Linda Whitmore is our specialist here at Hero Complex when it comes to classic “Star Trek,” and today she checks in with a report about “Star Wreck,” a parody that required her to boldly seek out life forms in a Nordic sector of the universe. — Geoff Boucher
What would happen if the Starship Enterprise and “Airplane” crashed into the Babylon 5 space station somewhere in the skies above Finland?
The loopy result would be “Star Wreck (The Imperial Edition),” the Starfleet parody from a Finnish writer-actor-producer named Samuli Torssonen and his crew of amateur moviemakers. Seven years in the making, the farce opens on the bridge of the USS Kickstart with the not-so-cosmic sound of a toilet flushing – the men’s room, it seems, is conveniently located right next to the vessel’s command center.
The film introduces us to the intrepid Capt. James B. Pirk (Torssonen), his android science officer Mr. Info (a silver-faced Antti Satama) and a Klingon-like tactical officer named Dwarf (Timo Vuorensola, who also directed). There are gags about Federation jargon (“amigo-class” starships), cosmology (it’s “maggot holes” instead of “wormholes”) and the old familiar “Trek” aliens (the Vulgars, the Korg). What do the bumbling heroes find after flying through that maggot hole? The space station Babylon 13. Yes, “Wreck” is a concept cage match between Gene Roddenberry and J. Michael Straczynski. It doesn’t matter who wins; by the time one character screams, “Zucker, you shall be avenged!” you’re either on board or long gone at warp speed.
The film is being released on DVD in the U.S. on Tuesday. “Star Wreck” is also available on the Internet. Here’s my Q&A with Torssonen, the scrappy, warp-driving force behind “Wreck.” The 31-year-old native of Tampere, Finland, is fluent in English, and good thing because when it comes to Finnish I never got started.
LW: So is it right that this “Star Wreck” is just the latest in a series of “Trek” spoofs you’ve worked on?
ST: Yes, it was actually called “Star Wreck VI: In the Pirkinning” in the beginning because there were five “Star Wreck” animated shorts or short films produced between 1992 and 1997. They are all available on our YouTube channel. … It all began in 1992, when I did the first “Star Wreck” film. It was a very crude, two-dimensional animation. The series progressed quickly to a live-action fan film called “Star Wreck V: Lost Contact,” which was a parody of “Star Trek: First Contact.” My mother helped in sewing the costumes and loaned the camcorder from my father. It was finished in 1997, took about one year to complete.
LW: Why “Star Trek”? Were you a fan while growing up?
ST: I was a huge “Star Trek” fan, so I guess “Star Wreck” was my way of expressing my fandom — to do my version of “Star Trek” with my own voice in Finnish. I had every episode on VHS tape and I mean every. I wasn’t interested in the other ways of expressing the fandom — costumes, toys, collecting cards etc.
LW: I watched the new DVD and I thought it was inspired. The men’s room off the bridge, the “X-Files” coffee mug — how long did it take you to write? Was it a collaborative effort?
ST: You could say that the script was never finished. We began to shoot a 20-minute space battle action film and kept adding new scenes that actually tried to explain why all the fighting was happening! So, the script was constantly evolving. We shot some pickups until the last moment in 2005. We had seven years to tweak the script and could see some of the problems later on and were able to correct those. The previous “Star Wreck” films were written by Rudi Airisto and me. We quickly understood that we needed help in writing this two-hour script. We had already formed a small fan base in 1998 because of the earlier “Star Wreck” shorts. “Star Wreck 5” was ahead of its time — it was one of the very first fan films on the Internet in 1998. It was way before YouTube and the “Star Wars” fan films.
We posted a message stating that we need help with the script on Usenet, a kind of discussion board of its time, and received lots of feedback and ideas to the story. One of the guys, Jarmo Puskala, was really keen so he became a member of the actual screenwriting team and, later on, part of our production company. He also gave the idea about the moon Nazis [for “Iron Sky”]. During the production, we set up our own “Star Wreck” message board and used that for communicating with our fans. They helped us in many ways, giving great ideas to the story, did some 3-D modeling and, of course, spread the word.
