Marko Makilaakso is a tenacious film-maker. When film school turned him down, he started making his own short films and music videos, eventually establishing an award-winning career.
A few years later, when the Finnish Film Foundation refused to fund his debut feature on the grounds it was a horror film, Makilaakso took the project to neighbouring Lithuania where he proceeded to set it up as a $5m English-language zombie thriller.
Set during the Second World War, Stone's War follows a platoon of US and Finnish soldiers who confront an army of zombies on the border between Finland and Russia. It was inspired by Zack Snyder's Dawn Of The Dead remake. "I'm not a huge zombie fan but I wanted to give it go," recalls Makilaakso, who wrote the script in just four days.
He teamed up with Lithuanian Film Studios (LFS), a studio facility that also invests in film. Filming began in 2006 but was halted when the financing failed to materialise.
LFS managing director Ramunas Skikas was impressed with the footage and contacted Barr Potter of US-based MediaWide Consultants to help refigure the project as an English-language film. Potter reworked the script with Makilaakso, adding more dialogue.
Potter signed on as a producer and brought in Robbie Little of the Little Film Company to handle international sales. Little, in turn, brought Italian producer Media One on board. The film's budget comes entirely from LFS, Media One and pre-sales.
Production started again in January in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and on location in the country. Most of the 100-member crew was Lithuanian, including department heads, with other crew members coming from Bulgaria, Finland and Germany. LFS subsidiary Cinevision is handling CGI work, while Media One will complete post-production in Italy. The cast is headed by UK actor Andrew Tiernan, supported by a cast of mostly Finns.
As befits the work of a director of highly stylised music videos, Stone's War does not aim for gritty realism. "It has a very commercial touch, which is good for US distribution," Makilaakso says. "It's not trying to be an authentic Second World War-period movie in any way. Everything is really stylised and has its unique flavour."
With his ambition, commercial focus and awareness of US audience tastes, Makilaakso's sensibilities echo those of Russia's Timur Bekmambetov, the wunderkind director of vampire chillers Nightwatch and Daywatch.
"Marko is going to be someone the studios will take an interest in when they see this film," Potter suggests.
Makilaakso is now in pre-production on another English-language project, with the working title Wasteland, which begins filming in January in Lithuania and Hungary. He is also developing a script with comic-book maestro Stan Lee. Watch this space.
MARKO MAKILAAKSO'S CULTURAL LIFE
- Favourite recent book: Watchmen, the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
- Favourite recent movie: Zack Snyder's 300, Ed Zwick's Blood Diamond.
- Which newspapers and magazines do you read' Empire
- Websites: YouTube.com, Apple Movie Trailers.
- Inspirations: The works of Sergio Leone, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Michael Bay and Robert Zemeckis.