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Ufa Tv & Film Produktion Gmbh Business Information, Profile, and History

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Dianastrasze 21
Potsdam
14482
Germany

Company Perspectives

UFA is one of Germany's oldest and most distinguished entertainment brands, with an artistic heritage of films like Metropolis, The Blue Angel, and the German Expressionist films. Today, UFA is a highly competent group of production companies which over the past few years has continuously extended its market leadership among Germany's film and television producers. UFA's programs thrill and inspire millions of viewers every day. UFA evolved from a program designer and TV producer into a content specialist which offers a range of solutions for multimedia technologies--and for an extremely varied set of partners.

History of Ufa Tv & Film Produktion Gmb H

From its roots in the 1920s Golden Age of German film, UFA TV & Film Produktion GmbH has developed into one of Germany's most successful film production companies. It produces programming for the country's leading broadcasters, including ZDF, ARD, RTL, and SAT 1; its shows are regularly among the most highly rated on German television. UFA is part of FremantleMedia and includes all of Fremantle's production activities. UFA in turn is divided into six independent subsidiaries each of which is responsible for a different production area: UFA Fernsehproduktion, teamWorx, and Phoenix-Film produce television drama, including mini-series, made-for-TV movies, and various specials. UFA Entertainment specializes in documentaries, reality TV, and other nonfiction genres. Grundy UFA produces soap operas and prime-time drama series. GRUNDY Light Entertainment produces a broad spectrum of TV comedies, quiz shows, music and variety shows, and panel shows. Altogether in 2004, UFA's various production arms produced 25 daily and weekly TV shows, more than any other company in the German TV market.

Propaganda Movies at the End of World War I

UFA was founded, not by one of Wilhelmine Germany's pioneer filmmakers, but by an officer in the German military. In 1917, the tide of World War I was turning decisively against Germany, and Erich Ludendorff, the head of the German military and the nation's de facto dictator, was looking for a way to reverse German public opinion which had turned against the Kaiser's government. His solution was to use the new medium of movies for propaganda. Within months, the German government, with funding from Deutsche Bank, secretly purchased Nordisk Films Kompagni, Denmark's leading film company. The Reichmark (RM) 10 million purchase price included Nordisk's studios, its distribution company, and its chain of movie theaters in Denmark, Germany, and elsewhere in Europe. As a result, when it was founded on December 17, 1917, Universum-Film AG was a full-blown film company. It was owned jointly by the German government and Deutsche Bank; executives from Germany's leading firms, including AEG, Dresdner Bank, and the Norddeutscher Lloyd shipping line, sat on its board.

Ludendorff's original idea was to use the film company as a direct--and secret--arm of the German government carrying out its propaganda aims. The involvement of private commercial interests, however, guaranteed that a tug-of-war would eventually develop over control of UFA's artistic direction. What was attractive to all parties was the German public's nearly insatiable appetite for motion pictures during the war. They had been completely cut off from films by the world's largest producers, France and Britain since 1914, and the U.S. since 1916. A German national company--in an industry whose growth had lagged far behind the movie industries of other nations--could operate with a virtual monopoly. UFA set out immediately acquiring other movie companies, especially in Germany. Before the war had ended, it purchased Meester, a producer of films as well as movie equipment; Union-Konzern, a chain of 56 German movie houses; and the foreign arm of Deutscher Lichtbild-Gesellschaft, the latter as part of a never-realized plan to colonize film industries throughout Europe after a German victory. As defeat approached, government control of UFA became more and more tenuous. In 1918 more and more UFA productions were pure entertainment, to distract public opinion and attention, rather than propaganda intended to influence it. When Germany erupted in a revolution that overthrew the Kaiser at the end of the year, government control of the company ended, too.

The Rise and Fall of the Golden Age of Film during the Weimar Republic

With its other business acquisitions, UFA was also acquiring the most talented members of the German moving picture industry, whose work would usher in the so-called golden age of German film in the 1920s. The most important of these artists early on was director Ernst Lubitsch, whose films brought UFA its first artistic and commercial successes. Madame DuBarry, for example, was licensed to American investors for $40,000. They made $500,000 from it in its first two weeks of exhibition. The American rights to Lubitsch's next film, Anna Boleyn, were sold for $200,000, about RM 14 million--almost twice as much as it had cost to make the film. Small wonder that Lubitsch became, in 1922, the first important figure to leave Germany for Hollywood.

