The golden age of indie cinema will be spelled D-A-O
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We are about to embark on an era where it will be easier than ever for films to leverage the power and wisdom of the crowd to produce fresh stories outside of traditional structures. The film industry is just starting to become aware of how concepts like NFTs might be able to disrupt its world like it has art, celebrity and gaming.
The potential to democratize and decentralize decision-making and support, through the utilization of the DAO structure, will empower anyone, not just powerful producers and studios, to possibly tap the next Spielberg or Tarantino on the shoulder.
Indeed, will 2022 be Hollywood’s Year of the DAO?
Limitations of current film crowdfunding
First, a little context. When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its award nominations earlier this month, it came as little surprise that Netflix continued its domination of those awards in the 2020s with a studio-leading 27 nominations for 10 different titles. Despite the growing clout of Netflix when it comes to box office prestige via the streaming small screen, or of Disney and the MCU for in-theater viewing of blockbusters ripped from the pages of a comic book, the real innovation for the rest of modern film production, which is still most of it, is occurring at the periphery in the indie film ecosystem.
As platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo took off in the last decade, smaller films like Veronica Mars, The Babadook, Anomalisa and Super Troopers 2 were able to raise a significant portion of their budgets from those platforms. In the case of Veronica Mars, it was almost entirely the film’s budget. These donations from users, usually in exchange for a reward like early access, film props, or meeting with the stars, not only helped support these films financially, but also generated early cycles of attention and buzz nearly worthy of an Oscars campaign.
However, the pre-development content crowdfunding successes of these platforms have been mostly confined to the mid-2010s, with the exception of something like Mystery Science Theater 3000. The ultimate problem for these platforms is that they were best utilized by those strong fan-driven properties like Veronica Mars or MST3K, not projects that were essentially unknown quantities in pre-development, which is just about every film project.
The DAO cultural revolution
Now, we are about to embark on an era where it will be easier than ever for films to leverage the power and wisdom of the crowd to produce fresh stories outside of traditional structures. The film industry is just starting to become aware of how concepts like NFTs might be able to disrupt its world like it has art, celebrity and gaming. The potential to democratize and decentralize decision-making and support, through the utilization of the DAO structure, will empower anyone, not just powerful producers and studios, to possibly tap the next Spielberg or Tarantino on the shoulder.
While Vitalik Buterin’s 2013 Ethereum whitepaper focused on how a blockchain token could be used to represent contracts and smart property, the recent popularity of NFTs is showing how the initial principles of tokenization can be applied to creative works, whether they be artwork, music or filmed content.
In his whitepaper, Buterin also laid out the structure of a DAO, or Decentralized Autonomous Organization, a virtual organization that would use cryptographic blockchain technology to enforce its own rules. What Buterin did was formulate a primary structure for decision-making to occur anywhere while being cryptographically authenticated at any time. Now, imagine something like the Kickstarter-Indiegogo film boom married with a powerfully decentralized and platform-free technology.
In the wake of social justice movements like #OscarsSoWhite and #MeToo, Hollywood should embrace such technological transparency as a tonic. If employed correctly, the use of NFT promises to be the most important thing for the process of film production since the indie film boom of the 1990s. Even that much-hyped movement wasn’t all that independent as people like Robert Redford at the Sundance Institute and the very problematic Weinstein brothers were just a new kind of gatekeeper, their personal tastes dictating the ultimate decisions about which films were supported, greenlit, made and promoted.
The audience is king
In old Hollywood, audiences nominally had some pre-release power in the form of test screenings, but even these were mostly employed by studios to persuade filmmakers to make a more commercial edit. A codified DAO would be more empowering and liberating for both filmmakers and audiences. The potential of NFTs offer the ability not only for contributors to feel like their “tithing” to the fan cult of their choice, but to create real ownership in a film property, both creative and financial.
The larger studios may never quite understand the appeal of NFTs in the same way they never quite got the internet, until it was too late. Right now we’re at the Space Jam 1996 website moment in film history (though long may the Space Jam website live as an enduring monument to human achievement).
We may also see ongoing hesitancy from the studios because if you’re the one in power, you probably don’t see decentralization as much of a solution. However, in the era of post-coronavirus box office losses for every movie not starring Spiderman, the gatekeepers are weaker than ever. Hopefully that weakness is also liberating, loosening traditional Hollywood from its tight grip on an outdated and dysfunctional system. NFTs have the potential to create a whole new relationship between the audience and what they see (and maybe what they have helped put) on the screen. Movies, and the studios and producers that make them, do best when that relationship is strong and healthy.
There is nothing wrong with Netflix’s approach to small prestige, or Disney and Marvel’s approach to big spectacle, but we owe it to audiences to deliver a medium built for all parts of the screen, filled with more daring and diverse stories. A new decentralized structure built on foundational technology will help us do just that.
Ian LeWinter is an executive advisor of Film.io.
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