“When you grow up like that, and suddenly you decide you intend to make movies, everybody says, ‘It’s impossible.’ And I’m here and I’m living my dream.”
– Marc Forster
Marc Forster, the director of World War Z and the 2013 James Bond film Quantum of Solace, was born in the small Bavarian town of Illertissen near Ulm, Germany on November 27, 1969. But Forster grew up in the Swiss town of Davos-Klosters, and has dual German and Swiss citizenship. His German father, Wolf Forster, was a gynecologist who later had a pharmaceutical business. His German mother, Ulli, an architect, was also born in Bavaria (Augsburg). Wolf Forster died of cancer in 1998.
So how did Forster end up spending his formative years in the Swiss Alps with his parents and two brothers? In the early 1970s, the well-to-do Forster family felt threatened by the wave of left-wing terrorism that was targeting wealthy Germans at that time. In 1968 the Baader-Meinhof Gang (later the Red Army Faction, RAF) began a terror wave of bombings, kidnappings, and other threats to society, “evil capitalists” and “imperialists” that culminated in the car bombing death of German banker Alfred Herrhausen in November 1989.
When Marc Forster and his two brothers were still young children, the family used to travel from Germany to Davos for ski vacations. In 1978, when Marc was nine years old, his parents decided to move the family to more secure Switzerland. Forster had what he calls “an unbelievably carefree youth” (“eine unglaublich sorglose Jugend”) in the Landwasser Valley of the Swiss Alps. He grew up in the ski resort of Davos in the Graubünden canton — without any TV at home. He was 12 years old before he snuck into a cinema to see his first movie without the knowledge of his parents. Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) made such an impression on him, that he knew from that point on he wanted to become a film director.
For six years, along with his brothers, he attended the renowned Swiss international boarding school, the Institut Montana Zugerberg located near Zug between Lucerne and Zurich, then an all-boys school, where he earned his Maturität (Swiss high school diploma). (Another distinguished Institut Montana student was John F. Kerry, in the 1950s.) The family also had a home in Lucerne, not far from the school. Forster was only 18 when he flew to New York for the first time. He already had ambitions to study filmmaking there, and called his mother in Switzerland to tell her. She told him that he had to come back home and finish high school first. The dutiful son reluctantly did so, but in 1990, at the age of 21, Forster returned to the United States to study filmmaking at New York University.
By that time his father had sold his practice and lost the family fortune (and several homes) through bad investments. The family was no longer in a position to pay his tuition and expenses in New York, so Forster contacted some his parents’ wealthy friends in a bid to get financing for film school. He gives high praise to the French advertising executive who agreed to sponsor him and invested an estimated $100,000 in the film student — with no expectation of being repaid. “He did it because he believed in me,” Forster says. “Without him, I wouldn’t be here today. It was a miracle.” In 1993 he graduated from NYU’s film school and made two documentary films for European television “just to get work.”
Interestingly, Forster was born only a short distance from Laupheim, the birthplace of Carl Laemmle, the German founder of Universal Studios. Long before Forster was born, Laemmle made his way from Württemberg to California, where he built Universal City near Los Angeles in 1915. Although many decades separate the two men’s common Hollywood connection, they are geographically close, born in German towns barely 15 miles apart — Illertissen (in Bavaria) and Laupheim (in Baden-Württemberg).
Forster’s first film project after leaving NYU was Loungers (1995), a low-budget, experimental “absurdist musical” film about some “wannabe lounge singers” that he shot in Hollywood on digital video in just ten days. That debut film garnered the freshman director the Audience Award for Best Feature at the 1996 Slamdance Festival in Utah (an indie counterpart to the Sundance festival).
Personal tragedy is probably the main reason Forster’s next film did not appear until 2000, five years later. 1998 became the filmmaker’s Annus horribilis, a year in which both his father and grandmother died, and his brother Wolfgang committed suicide, all within a period of three months. Forster drew from the experience and pain of this loss when he co-wrote and filmed the psychological drama Everything Put Together (2000), an “unflinching examination of the frail bonds that exist between friends and family” (indieWIRE.com). The story of a mother’s loss of her infant son earned Forster a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. He was also recognized with the “Someone to Watch” award at the 2001 Independent Spirit Awards.
Forster’s work on Everything Put Together brought him attention that eventually led to an assignment on a much more ambitious project: Monster’s Ball. The highly regarded script by actors Will Rokos and Milo Addica had been making the rounds in Hollywood for many years, but various factors, including the cost of production with top stars for what was seen as more of an art house film than a blockbuster, had kept it from getting studio approval. Various big-name stars under consideration at different times included Robert De Niro and Tommy Lee Jones (with director Oliver Stone). The A-list actors — Billy Bob Thornton, Halle Berry, Peter Boyle — who finally came on board all agreed to accept a reduced salary for the film. In a DVD commentary, producer Lee Daniels says that because of the film’s nature, he always wanted a European, “race-blind” director who could film Monster’s Ball from a neutral point of view, and Forster fit the bill. Besides earning an Oscar for Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball proved to be Forster’s ticket to directing big-budget Hollywood pictures.
The successful director has become part of a new generation of German-born directors in Hollywood, following in the footsteps of older German directors like Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, Godzilla) and Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One, Troy). With the James Bond film Quantum of Solace and the zombie epic World War Z, Forster has become yet another German-born director making blockbuster English-language films for Hollywood and British studios.
World War Z, starring Brad Pitt, earned almost $540 million worldwide, but Pitt and Forster clashed during filming, and Forster wasn’t invited to direct any possible sequel. The insider stories vary, but basically there was tension on the set and the film’s ending was reshot after Paramount execs saw the initial screening of the director’s cut. In the end, however, the film did very well at the box office and with critics.
With his busy directing schedule, Forster now has little time to spend in his modern architect-designed beachfront house in Venice, California that he once shared with his Swiss-born girlfriend Dana Kohler. The two first met in Montreux in 2003 and became a couple in the US in 2005. They had a daughter (Lia Enéa) together in 2009. During filming for Quantum of Solace the two set up house in London. In 2010 Forster announced that he and Kohler were no longer living together, but that their daughter would link them forever. He commutes regularly between Los Angeles and Switzerland in order to see Lia.
In December 2010 Forster attended the opening ceremonies for his new hotel in Zermatt, Switzerland. The luxurious 23-room Hotel Matthiol consists of two modern timber-and-stone chalets with a glorious view of the famous Matterhorn. (Hotel packages start at $450 per night.) Forster is a major partner and shareholder in his new lodging sideline, but his main occupation continues to be Hollywood film director. The hotel features a gallery of photographs taken on his film sets.
Marc Forster’s Filmography (as director)
- All I See Is You (in production, 2016)
- Hand of God (TV series, 2014)
- World War Z (2013)
- Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
- Quantum of Solace (2008)
- The Kite Runner (2007)
- Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
- Stay (2005)
- Finding Neverland (2004)
- Monster’s Ball (2001)
- Everything Put Together (2000)
- Loungers (experimental, 1995)
Films about Forster and His Films (selected titles)
- Marc Forster – Der Weg zu 007 (2008, TV)
- Bond Girl Diaries (2008, TV)
- Bond on Location (2008, TV)
- Marc Forster – Von Davos nach Hollywood (2005, TV)
AT THE GERMAN WAY
- Germans (and Others) in Hollywood – About the three main waves of Germanic immigration to Hollywood
- Mini Bios A-Z – Brief biographies of people from the German-speaking world
- Featured Biographies – More detailed bios of notable people from the German-speaking world
- Notable Women from Austria, Germany, Switzerland
- Famous Graves in Germany – Where are they buried?
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