Once in power, the Social Democrats ended the government's involvement in film almost immediately. In 1920 the government made public its UFA holdings; in 1923 it sold all of its UFA shares to the Deutsche Bank. One reason for the government's exit was a projected loss from film making that could be prevented only by massive infusions of between RM 20 million and RM 100 million. As the new majority shareholder, Deutsche Bank named its director, Emil Georg von Stauss, as UFA chairman. A political nationalist, von Stauss was as deeply committed to the formation of a German film industry as he was to the other new German companies he supported, Daimler Benz and Lufthansa.

In 1921 UFA merged with Decla-Bioscop AG, Germany's second largest film company. Decla was the company that inaugurated the era of "expressionist" film in 1919 with The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari; it had also given director Fritz Lang his start. The merger was arguably the most important in UFA's history--it combined two powerful studios, distribution systems, and rosters of stars and technicians. Most significantly, UFA a year later took over the Decla-Bioscop studios in the town of Neubabelsberg, just outside Berlin. By the mid-1920s, "Babelsberg" had become the world's most important studio complex outside of Hollywood and UFA Germany's film studio, featuring stars such as Paul Wegener, Emil Jannings, and Pola Negri, and directors like Lang, F.W. Murnau, and Joe May.

UFA's aggressive business strategies--and the foreign currency its foreign successes brought in--enabled it to survive the catastrophic inflation of 1923 that threatened to bring down Germany's economy and government. The company was a complex business and artistic entity. Its structure included production, distribution, and exhibition subsidiaries that operated with complete independence. In 1925 it added another arm, the Aktiengesellschaft fuer Filmfabrikation (Afifa), a film duplication business. Its chain of magnificent first run theaters was famous throughout Europe. Under Erich Pommer, its wunderkind production head, UFA released a string of films in the middle 1920s that would one day be considered classics of the Golden Age of Film, movies like Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, The Last Laugh, Die Nibelungen, Asphalt, and Metropolis. Yet despite its artistic successes, UFA was approaching the brink of financial ruin.

During the period of inflation, foreign filmmakers ignored Germany. After the 1923 currency reform, however, American films flooded the market, while UFA films found it difficult to get shown in foreign theaters. Receipts fell. Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the most expensive film of its time, flopped in the U.S., leaving UFA RM 50 million in debt. To add insult to injury, German film artists, such as F.W. Murnau, Emil Jannings, even production head Pommer, began abandoning Germany to work in Hollywood. Seeking a way out of the desperate situation, UFA turned to its American competitors. Metro-Goldwyn and Paramount provided a sizable loan, for which UFA agreed to distribute twenty of each studio's films in Germany. The Americans were required to distribute only ten UFA productions, and then only if they found the movies to be consistent with American tastes. Another $270,000 loan from Universal required UFA to distribute fifty more American movies in Germany.

Facing insurmountable difficulties, Deutsche Bank decided to get out of the movie business. It sold its complete UFA holdings to Alfred Hugenberg, a media magnate with close ties to a number of right-wing politicians, including Adolf Hitler. Hugenberg acquired UFA at a bargain basement price, only RM 13.5 million, far below the RM 75 million at which the company had been valued. For that bargain price he received UFA's 140 subsidiaries in Germany, Europe, and North America, approximately 3.5 million square feet of studio area in Berlin and Neubabelsberg, and some 100 movie theaters. Hugenberg was willing to take a chance with UFA anyway--he wanted the company more to propagate his nationalist ideological message than to make money.

Despite the trend underway in the United States, UFA hesitated to introduce sound to their motion pictures. An early UFA experiment with sound was met with complete public indifference in 1925. When UFA's business manager visited New York three years later, however, talkies were being shown in virtually every movie theater on Broadway. As soon as he returned to Germany, UFA launched an aggressive move into sound. By 1929 it had built a state-of-the-art sound studio in Neubabelsberg; by the time the Great Depression reached its height in 1932, most of UFA's theaters had been equipped to exhibit talkies. Both moves gave the studio a vast lead over its German competition. Among its first influential sound pictures were The Blue Angel, the film that launched Marlene Dietrich's career, and Die Drei von der Tankstelle, which ignited a craze for light musicals in Germany that would last until the end of World War II. Sound created new enthusiasm for film in Germany, but it also brought commercial disadvantages. Sound films could not so easily be exported, especially to lucrative markets like the U.S. and Britain, and the initial technical expense required in those economically hard times led to a drop in the number of films produced. Nonetheless, Hugenberg's Spartan cost-cutting measures put the firm back in the black. By the time Hitler came to power in January 1933, Hugenberg had bought out the shares of all foreign investors, making the firm "pure German" and setting the stage for its complete Nazification.

