It’s been a while since Industrial PRIME last wrote an insight about something Finnish. This time, we have finally returned to our native soil, and we must say it feels quite refreshing for a change.
Only a handful of films are produced in Finland each year, and the ones we are about to tell you about may not be the most flattering ones. That’s because they are films about Nazis… on the moon. And to countless people across the globe, moon Nazis are everything they know about Finnish cinema. Now, whether this is a good or a bad thing is entirely up to you. But what is certain is that behind the phenomenon, there is an amazing story worth telling.
So allow us to introduce to you these passionate young filmmakers who decided to boldly go where no man had gone before and, against all odds, actually made it. These are the guys who chose to devote years of their lives to work on something they knew they would never get paid for.
We happened to meet one of them at a recent start-up event, where director Mr Timo Vuorensola had arrived to deliver a presentation about their quite unusual methods of filmmaking.
The way Vuorensola spoke was energetic and absorbing, to say the least. We were so enthralled that we had no choice but to drag him to our table and ask for more: what we had just heard simply sounded too preposterous to be true.
Vuorensola is the director behind the Internet cult hit Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning (2005), the moon Nazi sci-fi action-comedy (yes) Iron Sky (2012), as well as the upcoming sequel Iron Sky: The Coming Race (scheduled to premiere in 2017).
The Finns broke all the rules of the film industry right from the beginning and did things in their own way. To begin with, their debut Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning became the world’s first full-length feature film (intentionally) available for free download online.
The Star Trek spoof definitely had its merits, but what really interested people was that some guys from Finland had spent seven years in a basement making a film and then just let everyone watch it for free.
“People thought, what’s the point in that?” Vuorensola says.
Indeed, what was the point?
The director thinks that sometimes the story behind a film can be much more interesting than the actual film itself – it is the journey that matters, not so much the destination.
In addition to being freely available for downloading, Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning was unique for another reason as well: it accidentally became the first film in history whose production had relied heavily upon crowdsourcing – a term that hardly even existed at the time but that has since developed into a buzzword.
In 1998 Vuorensola joined forces with Mr Samuli Torssonen, a die-hard Star Trek fan and the creator of five Star Wreck short films that had not gone completely unnoticed online. Owing to their limited filmmaking resources, they decided to turn to the online community that had taken notice of the shorts.
To start the production, they set up a DIY bluescreen studio in Torssonen’s mother’s basement and gradually started filming all of their friends who would agree to appear in front of the camera. For the crowdsourcing part, the online community helped by developing the screenplay as well as by creating visual effects, music, and various other things for the film.
It was out of these bits and pieces that finally, after seven years of gluing and pasting, Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning was completed in 2005. The creators uploaded the film to the web, thinking nobody was probably interested in it anyway.
However, during the first day, Star Wreck was downloaded a million times. The second day, two million times.
“Something just clicked and the film started spreading like wildfire,” Vuorensola recalls. “Today, the number of downloads is somewhere between ten and fifteen million.”
It was time to start thinking about the next project. Vuorensola and co. knew they would have to take it all to a whole new level.
And they certainly did.
Director Timo Vuorensola instructing actors on the Moon Market. (Image: Tomi Tuuliranta)
The idea for the follow-up was unearthed during a casual sauna conversation when Mr Jarmo Puskala, who had been part of the Star Wreck community and had helped with the screenplay, brought up one of his recent dreams.
“He had been riding a bicycle on the moon with a particularly moody Adolf Hitler sitting on the back carrier, constantly ranting in his ear about something,” Vuorensola explains. “He had woken up and thought, shit, we have to make a movie about moon Nazis!”
They decided to embrace the idea, pitch it to their community (now significantly larger than before) as their next film project, and see what happens.
People got excited. Very excited.
As a result, the decision was made to take crowdsourcing a step further. Simultaneously, as big money was about to enter the picture, a more serious attitude towards the filmmaking process was to be adopted.
“It was no longer going to be a bunch of guys just having a good time,” Vuorensola points out. “This time, we had to take responsibility and understand what we were about to do and how it all should be done. Salaries would have to be paid. It was going to be something very real that would have an actual effect on many people’s lives.”
The new film would also be more ambitious, meaning of course more expensive. Crowdfunding was adopted to collect roughly a million euros, thanks to which financiers that had initially been hesitant could be talked in.
Soon the filmmakers were armed with a €7.5-million budget put together by producer Mr Tero Kaukomaa, who is also no stranger to crazy films from Finland aiming for international distribution. The expectations were rising.
“In the case of Star Wreck, time and money were never issues, as we did everything at our own pace. Now both our budget and the schedule were limited, and we knew perfectly well that we wouldn’t be getting more of either. We had no choice but to deliver the quality expected with the resources given to us.”
Thanks to crowdsourcing, around three hundred people had been involved in the production of Star Wreck. In the case of Iron Sky, the number rose to over a thousand, as pretty much every part of the filmmaking process could be crowdsourced in one way or another.
