Location Scout Nic Diedrich knows all the secret hidden places and mysterious nooks and crannies in the Hanseatic city and surrounding area. He is increasingly commissioned by producers for projects by directorial giants such as Gore Verbinski, Anton Corbijn, and James Kent to find just the right locations. We spoke to Nic Diedrich about his work, the North as an international film location, and the urgent need for action.
Are the Hanseatic city and the Schleswig-Holstein region still a discovery as international film locations?
Yes, definitely. However, over the last decade, Hamburg has rarely appeared on the screen in international productions. Due to its division into an industrial and residential city, the city offers a broad spectrum within a small space. The Hanseatic understated ‘Sachlichkeit’ (Objectivity style) that prevails in Hamburg's architecture is complemented by the countless mansions and elegant estates appropriate for historical films in Schleswig-Holstein.
For instance, The Aftermath, a melodrama set in post-war Hamburg immediately following World War II, a production that had 20 shooting days at the Tralau Castle. For A Cure for Wellness we were could completely block the iconic Hamburg harbour bridge, the setting which originally attracted the production to Hamburg.
By the way. We always look to Berlin. How do you rate us as a location? Are we doing well enough with regard to international working crews, licensors, and municipal authorities?
Honestly, this is quite problematic. Our contact with the authorities here is still very good, and we collaborate with a high level of trust. Unfortunately, some of the colleagues’ in the public authorities’ ability to take action is now limited. We also encountered many restrictions at various municipal enterprises. What my colleagues and I myself increasingly observe is an insurmountable overload for the colleagues approving permits. Recently there have been many cutbacks in personnel in many administrative offices, who then cannot keep up with the ever-increasing demands of film productions. If we really want to work in a competitive way, a change in approach is essential.
If you work well for many years and both sides work in a solution-oriented manner, with an open ear for the interests of the other, then absolutely un-bureaucratic things are possible. For instance, on the productions of A Most Wanted Man or Out of the Void, where international and national colleagues were equally surprised. I can’t really speak on behalf of the interests of Hamburg production crews vis-a-vis international productions, as everyone has their own personal motivations.
What can Film Funds and Film Commissions do to further promote Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein as an international shooting location?
Certainly the most important task is to create an appreciation and interest in the location. Film has an impact on the location and is also an advertising medium. Hamburg is located just 300 kilometers away from Berlin, yet only manages to lure productions here to a very limited extent. The lack of a periphery area equipped with film studios is of course one of the most major drawbacks.
Nowadays, numerous locations can only be approached by higher-level departments of public relations, and they not only ask questions about the film content to an unacceptable degree, but try to influence it. If a shooting permit is rejected upon the basis of the fictional character of a film, based purely on a judgement of the content, in my opinion, that’s censorship.
The only way to remain competitive in the future, and above all to attract large and small productions is by upholding urban diversity. And an openness to a broad spectrum of interests to realise unusual, complex productions, all the while supporting the creative freedom intrinsic to cinema. After all, it is the images that will be spread across the world. And it’s the international teams and crews, which in the best-case scenario will spread the word to industry colleagues about Hamburg and the North as a great shooting location with its good conditions. Films' advertising potential for our region should not be underestimated.
How do you evaluate urban development policy in relation to your work?
Unfortunately, the urban development policy seems one-sided to me. There is a lack of understanding of urban diversity. Regarding our work, Hamburg as a potential location is increasingly disappearing. I started my archive of locations in 2001. Today, over 70 per cent of all the unique places, the dingy, unusual microcosms, and combined live-work spaces, have all but disappeared. In a few years, none of these places will be left, erasing the possibility of portraying a whole range of human experience and stories on the big screen.
What’s next for you? What are your upcoming projects?
Right now we are also scouting locations for various larger and smaller productions, some of which are planned to shoot before the summer. We shot A Cure for Wellness and Aftermath in this city and region, so we can easily reconnect with the right people needed.
Especially during the productions of A Cure for Wellness by Gore Verbinski and In the Fade by Fatih Akin, we received excellent support from all the authorities, the police, and marketing institutions. This was an important signal for future international projects!