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(Three Investigators, The - The Secret of Terror Castle)

Scene from “The Three Investigators – The Secret of Terror Castle” (photo © Beta SHIP/Disney/Beta Cinema)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 02/2008

Plans for the second installment in Studio Hamburg's The Three Investigators franchise were already underway even before the first film – The Secret of Skeleton Island – had been released in Germany's cinemas last November.

Just a matter of days after director Florian Baxmeyer and his cast had attended the world premiere in Berlin, they were setting off to South Africa to begin shooting on The Three Investigators – The Secret of Terror Castle which reunited the child actors Chancellor Miller (Justus), Nick Price (Peter) and Cameron Monaghan (Bob) in a new adventure pitted against the veteran actor James Faulkner as the trio's adversary Victor Huguenay.

In the new story, a mysterious video leads the budding boy detectives Justus Jonas, Peter Shaw and Bob Andrews to an abandoned house, Terror Castle, which is apparently haunted by the ghost of a wealthy industrial tycoon, Stephen Terrill. However, there is much more awaiting them than they first assume, and, what's more, an old acquaintance pops up as well...

"From the outset, we planned to make two or three films based on the Robert Arthur books," explains producer Malte Grunert. "It was important for us to get the second one made pretty quickly because we and Disney both believe that the gap between the films shouldn't be too big if you are wanting to establish a brand in the cinemas. During production on the first film we had developed the screenplay for the second one and, after they saw the first edit of Skeleton Island, Disney gave its OK for the second part."

While the Cape Town-based Two Oceans Production had been the production services company on the first film, this second outing for The Three Investigators was an official bilateral co-production between Germany and South Africa according to the co-production treaty. "This meant that we could benefit from the tax rebate of 25% of the South African costs – with a cap of 10 million Rands – and also received support from the Industrial Development Cooperation fund which even committed to the film before seeing how the first film had performed in the cinema," Grunert adds.

The film's €10 million budget also profited from Studio Hamburg's credit line agreed with the Commerzbank, secured by a state-backed guarantee from Berlin, as well as funding from Filmfoerderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg and the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) incentive scheme.

The second time round, the cast and crew around director Florian Baxmeyer were using the locations in and around Cape Town to double for Southern California (the first film had been set in South Africa). In addition, there were two days of shooting at the beginning of January on Berlin's Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate with German actors Axel Milberg and Julia Bremermann as Justus' parents.

Post-production over the coming months will be undertaken at VCC Pictures and Studio Funk in Berlin and Hamburg as well as in Robert Pinnow's new Berlin visual effects facility Rise FX.

A professed fan of adventure films such as The Goonies, Back to the Future or E.T., director Baxmeyer says that "the biggest challenge for me on this second film was that we have a different genre: there's a little horror and a haunted-house story. We had to make sure that the film would also function for kids 6 years and above. It has to be really creepy and exciting for 12-year-olds, but not too hard for 6-year-olds, so that was the big challenge to find the right tone."

He explains that he is not keen on an over-reliance on visual effects added later in the computer where actors thus have to spend a lot of time on set in front of green screens. "I like working with mechanical effects," he explains. "You are much freer than with visual effects which can be terribly restricting as you are constantly having to think about matte lines and where you are going to put the camera. The way we have done it, the sets can function 360 degrees and shooting is much more pleasant."

The Three Investigators – The Secret of Terror Castle is set to be released by Walt Disney in Germany in early 2009, and a third installment (The Silver Spider) may go into production later that year on location in Eastern Europe.

Category Feature
Year of Production 2008
Director Florian Baxmeyer
Screenplay Philip LaZebnik, Aaron Mendelsohn
Cinematography Peter Joachim Krause
Ueli Christen
Sylvain Gingras, Albrecht Konrad
Cast Chancellor Miller, Nick Price, Cameron Monaghan, Annette Kemp, James Faulkner, Jonathan Pienaar, Axel Milberg, Julia Bremermann
Producers Sytze van der Laan, Malte Grunert
Production Company Studio Hamburg Produktion/Hamburg, in co-production with Two Oceans Productions/Cape Town
Format 35 mm, color
Shooting Dates and around Cape Town/South Africa, November 2007 - February 2008
Sound Technology Dolby Digital
With backing from Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmfoerderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), Industrial Development Cooperation, Deapartment of Trade and Industry
German Distributor Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Germany/Munich

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