The end result was a whopping sci-fi actioner that looked so good one critic even compared its visuals to those in The Lord of the Rings films. Whether this was an overstatement or not, Iron Sky did not turn out quite as popular as Peter Jackson’s Middle-earth saga – in fact, the film’s overall performance at the box office left plenty of room for improvement. Many things nevertheless clicked, and it was obvious that the story would have to continue.
Eventually, Iron Sky was seen by millions of people around the world. Thanks to that, the film and its creators have managed to develop a rock-solid fan base capable of acting as a ginormous loudspeaker for any upcoming projects.
That is why the expectations are high for the upcoming film Iron Sky: The Coming Race, which is already in the can and currently in post-production. The film will be completed in early 2017, and you can expect it to reach a cinema near you some time in the following autumn.
According to Vuorensola, the approach to crowdsourcing adopted this time around has been even more daring than with the previous films.
“We now have millions of fans in our community,” he states. “Out of those, hundreds of thousands are active, while some tens of thousands take part in the filmmaking process in one way or another. Finally, the number of people actually credited for their involvement will lie somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000. These are the people whose contributions have ended up in the final film.”
To quote an example, an early draft of the script was sent to a large number of fans, and feedback and new ideas were requested in exchange. Numerous fan extras will appear in the film itself, and extras were even offered the unique opportunity to get brutally killed on-screen. At a later stage, clips of the half-finished film were shown to members of the fan community, again to receive more feedback.
Based on the trailer, Nazis that set up a secret base on the dark side of the moon back in 1945 and tried to take over the Earth in the first Iron Sky film are still among us in the sequel – well, now they seem to be below us. And apparently they have managed to tame dinosaurs.
As part of crowdfunding for Iron Sky: The Coming Race, fans were given the unique opportunity to get eaten by a dinosaur on the silver screen. “We put a €5,000 price tag on a close-up death, and it was sold instantly,” Vuorensola says. “Then we decided to expand the mayhem to a crowd scene and lower the price a bit. Now we have about twenty fans in the movie getting ruthlessly murdered by dinosaurs!” Obviously, there is no such thing that money cannot buy.
It all looks even more impressive than the first Iron Sky, and no wonder: the budget has taken a significant leap to roughly €17 million, making it the most expensive Finnish live action film ever produced.
But just how Finnish is the film exactly? After all, it was shot in Belgium and barely has any Finnish actors in it.
The Finns can hold on to their pride and glory, as Vuorensola defends the film’s racial purity without a moment’s hesitation.
“We’ve placed a great emphasis on maintaining the Finnish spirit, and I think we’ve succeeded in doing that. It’s not only the director that is Finnish: so many creative pieces in the film hail from Finland that there is absolutely no doubt about the film’s true identity.”
The critics did not exactly fall in love with the first Iron Sky, but that hasn’t been among Vuorensola’s greatest concerns. Instead, once the film was released, the filmmakers paid attention to the actual audiences of the film and the way it was received by them. Based on that, they made their own conclusions.
“For the sequel, we have tweaked the concept a bit to make it more appealing to them and possibly to an even wider audience,” he says. “Instead of a sci-fi satire, you’re going to be in for an action adventure reminiscent of Indiana Jones.”
The expectations for the film’s performance at the box office are high, and not completely unrealistic either. As mentioned before, the fan base is enormous and will certainly help create hype before the premiere. What’s more, the film is backed by Universal, a major distributor that will make sure the film is as widely available as possible when the iron is hot.
Coming Up: The Quadrilogy
When we bring up the future, Vuorensola reveals that the third and fourth installments to the Iron Sky saga are already on the pipeline.
To our surprise, the third part will be aimed at Chinese audiences and feature Chinese stars in the main roles.
“The first film was a success in various countries, including Germany, the Nordics, and Japan,” Vuorensola points out. “But it ended up making a huge splash in China. At first we didn’t even know anything about it, as the success was entirely due to piracy and street peddlers!”
Finally, let us find out what lies beyond Iron Sky for Vuorensola himself. Is he ever going to be interested in the so-called conventional filmmaking?
He doesn’t want to be too specific, but admits he has been approached by various studios both in Europe and across the Atlantic Ocean.
“I will certainly be doing other things than just Iron Sky in the future, but what and with whom, that will depend on a variety of things. However, whether I’ll be working for a major Hollywood studio or a small Finnish production company, one thing’s for sure: the fan community is always going to be involved and the principal process of filmmaking will remain the same.”
To be honest, Industrial PRIME hasn’t even been listening since Iron Sky III and China were brought up. All we’ve been thinking about is that we’ve always wanted to meet face to face with a dragon and then ride it, or perhaps let it smoke us to death. Either way, we cannot help wondering: could that be arranged, and where do we sign up?
Text and main image by Industrial PRIME
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