griese: [smiles cheekily] I've been at MMC for 20 years – and I've always been busy. Now, it's mainly about the type and quality of work. We are also taking the lead on the creative side and have much more responsibility than before. Both of these things are incredibly motivating for the entire film team.
When are you going to win an Oscar?
Bastie Griese: There has already been an Oscar for a film shot at MMC Studios. It went to Kate Winslet in 2009 for the best female lead in "The Reader". The film was even nominated for four more Oscars. Let's see if we can do the same with one of our lead productions. The main thing is commercial success. A little anecdote on the side: The adolescent male lead in "The Reader" was played by the young German actor David Kross. It was his international breakthrough. And in "The Peacock", he plays a leading role. He has returned to MMC, so to speak.
Back to the Oscars: MMC doesn't have to win film festival and Academy awards to succeed as a lead producer?
Bastie Griese: It's not a prerequisite for commercial success. The important thing is that we make great films that attract an audience.
You mentioned earlier that MMC is achieving strong sales and profit growth again this year. How will things progress over the next few years?
Jens Wolf: We continue to grow in all our business areas, i.e. show productions, film productions and outside broadcasts. With our one-stop-shop model for all types of media production, we think a potential turnover of 100 million euros is realistic in the coming years.
Thank you very much for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Mario Müller-Dofel.