Mikko Alanne '97 Writes His Own Script
Mikko Alanne ’97 always knew he wanted to be a part of Hollywood, contemplating careers as a producer or director, but when he spoke up to legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone, he inadvertently became a screenwriter.
“When I graduated from Ithaca, my first job was as a researcher and then story editor for Oliver Stone,” he says. “Working as his story editor, I felt there were often great pieces of research that our writers never used or didn’t use to their full potential. We were developing a film about the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and I talked to Oliver about where I felt the writer was taking the script in the wrong direction. And he just listened to me and said, ‘You write it.’”
Alanne was admittedly a bit hesitant to tackle such a story as his first writing assignment, but Stone gave him strong encouragement. Alanne fell in love with writing from that first job, but, as is so often the case with a Hollywood project, the movie didn’t get made. Alanne would move on to have a powerful experience as a historical content supervisor for Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, now the USC Shoah Foundation Institute, where he worked for five years.
“The Foundation is the world’s largest collection of oral history from Holocaust survivors, gathered around the world, and used to create documentary films, educational materials, and provided as a resource for researchers worldwide,” he says.
Alanne left the Foundation in 2004 after selling a project to HBO, launching a career as a full-time screenwriter. He sold more than 20 projects, some eventually finding their way to the screen, his most well known being The 33, with a cast that included Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche and Antonio Banderas. Telling the tale that gripped the world of 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,300 feet below ground, Alanne, who was the primary writer of the 2015 film, wanted people to understand all that was at play.
“I certainly didn’t know the full extent of just how perilous it all truly was at the time,” he says. “One of the fascinating things I learned in my research was that there was a secondary collapse, where the ‘mega stone’ that had broken free of the mountain, crushing the mine exit, was collapsing deeper, threatening the very bottom of the mine where the survivors were huddled.” Alanne, whose scripts often explore darker and more tragic aspects of history and the human experience, said he found the miners’ story uniquely appealing due to the unshakeable hope and endurance of the miners and their families.
Leading the Way
This fall Alanne will make his dramatic television debut. For the first time, he steps into the role of creator and showrunner to bring us the National Geographic Channel’s global event miniseries The Long Road Home, based on the book of the same name by journalist Martha Raddatz. This could have ended up like so many other projects, a dream unfulfilled, but Alanne stayed with it, and, nine years after writing the story originally as a three-hour feature film, the eight-hour miniseries is complete and premieres worldwide November 7 simultaneously in 171 countries in 45 languages.
“I don’t think I understood before this what our soldiers and their families truly go through,” Alanne says. “What I loved about the book also is that while so many Hollywood movies are about the special forces soldier, the “super soldier,” this is about the everyman soldier. These are the people who actually make up the majority of our Armed Forces.” Alanne was again particularly drawn to the families’ experience, interviewing and meeting with all the principal real-life people several times, ultimately speaking with almost 70 soldiers. One thing was universal: “There’s something about saying goodbye to someone for a full year knowing they’re in mortal danger for that entire time. This show gives us a chance to explore the hope, anxiety and true heartbreak of that.”
The Long Road Home takes place in early 2004 just as the U.S. was rotating in its second round of troops into Iraq, many months after President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” declaration of an end to all major combat operations. The series recounts the shocking ambush of 19 American soldiers and their interpreter in Sadr City, Baghdad, on a Sunday afternoon on April 4, 2004, and the brutally costly rescue that followed, events that became known inside the Army as “Black Sunday.”
“No one truly expected combat during this deployment,” Alanne says. “None of the heavy armor or equipment the troops would’ve normally used had been brought over because officially the war was already over.”
Among the cast are Kate Bosworth, Jason Ritter, and EJ Bonilla.
“My hope is that this will be the most realistic and intimate portrait of what it is really like to go to war for the first time for the American soldier and for their families,” Alanne says. Something else was important for him, too: “Too many war stories focus on only the commanders and the survivors. I wanted audiences to particularly get to know those soldiers who never came back. This is our only chance to preserve their memory for the world.”
A Sociology Surprise
Alanne, who attended Ithaca College on a Fulbright undergraduate scholarship and was also the recipient of the Kristan Landen Film Scholarship and the Mark Mazura ’81 Video Production Scholarship, credits his film studies at Ithaca College as vital. But he was surprised to find his sociology minor had likely an even greater impact.
“I joke that sociology is the subversive cousin of history,” he says. “It’s the story of why things really happen. Having a focus on criminal justice and studying societal injustice really informed my tools, both as a student filmmaker and today. “Dr. Elaine Leeder, who was my professor and advisor for my minor at Ithaca, is someone I still keep in touch with on a regular basis,” Alanne says. “I think of her as one of my most important and influential mentors in life. Elaine focused her career on illuminating the origin of societal problems, fearlessly exploring the true faces of things, and understanding and seeing the humanity in the ‘other’—all things I feel became a part of my work.” Alanne remembers one of his agents once said to him: “Well, not everything you write has to be about trying to save the world, does it?” Alanne smiled as he replied: “Well, ideally.”
Alanne has mentored IC students, teaching a class at Ithaca College’s Los Angeles Program as well as participating in panels.
“I realize that my liberal arts education was so formative,” he says. “I enjoy engaging with students…It’s fun to remember my own fearless enthusiasm from that time through seeing theirs.”