'Iron Sky' heads to theaters thanks to Internet backers

LONDON — The $10 million space Nazi comedy “Iron Sky” is already an Internet sensation ahead of its world premiere Feb. 11 at the Berlin Film Festival.

The most expensive film ever to come out of Finland, “Iron Sky” never would have gotten made without $1 million contributed by online fans, many of whom have been tracking the project since its inception.

Director Timo Vuorensola earned his geek fanbase with the 2005 spoof “Star Wreck,” a extremely low budget feature released for free on the Web. It has been downloaded 4 million times, and subsequently released on DVD.

When Vuorensola, who doubles as lead singer for Finnish industrial metal band Alymysto, approached Tero Kaukomaa at Blind Spot Pictures with the concept for “Iron Sky” — a bunch of Nazis escaped to the Moon in 1945, and have built a fleet of spaceships to invade Earth in 2018 — the producer saw the potential for innovative financing.

“I read the treatment and I was laughing a lot, and thinking this would cost $100 million,” says Kaukomaa. “But I did not run to a Hollywood studio. I decided to see what was possible making it as an independent European film.”

Kaukomaa raised seed coin from the Finnish Film Foundation and private investors, and started offering T-shirts, “war bonds” and other memorabilia on the Web. That eventually raised $200,000.

Meanwhile, he also started piecing together a more conventional co-production structure for what at that stage he envisioned as a $5 million project.

“I reckoned that was the amount I could put together with Timo’s very limited experience,” Kaukomaa says. But following initial interest from international buyers, and a decision to upgrade the quality of the crew, the projected budget doubled, to $10 million.

Kaukomaa struck a German co-production deal with Oliver Damian’s 27 Films, which covered about a quarter of the cost. But with half the coin coming from Finland, he was still short of his goal.

In early 2009, the producer decided to turn the casual Internet fundraising into a more formal drive for investment. He offered a series of equity packages between $1,300 and $26,000, giving fans perks and the same recoupment terms as producers.

The response was overwhelming. More than $800,000 in equity funding has been raised from better than 20 European countries. That in turn triggered a stronger interest from the traditional marketplace.

“Two years ago at Cannes was our last chance to put ‘Iron Sky’ together,” recalls Kaukomaa. “We (needed) more than $2.5 million, but we had launched the crowdfunding (plan) at that time, and when the traditional investors saw how eagerly the crowd wanted to invest, they became more keen. It was essential in the last phase of getting the financing in place.”

Kaukomaa sealed another co-production deal with Australia’s New Holland Pictures, securing the final quarter of the budget in return for doing the studio shoot in Queensland. Location filming took place in Frankfurt, with the second unit in New York where the Earth-bound drama takes place. Visual effects were provided by Finland’s Energia Prods., the company behind the original “Star Wreck.”

“I checked the whole world for visual effects, but although the quality we were looking for was available in many places, Energia could deliver the same standard for much less money,” Kaukomaa says. “We had 800 shots, and if our vfx budget was €1 million ($1.3 million), it would have cost us €5 million elsewhere.”

The U.K.’s Stealth Media Group took on presales, with Finland’s Nordea Bank providing gap finance. But Kaukomaa says it was an uphill battle to convince theatrical distributors to take “Iron Sky” seriously, rather than as a piece of camp schlock with its crazy space Nazi concept. “It was easier to get their attention with the concept than to convince them it was actually going to happen,” he notes.

Nonetheless, the film has been presold in the U.K., Germany, France, China, Japan and Taiwan, among many other territories.

The pic stars Julia Dietze as a teacher from the Nazi moon base who specializes in Earth studies. She’s sent to New York on a secret advance mission to gather intelligence and prepare the way for invasion, but her loyalties become conflicted. Co-stars include Christopher Kirby and Udo Kier.

It’s a sign of how much buzz the project stirred online that it has run into piracy problems. Last September, a Chinese gaming outfit, Ziiso, launched an unauthorized “Iron Sky” app for the iPad. It took only two days to get Apple to take the game down, but after Ziiso apologized, the producers invited them to negotiate a deal to revamp their game as a legit “Iron Sky” product.

Selection as part of Berlin’s artsy Panorama sidebar is the stamp of theatrical credibility “Iron Sky” needed.

“I’m happy we’re in Berlin, because of the German element in the story and the production team,” Kaukomaa says. “Panorama is interesting because it combines art and commerce, and it’s about presenting new filmmakers and new ways of making films.”

But, he adds, “I think ‘Iron Sky’ is more commercial than the average Panorama film.”

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