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Open-source films attack Hollywood

Star Wreck Studios, based in Finland, has built an open-source platform that gives anybody the chance to make a film at no cost.

It's 2018 and the Nazis are about to return from space to an unsuspecting Earth.

Sound weird? It could happen. And it does in Iron Sky, a new movie whose preview will be available for download on the 5th of May.

The story is a follow-up from the guys who made the cult film Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning. That $20,000 sci-fi parody of Star Trek has been downloaded 8 million times since it appeared on the Internet three years ago.

This is the story of Iron Sky:

In 1945, when World War II is almost over, SS officer Hans Kammler and his staff make a breakthrough in anti-gravity research. From a secret base in the Antarctic, they launch the first Nazi spaceships and establish a military base on the so-called dark side of the moon.

By 2018, they're ready to return to an unsuspecting Earth, but they face some serious trouble.

Star Wreck Studios

The Star Wreck Studios team, based in Tampere, Finland, has built a virtual studio for Iron Sky and an open-source platform that gives anybody the chance to make a film at no cost. They have recruited American Stephen Lee as managing director, and the chairman of the board is John Buckman, mostly known as the founder of Magnatune, a record label he created in Berkeley, Calif., in 2003.

Board member and serial entrepreneur Peter Vesterbacka says the aim of the open-source project is "wrecking the Hollywood model."

"Hollywood only distributes 700 films a year, but there are 100,000 people in Hollywood with film ideas," said Vesterbacka, who formerly worked for Hewlett-Packard and is also co-founder of the global social event Mobile Monday.

With this Web-based platform, people interested in film can make high-quality productions at almost no cost. The content can be anything from short films to feature films and can be distributed on the Internet or mobile devices or in theaters.

Vesterbacka says open source for film hasn't worked so far, because of the complex production requirements.

"But now anyone can buy a HD video camera on a level with Hollywood. It's all more affordable, and for special effects, such as rendering of a spaceship, you only need a PC."

Then again, a PC and an HD video camera don't automatically make you George Lucas.

Nonetheless, like Iron Sky, a number of companies and artists are using the Web to get around the studio system. Crackle, formerly called Grouper, has evolved into a site for up-and-coming artists. The site is also pulling in major sponsorship and ad dollars from known companies. Before, when Grouper showed user-generated videos, advertisers stayed away, General Manager Jonathan Shambroom told CNET recently.

And as with software, the quality of a movie can actually be better the more people are involved. Universal had professional translators doing the Star Wreck subtitles for the Norwegian market, but the collective work of the fans was more accurate.

The business model for Star Wreck Studios is reversed--first free, then for pay and there is a very long tail; Star Wreck has spilled over into other things such as games, merchandise, and a very lively discussion on sci-fi.

The board has discussed moving the whole self-funded operation to the U.S., but think that they're still fine "with these crazy guys from Finland."