A 'Star Trek' spoof made by a group of Finnish filmmakers is traveling the Internet at warp speed, drawing hundreds of thousands of downloads in less than a week.
Since its release Oct. 1, more than 450,000 copies of "Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning," a parody of the popular TV and movie series, have been downloaded from the film's Web site, according to the filmmakers. An additional 250,000 downloads have come from various mirror sites.
"That's impressive," Laura Behrens, media analyst for researcher Gartner Inc., said.
The movie, the brainchild of producer Samuli Torssonen, took seven years to make. A lot of the work was done on computers in Torssonen's living room, which also acted as a makeshift studio. More than 300 people have worked on the project over the years, all without pay.
"We are not trying to reach big bucks with this one," director Timo Vuorensola said in an email response to questions. "We consider this a business card, which hopefully will help us gain the attention of investors and (other) people that are sitting on the money."
The filmmakers are also testing the Internet's ability to distribute and market movies, Vuorensola said. While they've spent no money on marketing, word of the film is spreading through postings on personal blogs, message boards and mailing lists. In addition, a story on the movie ran on the Reuters news agency.
"We see this as part of the pioneer work (on the Internet) for the film industry," Vuorensola said.
The project is an example of how independent filmmakers can produce a full-length movie on a shoestring budget and can get global distribution without ever talking to a major studio. The most expensive part of the production of "Star Wreck" was in keeping the computer equipment up to date in order to generate the special effects, the filmmakers said.
Such a low-budget operation doesn't compete with the major studios, which wouldn't be interested in a film unless it could attract 10s of millions of viewers internationally. In addition, no studio would distribute a film for free, like the makers of "Star Wreck."
Nevertheless, the Internet is proving to be a viable distribution medium for independent filmmakers whose products find a niche, Behrens said. In the case of "Star Wreck," the movie is riding on the popularity of the original "Star Trek" films, which have generated billions of dollars in revenue and have millions of hardcore fans around the world.
"The Internet is a great medium for niche content that doesn't have a mass audience or other characteristics that make it fit nicely in the (movie industry's) current business model," Behrens said.
The makers of "Star Wreck" say they are working with legal counsel to make sure they don't violate Finnish copyright laws in parodying the popular sci-fi series.
"We take legal issues very seriously," they said on the movie's Web site.
In general, movie distribution on the Internet remains at the very early stages. Music, on the other hand, is reaching a mass audience, as recording studios get more comfortable with copyright protection technology, and new business models, such as subscription services that offer unlimited music downloads for a flat monthly fee.
Anti-piracy technology for movies, however, is still at the early stages, and downloading films isn't always easy. The size of the files means it'll take a while, even on a broadband connection, and the quality of the digitized film may not be worth the trouble, Behrens said. In addition, most people don't want to watch a movie on a computer screen.
"What consumers of online video tell us is it's still just too hard," Behrens said.
Nevertheless, for the makers of "Star Wreck," it can't hurt to get a film noticed. Many independent musicians have made tunes available on the Internet for free to gain notoriety.
"Plenty of them are putting their stuff out there in the hopes of being found by the existing system," Behrens said.