Last Friday night I headed to the sauna lounge at Botta, in Helsinki center. Director of the Scifi parody Starwreck Timo Vuorensola had been invited jointly by Finnish Linux Users Group, Finnish Unix Users Group and the Helsinki University Computer Science student body.
Just in case there is still somebody who doesn't know: Star Wreck is a movie that was published exactly one year ago. It was done by a bunch of Finnish guys living in Tampere. Some Finnish professional actors appear in it, but most of the actors are amateurs. Acting is in Finnish by the way, with English subtitles. Actually the talk in the local dialect of Tampere! It took them 7 years to finish this movie. Apart from the movie itself and its loyal international scifi fanbase, one important part was that it was released on the Internet for free download with a Creative Commons license.
Timo told that based on the activity on the Star Wreck forum before the movie was finished, the team expected about 80 000 people to download it. But then some geek posted a link on Slashdot. And then the downloads went crazy. He said that by the end of the year their BitTorrent tracker showed 4 million downloads, at which point they stopped counting. Of course the figure is only suggestive, since it was also downloaded on many other peer-to-peer networks.
Jokingly Timo also said, that they didn't want to talk about the download count, after Star Wreck had surpassed the most viewed Finnish film of all times, a World War II movie that is shown on every independence day. Apparently old-timers have not taken this comparison well - some young amateurs made a movie that now surpassed this national icon, that can't be right!
While it is difficult to know how many people around the world have actually downloaded the movie, and how many of those then have watched it, one other statistic is more reliable and truly interesting. According to Timo, the amount of DVD's sold would count among the Top 5 Finnish movies last year! He did not mention the actual amount sold, but to give you an idea of where they stand, here are the DVD sales statistics of 2005 of Finnish movies:
Kummeli 2: 54 941
Kummeli 3: 51 306
Kummeli 4: 45 558
Vares: 29 770
Paha maa: 29 278
Anyway, it's a great achievement and kind of goes against the myth that online downloads are bad for DVD sales!
And talking about amateur movie production, I'm ashamed and physically hurt by seeing all the Kummeli movies on the top of this list :-) This is one genre of Finnish comedy I simply don't understand.
As a final testament to how popular this movie has become, Timo told us that Star Wreck is also available as a pirated copy in Russia and China. And especially the Chinese DVD is said to be much fancier than the original. Not to mention that it is supposedly produced by Miramax with Russel Crowe as leading actor! Fans in Russia and China have sent copies to the Star Wreck crew in Tampere.
Finally Timo also told some news about the guys' upcoming movie Iron Sky. They have been working on the script for half a year now, and if I understood correctly it was just finished last week.
This also answered one of the questions I've been interested in: They are not going to reveal the script outside the core team. So Iron Sky is not going to be a really Open Source movie as such, in the sense that you could participate in the scriptwriting or making parts of the movie on your own initiative. But Timo did talk about the collaborative Internet platform they intend to launch soon that will be a crucial part of the movie. Apparently also many of the space ships in Star Wreck were contributed designs by fans around the world. This is something the Iron Sky producers plan to tap into more deliberately this time.
One thing common with Linux actually: Just like Linus Torvalds' first computer was paid for by Linux enthusiasts around the world, Star Wreck fans donated hardware to render the space scenes in the Star Wreck movie.
Samuli, Timo and others have now created a production company to continue with their hobby. As the core team is now working full time on Iron Sky, let's hope they can finish a bit sooner than 7 years this time.