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Film in Hamburg: Between great cinema and social media snippets

Hamburg's film industry recently generated revenues of more than one billion euros per year - but is facing challenges such as the decline in streaming productions. An overview of the industry.

Film in Hamburg: Between great cinema and social media snippets -

A look behind the scenes

The fish market, the harbour, the Reeperbahn - Hamburg has cut a fine figure as a film backdrop for years. The Hamburg Film Festival also reaches a wide audience and is regarded as an important meeting place for the industry. Less visible is the "engine room" of the local film industry: 3,554 companies are involved in cinema and commercials, television and entertainment, animation and documentaries. Films are developed, directed and shot, dressed, lit and acted in Hamburg. Films are edited, colour-corrected and set to music, screened, distributed, marketed and posted on social media channels here.


People work in Hamburg's film industry.*

44,4 %

of employees are self-employed.*


Companies divide the market among themselves*


Euro annual turnover*


Cinemas with 91 screens - the Kinopolis multiplex in HafenCity will be added in 2024**

40,06 %

Share of women in total employees in the film submarket*

Companies include companies with an annual turnover of more than 22,000 euros as well as small companies. Employed persons include both persons subject to social security contributions and marginally employed persons, as well as the self-employed.

*Goldmedia Location Monitor, according to the methodology of the BMWK Cultural and Creative Industries (as at: 2021)
** "The cinema year 2023" of the German Federal Film Board FFA

Studio Hamburg is one of the most important companies on the scene: founded in 1947, the group is one of the largest production and service companies for film and television in Germany with around 1,600 permanent and freelance employees. In addition, well-known American studios such as Warner Bros. and Universal operate subsidiaries in Hamburg. On the other side of the company size spectrum are the many freelancers: Of the more than 8,001 people working in the film scene, almost one in two is self-employed. In the creative industries, this proportion is only higher in design.

Perfect production location

Between corporations and freelancers, there is a mix of trades, small production companies, casting and acting agencies as well as distributors and sales agents. "Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein are actually a perfect production location," says Helge Albers, Managing Director of Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein GmbH, whose abbreviation "MOIN" comes from the English-language "Moving Images North".

Internationally, however, Hamburg is "only competitive to a limited extent". Almost all other European countries offer more attractive incentive programmes. "We have to do better here," says Helge Albers. Much depends on the amendment to the Film Funding Act (FFG) planned for 2024 at federal level. Hamburg could also capitalise even better on its proximity to Scandinavia as a location advantage, says Albers.

"MOIN's material development funding is one of the most innovative of its kind in Germany: the pitch procedures are less complicated, decisions have been decentralised and there are also more exchanges and workshops."

Gaby Scheld, La Gente film agency

Announcements from the USA

If you ask Hamburg filmmakers about the situation in the industry, the conversation quickly turns to the streaming market. The budgets for series productions were full to bursting for years. Screenwriters, directors and actors were able to try out new formats and narrative styles. But now Netflix & Co are cutting funding. Competition for viewers has become tougher and production costs have risen. Providers such as Sky no longer want to produce fictional material in Germany.

Gaby Scheld can judge what this means for the many freelancers. With her agency La Gente, she represents several dozen directors, editors and scriptwriters in the fiction sector. "We are now feeling even more clearly what is being decided in America," she says. "If they say there that viewers are tired of series, then the corresponding orders are collapsing here." Currently, more individual pieces are in demand again.

According to Gaby Scheld, working conditions have also become more American as a result of the "Golden Years". Whereas previously many production teams almost always worked together until the end of a project, now "every script version is always commissioned individually".

At the same time, the shortage of skilled labour is very present, especially in the film and series sector, says MOIN Managing Director Helge Albers. To facilitate lateral entry, MOIN, the City of Hamburg and the Hamburg Media School have been offering the dual trainee programme "GetOnSet" since 2022. With success: according to MOIN, around 85 per cent of the trainees made the transition in 2023. There were also a good 150 applications for the second round. 12 trainees made it onto the programme.

Important reform of film funding

Meanwhile, Benjamin Wüpper is concerned about the order situation in post-production. He manages the business at Optical Art. The company has specialised in editing, colour correction and mastering for cinema and TV films for almost 40 years. "Many service providers are fighting for just a few products," says Wüpper. While prices for TV films have stagnated for years, salaries and costs have risen. Colleagues on set are also complaining about "unprecedented gaps in orders".