Propaganda Films during the Third Reich

Before 1933, UFA had produced some films with nationalist themes that were in line with Hugenberg's ideological leanings. The bulk of its releases were innocent comedies, melodramas, musicals, and serious drama. Almost immediately after Hitler's rise, however, UFA fell in line with the new regime. Just eight months after Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, the company released Hitlerjunge Quex--Hitler Youth Quex--the story of an idealistic young Nazi allegedly murdered by Communists. UFA film projects that were already underway but which were seen as not conforming sufficiently to the Nazi line were cancelled. Jewish actors, directors and technicians were forced to leave UFA beginning in spring 1933. Other UFA artists, like Fritz Lang and Marlene Dietrich, left Germany to try their luck in the United States. Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels, who believed passionately in the power of film, took steps almost immediately to bring UFA directly under his control.

An important move in securing that control was the incorporation of the Filmkreditbank GmbH, a government-run credit institution that financed the lion's share of film production costs, but required producers to submit to government censorship. Meanwhile the Nazi government began a systematic takeover of all German media, and in March 1937 Alfred Hugenberg had to sell all of his UFA shares to the German government. UFA and other studios were placed in a state-run holding company, Cautio GmbH. The circle had closed. In twenty years time, UFA had gone from a government propaganda agency, to one of the world's most highly respected private film studios, and back again. By 1942 the entire German film industry had been consolidated into two UFA companies: UFA-Film GmbH, which was responsible for production, and UFA GmbH, which handled newsreel production, distribution, and other aspects of film work.

Despite control by Goebbels' Propaganda Ministry, comedies, musicals, and melodramas continued to account for the majority of theatrical movies produced in Germany, although a few military dramas that idealized war, soldiers, and German expansionism, like Urlaub auf Ehrenwort and Pour le Merite, were important propaganda vehicles. Most propaganda during the Third Reich was presented in UFA newsreels. Footage of German victories was used to boost German morale at home and to demoralize morale elsewhere in Europe. Newsreels of the German invasion of Poland were shown to diplomats from Holland, Belgium, Norway, and Romania, for example, shortly before German armies crossed their borders. UFA celebrated its 25th anniversary during the battle of Stalingrad when the tide turned once and for all against Germany. UFA newsreels continued to urge Germans on to victory. What the public wanted, however, was escape, through productions like the comic fantasy of Munchhausen, made in 1943 as millions of German soldiers were being killed or taken into Soviet captivity. Being a movie actor or technician continued to have perks in the last months of the war, as film teams shot their melodramas increasingly in idyllic countrysides far from nightly bombing raids in the cities.

UFA in the Cold War

On April 24, 1945, Russians occupied the Neubabelsberg UFA studios, and when peace was finally declared they controlled about 70 percent of all Ufi production facilities. The Russians rapidly reorganized those properties into the East German studio Deutscher Filmaktiengesellschaft (German Film Share Corporation), better known as DEFA. In spring 1946 DEFA began production on the first postwar German film, Die Moerder sind unter uns, (The Murderers Are Among Us), a powerful drama in the best 1920s UFA tradition that confronted the all-too-recent Nazi past head on.

The western allies banned all German film making. In September 1949 the American military, which had put former UFA head Erich Pommer in charge of their Motion Picture Division, seized the remaining Ufi properties. They announced a plan to break up the old Ufi conglomerate and sell off the parts. At the same time, the names "Ufi" and "UFA" were banned. It was difficult to make UFA disappear however. The 28 movies made in Germany between 1946 and 1948 all used former UFA directors, actors, and technicians exclusively. The proposed break-up also met with the resistance of the West German government, which hoped to reestablish a national German film industry and--secretly--recreate its own government propaganda studio.

By 1953 Cautio GmbH had been dissolved, but Ufi continued to exist. In 1956 UFA history repeated itself once again, when the German government sold the remaining Ufi subsidiaries to the Deutsche Bank for approximately a third of their real value. UFA seemed to have a new lease on life, but as the 1960s began the "reborn" UFA was beset with problems. Unlike DEFA, its East German counterpart, which released popular movies regularly, UFA films couldn't seem to find the West German pulse. Furthermore film popularity in West Germany was waning, and as ticket sales fell, Deutsche Bank got cold feet. It replaced its controversial UFA CEO Arno Hauke, but his replacement spent large sums on a range of films that was too broad for the relatively small German market. By January 1962, the situation was so bad that the UFA board voted to cease theatrical film production and distribution altogether, reducing the once proud firm to a chain of movie houses. At the end of 1963, Deutsche Bank sold UFA's West Berlin studios and its duplication facilities to Becker & Kries. In 1964 the remainder of its UFA holdings--including the UFA music publishing company, UFA's advertising film company, the theater chain UFA-Theater AG, and the rights to all UFA films--were acquired by the publishing giant Bertelsmann AG.

