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Conclave, The

Conclave, The
On the set of “The Conclave” (photo © SHIP)

Production Report featured in
German Films Quarterly 03/2005

Renaissance Italy gave us some of history’s greatest art. It was also a time of intrigue, power politics and blood lust no better embodied than by the Borgias – the family synonymous with the era.

The Conclave takes place in Rome in 1458 and follows the story of 27-year-old Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia in his first papal conclave.

After the death of his uncle, Pope Calixtus III and his brother Pedro Borgia, Captain General of the Church army, Rodrigo finds himself locked “cum clave” with eighteen powerful men fighting for the title of Ruler of the World. With mobs on the rampage killing every Spaniard they can find, Rodrigo has only one weapon to defend himself: his vote to elect the new pope, and with that he must secure both his life and his future.

But while Rodrigo is locked behind closed doors in the Vatican, his lifelong rival, Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II, competes for the love of his concubine, the beautiful Vannozza de Catanei.

Marking TV-vet Christoph Schrewe’s feature directorial debut, The Conclave has a star-studded character actor cast, including Manuel Fullola, Brian Blessed, James Faulkner and hot upcoming German talent Nora Tschirner.

“We had been working on a Borgia project of our own, and then found out that my friend and colleague Paul Donovan was working on a project of his own,” says Sytze van der Laan, SHIP-producer and managing director of Studio Hamburg. “We decided to pool resources. He had the screenplays and I loved them.”

Another factor was Donovan’s ability to get a big bang for his Canuck buck!

“We have over 250 effects on what is basically a shoestring budget of €3 million,” says van der Laan. “Paul cut his teeth on the sci-fi series Lexx and that was crucial. If this were a major studio film it would have been way too expensive.”

After cooperating on development, van der Laan brought a German pre-sale from Degeto to the table and added Studio Hamburg equity.

The reason for the equity involvement is quite simple: “This is a professional business,” says van der Laan, “and it’s about rights ownership. We’re looking to co-produce or co-finance budgets between €5 and 15 million with the main goal of owning at least part of the rights.”

“We’re essentially looking for commercial genres,” says van der Laan, “like horror, children’s and thrillers. The Conclave is a bit of an exception but like any producer, you also want to go for material you like.”

Van der Laan cites The Three Investigators as a prime example of the more commercial orientation of Studio Hamburg International Production.

“It’s a brand that started as a series of kids’ novels which was big in the 60s and 70s. We acquired, modernized and re-launched it from Germany with Buena Vista International as an English-language feature series. We’re now negotiating foreign sales.”

SHIP also has an office in Los Angeles, run by Stuart Pollock. “We don’t want to compete with the majors,” says van der Laan, “but L.A. is also home to the indie community and our ideal film is the English-language-German co-production.”

Next up on this year’s slate is the horror film Hellion, and with that, van der Laan says proudly, “we’ll have done three films this year, which is great!”

Genre History, Drama
Category Feature
Year of Production 2005
Director Christoph Schrewe
Screenplay Paul Donovan
Cinematography Mathias Neumann
Thorben Bieger
Emanuel Jannasch
Cast Manuel Fullola, Brian Blessed, James Faulkner, Matthias Koeberlin, Nora Tschirner, Rolf Kanies, Holger Kunkel, Peter Guiness
Producers Sytze van der Laan, Paul Donovan
Production Companies Alexander Sextus Ltd/Halifax, Studio Hamburg International Production (SHIP)/Hamburg & Los Angeles
Shooting Dates Halifax/Canada, January – February 2005
Sound Technology Dolby Digital

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