"Everyone is now focussing on the reform of national film funding," says Benjamin Wüpper. MOIN alone funded film projects with a total of 18 million euros in 2022. Around half of this went to cinema films. "Hamburg gets more out of comparatively little money," praises Wüpper. NDR and the other public broadcasters are also important for the location. With the amendment, Germany now has the opportunity to set tax incentives like those in Austria, says Wüpper - particularly important for large film productions. Hamburg could also benefit from this.

What moves the film industry?

The experts speak here

"Since the arrival of streamers and financial investors at the latest, the industry has had to renegotiate itself. This doesn't just apply to Germany, but is a global process. In the USA, it recently made itself felt through the strikes, here it is reflected in the exciting discussions about the new film subsidy law."

Film in Hamburg: Between great cinema and social media snippets -

Helge Albers (Photo: Jasper Ehrich Photography)


"The digital revolution is becoming more tangible every day and when it comes to AI, the industry is reacting in two ways: There are those who are afraid and those who are dealing with it proactively. But one thing is certain: old methods won't get you very far in this industry for much longer."

Film in Hamburg: Between great cinema and social media snippets -

Gaby Scheld (Photo: Martin Walz)

La Gente

"Many creatives were involved in series productions for a long time. However, we are now noticing that streaming providers are struggling with economic problems and creatives are turning their attention back to cinema productions. This is important because we need exceptional films for the big screen."

Film in Hamburg: Between great cinema and social media snippets -

Matthias Elwardt (Photo: Heike Blenk)

Zeise cinema

"AI offers the opportunity to make the synchronisation of image and sound, for example, much more efficient and simpler. At best, the jobs that are eliminated by AI will simply be reallocated to other areas of the production process."

Film in Hamburg: Between great cinema and social media snippets -

Benjamin Wüppers (Photo: Hannah Schaible)

Optical Art

The fairy tale of cinema extinction?

And where will the films end up being watched? In Hamburg, still in the cinema. Despite the pandemic and streaming services, the number of cinemas remains stable at 35. there are even plans to add another multiplex in 2024. Cinemas are selling more tickets year-on-year again (2023), but still fewer than before the pandemic (2019). Will the cinema now be the beneficiary of the partial withdrawal of streaming services?

Zeise boss Matthias Elwardt says that cinemas need "crowd pullers" to lure audiences off their sofas. From the point of view of arthouse cinemas, difficult times lie ahead in the coming years. No more coronavirus aid, fewer cinema reviews and rising costs: "We heat up whether people come or not." Corn and sugar for popcorn are also around a third more expensive due to the war in Ukraine. The Zeise boss does offer some hope: "Exceptional films are making their way." The legal drama "Anatomy of a Case" starring Sandra Hüller, for example, was the most successful "long-runner" at Zeise in its 10th week.

Documentary, short film and snippets for social media

A look at the start-up scene shows that things are also moving away from the big cinema. According to a dossier published by the federal government's Centre of Excellence for the Cultural and Creative Industries, Hamburg has an above-average number of new start-ups in relation to the number of people employed in the film industry. More crowdfunding projects and interactive storytelling, more short and documentary film projects with small budgets - these are the nationwide start-up trends.

"The next few years will be characterised by changes in technological processes and will demand a great deal of agility and resilience from everyone involved."

Helge Albers, MOIN Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein

Social media offers low-threshold business and revenue opportunities. A niche audience can be addressed at any time. In commercials, not only TV adverts are produced, but increasingly also small snippets for the web. The boundaries between film, advertising, journalism and gaming seem to be becoming increasingly blurred.

AI mammoths in the snow

New technologies, above all artificial intelligence (AI), are also shaking up the market. "AI is really picking up speed now," says agency boss Gaby Scheld. The clearer the specifications, the more work will move from man to machine. Script writing for early evening series or dailies and weeklies, for example. "But AI doesn't deliver the quality of 4-blocks - so far!"

At best, says Optical Art boss Benjamin Wüpper, the AI will eventually make the labour-intensive steps easier for his 20 or so employees and leave them more time for the creative things. He cites the synchronisation of image and sound, which are recorded separately on set, as an example. Until now, editing assistants have put the two together. Dubbing foreign-language films will also change. Germany is "the dubbing country of all", says Wüpper. But the introduction of new language tools will also significantly change this market. The voices of celebrities can already be imitated with apps today.

In spring 2024, Open AI surprised everyone with animated film clips of dancing kangaroos and mammoths in the snow, which are said to have been created simply by entering simple text commands into the AI model "Sora". It's all happening in quick succession, says Benjamin Wüpper. "Every release is a small revolution".

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