What Can We Steal From the Feature Film Iron Sky?

Title of Work and its Form: Iron Sky, feature film
Author: Directed by Timo Vuorensola, written by Michael Kalesniko and Timo Vuorensola, based upon a story by Johanna Sinisalo and Jarmo Puskala
Date of Work: 2012
Where the Work Can Be Found: The film can now be found on DVD and (as of this writing) is streaming on Netflix.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Promises

Discussion:
The conceit of Iron Sky is a relatively simple one.  In the near future, the United States (now led by someone closely resembling Sarah Palin) returns to the Moon.  As the astronauts take their first steps on the lunar surface, they quickly learn that they are not alone.  Who else could be on the Moon?  A contingent of Nazis established a base on the dark side of the Moon before the fall of the Third Reich.  That’s right.  Space Nazis kill one astronaut and kidnap the other.  Knowing they will soon be exposed, the Nazis from the dark side of  the Moon decide to return to Earth/invade it.

A writer makes a promise with each word he or she writes.  Above all, it’s our job to make good on those promises.  The trailer for Iron Sky makes very clear the promise made by the movie’s premise.  Go ahead and check it out if you want, particularly if you haven’t seen the film:

The director and screenwriters seem to be saying something like this:

Dear Person Who Watches Movies:

We made a movie called Iron Sky.  As you can see, there are some jokes in the film, so you can tell that we’ll make you laugh a little and the movie isn’t super serious.

Yeah, you noticed the Nazis on the dark side of the Moon.  We promise that you’re going to see a good, old-fashioned space battle between Nazis and the rest of the world.  That’s right…this is kind of like a World War II movie.

You’re going to see some big explosions and some cool action sequences.  And—we don’t want to ruin the ending, but let’s just say that the climax will be very satisfying for people who don’t like Nazis.

If you have seen the film, you know that these promises are very much fulfilled.  I happen to be right in the middle of reading Jonathan Tropper’s 2012 novel One Last Thing Before I Go.  The book’s protagonist is a man named Silver, who discovers that his aorta could give way at any moment.  He declines to have surgery.  At the point where I left off, Silver is at the beginning of a long-term epiphany that will teach him about life and all of that good stuff.  Mr. Tropper (whose books I love) has made me a promise.  Through the first third of the book, Mr. Tropper has said,

Hey, Ken –

What’s up?  Thanks for loving my previous books.  Can you believe that we both have a Manhattanville College connection of some kind?  I teach there and you…well, I know you don’t want to talk about it.

Check it.  This book is about a guy named Silver who has a massive problem with his heart.  I made that clear by making Silver’s ex-wife marry a heart surgeon who explains the problem in grave terms.

Ken, I swear to you that Silver’s heart problem is totally going to have an effect on the story.  It’s going to get worse.  He’s going to have fainting spells.  There will be some kind of big health problem that will change how his ex-wife and daughter feel about him.  The illness will affect the relationship Silver has with his parents.  (Remember how I made sure to include them before I sprung the whole aorta thing?)  Now, I’m not saying that the end of the book will necessarily show Silver drop dead from a heart attack—I want you to be surprised!  I’m just saying that you’re not going to return to the book, turn the page and find that the surgeon guy runs into the room and tells Silver he’s not dying after all.

I hope you’re having a good time!  Good luck with your writing!  And check out my new Cinemax TV show Banshee.  I’ll be looking out for a Great Writers Steal essay about One Last Thing…

Toodles,

Jonathan Tropper.

When you think about promises, you should also think of the classic writing metaphor of Chekhov’s Gun.  If your character waves a loaded gun around in the first act, then someone better fire that gun in the second act.  If not, the audience will feel cheated!

It’s also helpful for writers to know about the creation of Iron Sky.  Mr. Vuorensola’s film was produced with the help of a collective of independent artists.  When Paramount makes a Mission: Impossible film, they simply throw $200 million at Brad Bird and tell him when the film will be released.  (Okay…it’s a little more complicated than that.)  Film is inherently a collaborative medium, but Mr. Vuorensola took the idea to the next level by working with Internet volunteers who aided in all sorts of ways.  Iron Sky took a LOT longer to make than a Mission: Impossible film because of the process by which it was made, but the final result bears the stamp of its proud origin.  Most everyone who worked on Iron Sky did so out of love, and that creative spark is visible on the screen.

What Should We Steal?

  • Recognize the promises you are making to the reader.  You may or may not want to write an actual little letter to your reader, but you should take stock of the promises you have made so you can make good on them.
  • Announce your intentions proudly.  Iron Sky doesn’t make any apologies about being a movie about Nazis from the Moon.  And why should it?  There’s no inherent shame in creating a story with a “ridiculous” premise; you just have to dedicate yourself to making your story the best it can be.
  • Surround yourself with a community of creative people.  Writing is often a solitary pursuit.  Becoming part of a writing group or having a wide circle of writing friends helps you celebrate your successes and work through your inevitable times of stress.

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