LW: When did “Bablyon 5” air in Finland? What led you to introduce the “Babylon 5″ angle? I’m a “B5″ freak also — so I got all the “in jokes.”
ST: “Babylon 5” aired in 1998 when we began to write the story. There was a huge battle between the fans of “Star Trek” and “Babylon 5” on the Internet, and we considered that pretty funny — it was only TV series! So we came up with this idea, what if you actually put the two shows in a deadly space combat. Who will win? Of course, when “Star Wreck” was finally ready, nobody remembered “Babylon 5” anymore.
LW: Talk a little bit about filming “Star Wreck.”
ST: We began to shoot “Star Wreck” as a casual fan film with no money and no ambition at all. So we of course used actors who were committed to the project and didn’t cost anything. …We knew very little about filmmaking. None of our team went to any film schools. I knew something about blue-screen technique after “Star Wreck 5.” The team of five people formed by accident. The director, Timo Vuorensola, was not a “Star Trek” fan at all — which ultimately was a very good thing. Usually, fan-film directors know too much about the subject, and the film doesn’t make any sense to non-fans.
We learned everything by doing mistakes. There were a couple of scenes that were shot three times — at first we overexposed the material — the second time we didn’t have a decent microphone. We of course watched quite a lot of reference films and broke down the interesting scenes shot by shot. So, we were banging our heads on the wall until the very end. The shooting lasted seven years, so it became part of our lives to meet on Saturdays and Sundays at my mother’s house where the blue screen was located. My mother or my grandmother cooked usually [for] the whole team.
LW: Have you gotten any feedback from anyone in the real “Star Trek” camp?
ST: No, but J. Michael Straczynski e-mailed me and asked for a couple of copies of the film on DVD.
LW: I was impressed by the production values — especially the special effects. How did you produce those on a budget?
ST: We didn’t have a budget! You can compensate money with time. I had been learning 3-D animation since I was 14. So I did 99% of the special-effects work by myself during the seven years. I had about five computers in my render farm in my kitchen. Everything was self-learned. It’s a good thing that Finland has a good social support. Officially, I was either a student or a unemployed for the seven years, and “Star Wreck” was a full-time job for me without any salary.
LW: I think a lot of Trekkies would like to own the DVD or see a screening at a convention — it has “cult following” written all over it. Why hasn’t it been available wider?
ST: Well, of course the free Internet version was downloaded all around the world, but for a DVD distributor, it is very hard to convince that a Finnish “Star Trek” parody is worth their time and effort. I guess if “Star Wreck” had been in English language, it would have helped quite a lot. “Star Wreck” was never distributed in theaters. You could say that Internet was its “theatrical release.”
LW: Why encourage the free download on the Internet?
ST: To put it simply: I, as a filmmaker, want my film to be seen by as many people as possible. For a Finnish “Star Trek” parody, the traditional distribution routes would have been quite impossible. We needed to pique the attention by some other way. So, the free Internet distribution worked as a free PR campaign for us and got the attention of the traditional industry as well, and now we are launching the film in the U.S. as well. The world has really changed! The free distribution didn’t exclude the traditional DVD markets — not everybody is able to find and download the film from the Internet.
LW: Are you coming to the U.S. to promote the DVD?
ST: Most certainly, if somebody would pay for the tickets!
LW: What’s in your future? I visited your website, Iron Sky. Doesn’t look very funny….
ST: We put about $15,000 into “Wreck.” “Iron Sky” has a budget of $8 million. It is on its way to becoming the largest film production here in Finland. The humor in “Iron Sky” is less slapstick and somewhat darker than in “Star Wreck,” but that teaser for “Iron Sky” is only meant to show the feeling of the film. It really doesn’t show any of the comedic aspects of the film. You have to wait for the final trailer with actors in it! If you liked “Star Wreck,” you will most certainly enjoy “Iron Sky” — I can promise that. And we also have a new “Star Wreck” being written. This time it will be in English.
– Linda Whitmore
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