Berlinale Dispatch #3:
Crowd-financing, Iron Sky

FILM, Film Festivals
At the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, should Hollywood give crowd-financing a go? Plus: space Nazis attack!

Give a bunch of sci-fi and video game fans a €7.5 million budget and some serious film nous and it might look something like Iron Sky.

Actually, that’s more or less what happened. Iron Sky is notable for both its hilarious premise (in 1945, the surviving Nazis leave for the dark side of the moon; sixty years later, they return for revenge) and as a gold medal example of crowd-financing. Of the film’s total budget, the producers aim to source nearly a million euros from online crowd-financing—basically, asking the audience to pay before and while the film is made.

It’s a concept with incredible potential but suffers from equally incredible hype. As I heard at a European Film Market debate this week, crowd-financing won’t work for everyone.

Tero Kaukomaa, Iron Sky’s producer, has a long list of other film credits to his name, including Lars von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark. But it was Finnish director Timo Vuorensola’s spoof Star Wreck that built the fan base that made Iron Sky’s crowd-financing a success.

“I think the key word is crowd-sourcing,” Kaukomaa said. “Many people are interested in the films and they want to be part of it. And if they can somehow join the production, there’s millions and millions of people like this. The next step is to connect to the crowd-funding.”

Iron Sky fans could contribute ideas and expertise to the movie (via Wreckamovie.com), buy products and sneak peeks, and invest (Europeans only, with rights available to a set number of fans in each country).

The producers combined crowd-financing with traditional funding sources, something that also sets the film apart. Iron Sky, which premiered at the Berlinale this week, ended up as a Finnish/German/Australian co-production: 25 partners across at least three countries with about 10 per cent of the total funds raised by crowd-financing.

Jessica Caldwell and Rebecca Thomas, the producer and director of Elecktrick Children, had quite a different crowd-financing experience. They started raising money for their micro-budget film through Kickstarter and stumbled across an angel investor, Richard Neustadter, who brought the budget to US$2 million.

Kickstarter worked for us, Caldwell said, but in an untraditional way and it wouldn’t necessarily work again. Very few people donated who weren’t friends or family. “How many times can you ask your mum to give you money?”

For them, it ended up working as a soft way to approach someone who became a major investor and co-producer. “We were just asking for a donation—it was a very non-oppressive way to ask somebody for money.”

Caldwell sees a clear difference between Electrick Children and Iron Sky when it comes to crowd-financing. The latter has a specific genre—sci-fi—with a specific audience and millions of existing fans. “We didn’t have that,” she pointed out. “We just really got lucky. So I think it can be useful in America for very specific types of films.”

For indie filmmakers, the real value of crowd-financing may be in identifying your future audience, which is exactly the kind of info sales agents and distributors are after.

The Iron Sky team put in place innovative ways to collect that data, including a map that lets you request the film in your hometown (Wellington logs 51 requests, last time I checked). It’s a wide audience, Kaukomaa said, but tends to be male and “technically-savvy.”

So should Hollywood give it a go? “Spiderman 4 is never going to be funded on Kickstarter,” Caldwell said. “They don’t need money, they have it.” For Kaukomaa, the Iron Sky community can be described as “kind of like a fight against Hollywood.” And the big studios are welcome to bring it. “It’d be really nice to make a test with the next Spiderman film.”

As for Iron Sky, great premise, great effects and some nice turns by Götz Otto (Tomorrow Never Dies) and Udo Kier (most recently seen in Guy Maddin’s Keyhole) but not really my thing. Guess I’m not part of this particular crowd.

Nina Fowler’s dispatches for The Lumière Reader will continue throughout the Berlin International Film Festival, which runs from February 9-19.