Legions of fans and collaborators helped Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning get made, then turned it into an internet hit
By Rosie Lavan
PROJECT TITLE: STAR WRECK: IN THE PIRKINNING
SHORT STORY SYNOPSIS: Captain James B. Pirk is incompetent, arrogant, and self-proclaimed overlord of the known universe. His efforts to thwart alien attack and extend his empire to a new universe run into trouble when he and the crew of the starship Kickstart become stranded on twenty-first century Earth. Intergalactic warfare unfolds as Pirk, over-fond of fast food and luckless with women, hatches an unlikely plan to save humanity.
FORMAT: 103’ feature
PRODUCTION COMPANIES: No major company: crowdsourced production led by a team of five including creator and producer Samuli Torssonen and director Timo Vuorensula. Energia Productions was founded in 2005 on the release of In the Pirkinning.
STATUS: Project completed
RELEASE DATES: Premiered 20 August 2005; online for download from 1 October 2005; TV premiere on Finnish YLE2 28 January 2006 and subsequent screenings on Italian and Belgian TV; Scandinavian DVD release announced October 2006 with subsequent editions in Japan (2007), the UK and the US (2009)
Under the tagline “parody’s final frontier”, Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning unites close references to Star Trek and Babylon 5 with Hollywood-quality special effects, action, anarchic humour and its own unique “badass attitude”.
The project claims some key firsts: it was the first collaborative feature film, and the first feature released on the internet for free distribution. It began in 1998 when five friends with minimal plans and limited resources set out to make a feature-length film to follow the five Star Wreck films creator Samuli Torssonen had made since 1992. They poured their own incomes from student and unemployment cheques into the production. Real sets were an impossible expense: much of the film was shot against a bluescreen made of lino. They took many of the roles themselves. The secret ingredient, they said, was passion, but one other crucial element went into the mix: the crowd.
Torssonen’s Star Wreck series had already drawn a niche following, and it was to these faithful that the makers of In the Pirkinning turned for ideas, support and enthusiasm. Using the internet, they built a community around the project. These networks enabled the friends to make a film through crowdsourcing, with 300 active and 3,000 casual contributors underpinning the project throughout its production and spreading the word on its release.
It is estimated there were more than 10 million downloads of Star Wreck: 8 million directly or via Torrent sites, and a further 2 million through sharing.
Arguably, the active interest of the makers of Star Wreck in their audience has been the most effective means of building and sustaining it. In the Pirkinning’s predecessor, the 45-minute Star Wreck 5, broke new ground in 1997 when it appeared online for free download, and quickly became a talking point on message boards and mailing lists. The makers made the same commitment to offering In the Pirkinning for free download, stating that: “There was but one objective for the release: that the film may spread as widely as possible.”
A month before it was released for download, a self-published DVD went on sale via the website; about 10,000 copies were sold. The self-distributing, download-first principle made the Universal DVD deal which followed unusual, although this Imperial Edition DVD, released in Scandinavia in 2006, featured extras. There have been subsequent DVD releases in Japan, the US and the UK, and Star Wreck has been screened on television in Finland, Italy and Belgium. Through the DVD’s sale in supermarkets and other stores, Star Wreck reached a new audience beyond the original internet-based following, helped in part by the media attention which the film and its makers attracted.
Star Wreck has become a brand in its own right through the early innovation of the Energia team: in 2003, with In the Pirkinning still in production, they launched Star Wreck t-shirts to raise money; demand boomed and other merchandise followed.
As a direct consequence of crowdsourcing Star Wreck Energia launched Wreckamovie, an online collaborative film production platform which encourages people to initiate or participate in filmmaking projects, including the forthcoming Iron Sky.
Perhaps the most direct and characteristically different method of audience engagement Energia employs is the Crowd Controls tool, designed by New York-based Brian Chirls and launched with Iron Sky. Under the heading “We demand Iron Sky!” visitors to the film’s site are invited to enter their name, email address and postcode to request a screening in their area. Their location is then plotted on a satellite map. Shooting on Iron Sky starts in autumn 2010 and the film is scheduled for release in 2011: those who have signed up via Crowd Controls are demanding to see a film that has not yet been made. It is a key tool in the film’s promotion among fans and distributors alike.
The Star Wreck trailer
The Iron Sky teaser