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Red Baron, The (rote Baron, Der)

Red Baron, The
Matthias Schweighoefer as “The Red Baron” (photo © Niama Film)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 03/2006

After a long odyssey in development, shooting began this summer on the story of Manfred von Richthofen – popularly known as 'The Red Baron' – who became a legend for being one of the most successful fighter pilots of all time between 1914 and 1918.

"At one stage, the project was planned as a much more expensive project with US partners and Val Kilmer cast as von Richthofen," recalls writer-director Niki Muellerschoen whose filmmaking career saw him spend 13 years working in Hollywood. "But then we went back to the original basic idea of thinking that it must be possible to produce big cinema out of Germany, to make a summer movie about our history in a form that is internationally marketable. With this new strategy we would be able to keep the project under our control which would not have been possible if we had continued pursuing the project with a US cast and a budget of $50 million."

The project took a decisive step further when Muellerschoen became a partner with Roland Pellegrino, Thomas Reisser and Dan Maag in the company Niama Film which is producing Der rote Baron. "The financing for the film has come 100% from the producers and investors in a structure similar to a private placement," Pellegrino explains. "The investors are predominantly from Baden-Wuerttemberg and new to cinema, but they see this involvement in the film as an entrepreneurial investment. It is a brand new variant of financing exclusively geared to making a return for the investors who participate in all stages of the film's exploitation. What is important here is that there are no fees or soft costs, and we are always looking to find the most cost effective solutions."

"Thus, it made financial sense to locate the production in the Czech Republic because the film can be shot at much more favorable prices and there are not the kind of shooting restrictions as in Germany," Pellegrino adds, pointing out that the CGI part will be done by Pixomondo in Ludwigsburg with up to 60 people being employed for the special effects. "They are being recruited from all over the world and many have experience on big Hollywood films. I see this as contributing to the development of the film industry infrastructure in and around Stuttgart."

Casting the central role of von Richthofen wasn't a problem for Muellerschoen after he saw Matthias Schweighoefer in Tomy Wigand's Polly Blue Eyes. "I knew straightaway that he would be the right person for the Baron. And Til Schweiger had already been attached to the US scenario," says Muellerschoen. "Von Richthofen is a real legend outside of Germany, he's a superstar in places like the USA and China. Though, it's a bit like the 'Titanic syndrome': most people know the Baron, but they don't know the details."

"A meticulous reconstruction of the Baron's life and the historical setting was not uppermost in mind, that didn't interest me so much," he stresses. "It is more important to see what is relevant for people today. I saw no sense in making the film like a well-researched documentary. However, during my preparation on the film and looking into the story of his life, the man seems to be more like how I thought he should be."

"At the end of the day, the film is an extremely modern film: these pilots were in love with the technology and slaves to the modern age," Muellerschoen adds. "Their main goal was to master this age with skill, fun and technical know-how. In fact, they are not much different from my sons sitting in front of a computer and communicating in a chatroom. The airplanes with their garish colors and logos are in some ways like the world of skateboarding and extreme sports and the Red Bull generation of today."

"It will be a great adventure film, combining action with a love story, coming-of-age, and a character piece," he concludes. "I see the film as being a great historical drama that will also entertain in a light and exciting way."

Genre History
Category Feature
Year of Production 2006
Director Niki Muellerschoen
Screenplay Niki Muellerschoen
Cinematography Klaus Merkel
Christian Lonk
Alexander Manasse
Cast Lena Headey, Maxim Mehmet, Steffen Schroeder, Hanno Kofler, Timo Mewes, Jan Josef Liefers, Ralph Misske, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Til Schweiger, Matthias Schweighöfer
Producers Dan Maag, Volker Bruch, Thomas Reisser, Roland Pellegrino
Production Company Niama Film/Stuttgart
Format 35 mm, color
Shooting Dates Prague, June - September 2006
Sound Technology Dolby