UFA under Bertelsmann

The acquisition was important for Bertelsmann. It enabled the company to expand into film and TV and helped make it one of Europe's leading media companies. Afterwards Bertelsmann sold the old newsreel company UFA-Wochenschau to the government; its Berlin studios were sold to ZDF, one of two German public broadcasters. Bertelsmann retained the UFA advertising film company, UFA-Werbefilm, and the TV production firm, UFA-Ferhsehenproduktion. In 1972 Bertelsmann sold the UFA-Theater AG to the Riech Group, retaining only its large premier cinemas. Bertelsmann also retained the rights to the UFA name and logo, and licensed their use to Riech. The rights to the old UFA movies were transferred to a nonprofit group, the F.W. Murnau Foundation, on the instigation of the German government, to prevent their being auctioned off individually to private bidders.

Under Bertelsmann, UFA concentrated on producing programming for television. In 1984, when private broadcasting was introduced in West Germany, Bertelsmann and media firm Gruner & Jahr merged their film and TV production activities into a holding company, the Hamburg-based UFA Film- und Fernseh GmbH. In 1987 UFA Film- und Fernseh purchased the Deutscher Fussballbund--an organization comparable in scope to major and minor league baseball--together with all broadcast rights. In 1991, on the occasion of the company's 75th anniversary, a new UFA logo, based on the famous UFA rhombus of the 1920s, was introduced. The opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989 also paved the way for UFA's return to the Neubabelsberg studios. By the mid-1990s UFA was once again the largest German entertainment company, producing approximately 2000 television programs annually, including made-for-TV movies, mini-series, soap operas, prime time series, sitcoms, and documentary and current events programming. The holding company merged in 1997 with Luxembourg's CLT group to form CLT-UFA. This in turn merged with Pearson TV in 2001 to form the RTL Group. Since then UFA has functioned as the umbrella for FremantleMedia, a firm that encompasses all of the RTL Group's global production activities. The UFA-sponsored Client Satisfaction Study in 2003 confirmed UFA's reputation for professionalism, financial strength, competence, and dependability. The strong ratings for shows such as Deutschland sucht den Superstar, Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten, SOKO Leipzig, Hinter Gittern--der Frauenknast, and Held der Gladiatoren indicate that UFA will continue as a producer of German entertainment into the second decade of the 2000s.

Principal Subsidiaries

UFA Entertainment GmbH; Grundy UFA TV Produktions GmbH; GRUNDY Light Entertainment GmbH; Objektiv Film; teamWorx Television & Film GmbH; Phoenix-Film GmbH.

Principal Competitors

VIVA Medien AG; Bavaria Film GmbH; Senator Entertainment AG; EM.TV & Merchandising AG; EuroArts Medien GmbH.

Chronology

  • Key Dates
  • 1917 Universum-Film AG is founded.
  • 1921 The German government sells its UFA holdings to the Deutsche Bank; UFA merges with Decla-Bioscop.
  • 1922 UFA takes over the Decla-Bioscop studios in Neubabelsberg.
  • 1925 UFA founds the film duplication company, Aktiengesellschaft fuer Filmfabrikation (Afifa); UFA-Wochenschau, its newsreel series, first goes into production.
  • 1927 Fritz Lang's Metropolis is released; Alfred Hugenberg's Scherl-Gruppe acquires UFA.
  • 1930 The Blue Angel, featuring Marlene Dietrich, is released.
  • 1937 UFA and other German film studios are sold to the German government and administered by the holding company, Cautio GmbH.
  • 1942 UFA-Film GmbH (Ufi) is founded.
  • 1945 The Russian army occupies the Neubabelsberg studios.
  • 1946 Russians nationalize East German UFA facilities and found Deutscher Filmaktiengesellschaft (DEFA).
  • 1949 American and British occupation authorities launch their first attempts to break up the Ufi conglomerate.
  • 1956 Remaining West German UFA holdings are sold by German government to Deutsche Bank.
  • 1964 Deutsche Bank sells its UFA holdings to Verlagsgruppe Bertelsmann.
  • 1972 Bertelsmann sells UFA-Theater AG to Riech Group.
  • 1984 Bertelsmann and Gruner & Jahr form UFA Film- und Fernseh GmbH.
  • 1992 UFA celebrates its 75th anniversary.
  • 1997 UFA Film- und Fernseh GmbH merges with CLT of Luxembourg to form CLT-UFA.
  • 2000 CLT-UFA merges with Pearson TV to form the RTL Group.
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