The Sky’s The Limit
‘Iron Sky’ producer, Cathy Overett, tells us about getting the pioneering project to screen – and the strategies that worked and those that didn’t.
"This was a baptism of fire and a big eye-opener," Iron Sky's producer Cathy Overett tells FilmInk on the eve of the film being released in Australian cinemas. The Australian producer's talking about the innovative approach that the sci-fi project took to raise their $9.1 million budget, an unprecedented $1 million of which was raised via crowd-funding strategies.
Overett only came on board two years ago (the German/Finnish co-production partnered with Australia to utilise our tax offset), but the film's been in the works since 2007 when Finnish director Timo Vuorensola, having scored an online hit with the Star Trek parody Star Wreck, began working on another satire - this time featuring a group of Nazis who have been hiding on the dark side of the moon since the end of the war.
"When we came aboard, there were two different versions of the script because they were still trying to work out which direction it should take," Overett recalls. "There was a tone we really wanted to set. It's much more black comedy and parody as opposed to slapstick humour. It's not for everybody. People either get this or they don't."
Thousands of online fans around the world have been following the film's (sometimes tumultuous) journey from conception to completion, with Iron Sky's website constantly updated with video diaries and updates from Vuorensola as the production grew legs and travelled the globe, shooting in Frankfurt, New York and on Australia's Gold Coast.
"What I love about Timo is that it's always been about a two way engagement," Overett says. "One of the mistakes people make with crowd-funding projects is thinking that they can ask for money and not give anything back. With this, people get back so much just through the lifestyle angle, but also the fact that they know they are genuinely involved in the process."
Involving, interacting and even collaborating with fans is a strategy increasingly being utilised by filmmakers now, one that's been boosted by the explosion in social networking. Overett says, however, it's important to distinguish between the different ways fans can aid projects. "There are three different things: crowd-funding, crowd-sourcing and crowd-investing," she explains. Iron Sky utilised all three, with each proving integral to the film's production.
According to Overett, crowd-sourcing focuses on asking fans for ideas and letting them have their say in the creative process. "Timo developed a community filmmaking website," she recalls, "and would ask for names for spaceships so people came up with a whole bunch of names and rationales behind them; or they needed designs for posters so you'd have a lot of emerging artists who submitted designs. It's very much about sourcing creatively and engaging with people on that level while the director maintains creative control."
Crowd-funding and crowd-investing, on the other hand, is about acquiring funds for the project. A significant portion of the crowd-sourced part of the budget was raised through pre-sales of DVDs and merchandise, and also through contributions made via crowd-funding websites like Kickstarter. "When things were tight, Timo registered the project with nine crowd-funding platforms to see what we could make and it was actually very limited," Overett recalls.
The majority of the money came from direct investment. "Crowd-investing is going out and asking your fan base to invest in your film," Overett says before recalling a number of obstacles in that process. "We started that process, but soon realised we weren't able to utilise it in Australia because under the ASIC regulations, they're considered to be small investors and you need to have a Managers Investment Fund. We couldn't afford that so we had to put the brakes on it. But moving forward, we're going to be talking to ASIC about what we can do to change that because crowd-funding is definitely the way for the future."
Even keeping in mind all of these things, the success of a campaign like this will largely rest on the type of audience it's aimed at. "We've got a very contained audience," Overett says. "The sci-fi audience is a huge loyal fan base and one that you can tap into fairly easily. Interestingly enough, I'm helping out on an environmental doco at the moment, and it really comes down to what people are passionate about and engaging with online."
Aside from the money and the creative input, what an audience-focused approach can do is build buzz and anticipation so that when the film's released, there's no doubt that it has an audience. This was confirmed for Overett and crew when the theatrical trailer for Iron Sky was posted on YouTube the week before the Berlin Film Festival; it garnered over 6 million views and proceeded to sell out four screenings at the European festival.
With the film having sold in most territories around the world, are distributors persuaded by the online sway it holds? "They take it on board but for now they still take it with a grain of salt," Overett says. "It varies country to country, and it helps, but we still need other things. But we believe the fan base is there - and hopefully it will show at the box office."
Iron Sky is released in cinemas May 10.
Picture caption (L-R): The Iron Sky team - Julia Dietze (female lead), Cathy Overett (Australian producer), Tero Kaukomaa (Finnish producer), Timo Vuorensola (director), Mark Overett (Australian producer), Oliver Damian (German producer).