The traditional film industry is one of the most centralized and traditional of them all. Just a handful of movie studios and streaming conglomerates control the lion’s share of the global film market.
But nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and a growing crypto-centric community of enthusiastic filmmakers might just disrupt the industry.
Some independent projects offer a glimpse into Web3 filmmaking, while others provide a window into distribution. Decentralized streaming also demonstrates what community-based film development and exhibition might look like in the not-so-distant future. Thanks to the popularity of NFTs, the Film3 ecosystem is about to evolve beyond its embryonic stage. Although the trend is very fresh and a multitude of kinks need to be worked out, keep an eye on this emerging crypto sector as it continues to pick up steam.
Start the tape
During panel discussions at the Cannes Film Festival in May, director Miguel Faus talked about how he’s using NFTs minted from his short film Calladita to finance a million-dollar feature of the same name. In 2019, Faus produced his short film with fiat using traditional crowdfunding. Today, he’s selling tiered NFT packages to subsidize the feature-length movie. “The intended budget is $950,000. So far, we’ve raised $650,000 all through NFT sales. The goal is for all the funding to come from NFTs,” Faus tells Magazine.
Filmmaker Mark O’Connor, also a panel participant at Cannes, introduced his first Web3 distribution model at the film festival: the Stalker Movie Pack, an NFT version of the 1990s-era DVD movie pack.
In 2012, O’Connor produced and directed the psychological thriller Stalker. The feature film subsequently won the Underground Cinema film festival and, in 2014, was released on DVD in Ireland. Still, O’Connor wanted the film to be fully independent and opted not to release it internationally. Eight years and a thriving NFT ecosystem later, O’Connor fully controls the intellectual property and believes that this traditionally crowdfunded film “will be the future of how movies are distributed.”
Do filmmakers really need decentralized filmmaking?
According to O’Connor, it’s all about controlling the intellectual property. Often, Web2 filmmakers find themselves in circumstances where they lose control of their IP. Losing control of the rights to a film also means losing access to its potential profits.
O’Connor believes that there is a “waterfall system” currently operating in the industry. “When you release a movie in the traditional way, the cinema will take 70% and then, out of what’s left the distributor takes 15%. Then you have to pay sales agent fees and different fees,” O’Connor says. At the end of the day, a filmmaker with a successful project can often wind up with no share of the profits.
Faus tells Magazine that filmmakers often create the IP and do all the heavy lifting, only to become contracted employees temporarily attached to their own projects. “Writer and directors like myself start with an idea, develop a whole project, write a script, do the whole thing, make the movie, direct it, but end up doing all of that as work of hire for a company, or a producer or a financier that is the actual owner of the film, and sometimes that system is not great.”
Faus believes that Web3 filmmakers can utilize the power of their communities to finance movies in a decentralized way. When a like-minded community gets behind the project and opts to support it, it greenlights the film. There are no studio executives and no deep-pocketed gatekeepers, Faus adds:
“Filmmakers can decide together with their community how the power of owning the IP, and the ownership of the film, is going to be used both financially and strategically.”
Where to see a Web3 film?
Filmmakers who prefer full control of their IPs require a decentralized space to stream their projects, an independent technical solution that doesn’t milk profit from the movies. According to CEO Mihai Crasneanu, Beem provides exactly that. “You own your own IP. You have the keys to that, so that you don’t have to rely on us,” Crasneanu tells Magazine.
Presently, there are just a small handful of online, Web3 streaming and distribution models. According to Crasneanu, Beem was established in 2018, and it isn’t a platform or a destination. It’s essentially an end-to-end toolkit that allows creators, distributors or any content company to become their own platform. “So, that’s why I don’t want to call us a platform because we don’t aim to become a destination by ourselves.” Although Beem still works with Web2 technologies, filmmakers and other creators can use the tools to stream their Web3 content in full HD. Creators can upload their films and do live events and screenings. Beem co-sponsored and livestreamed many of the Web3 panels at Cannes.
Creators on platforms such as Beem can use the tools to build their online communities and can generate revenue by charging fans to view films, in fiat or crypto, and can token-gate access for community members who have specific NFTs in their wallets. Beem’s customer isn’t the audience, it’s the content creators, the filmmakers. Dissimilar to the “waterfall system” where the filmmaker is at the bottom of the revenue food chain and is only paid after everyone else, in Web3 spaces, a filmmaker and their community should control all streams of revenue.
The artist and production incur one set of fees for distribution and exhibition. Beem takes 15% of paid streams and videos as well as paid live events. It takes 3% of any tips, merchandise sales and NFT sales and/or resales. Filmmakers receive branded space and emails, dedicated domain and custom URLs, access to an admin console and analytics. For a monthly fee, creators can purchase technical support, a custom mobile app, digital rights management, geoblocking (restricting viewers from geographical areas) and watermarking.
O’Connor plans to stream Stalker on Vabble. According to Vabble’s Twitter account, the platform hasn’t launched yet and is hosting giveaways and competitions leading to its beta release later this summer. On its website, Vabble brands itself as a “Multi channel streaming entertainment platform for viewers, investors and studios” and plans for a full platform launch within the next two years.
What’s in it for the fans?
YouTube, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram chat feeds are nothing new for live streaming events, but the opportunity to discuss your favorite film, in real-time, during its premier is unique. O’Connor believes that watching a movie on Web3 is a communal experience.
“You can set up a movie club. There can be Q&A after with the directors, and you can comment during the movie. So, there’s all these different features that have come along with Web3 and with crypto. I feel it’s a massive shift in the industry.”
O’Connor plans to host community streaming events when Vabble launches. Until then, fans can purchase the Stalker Movie Pack on Rarible. In the coming weeks, community members will begin to receive NFT drops with special features. The first drop will include a movie poster with subsequent drops every few weeks. The Movie Pack includes unreleased posters, a “making of” documentary and non-generative PFP characters called The Stalkers. All the NFTs are individually tradeable, and O’Connor intends to offer free NFTs and premium access drops for years to come.
For Calladita token holders, interactions between the community and the filmmaker will happen on Beem before the film premiers. “We’ll take them along for the whole behind-the-scenes ride,” Faus said. For other projects, Crasneanu told Magazine that for casting interviews, location scouting, and costume design, community members could theoretically participate in all the elements of pre-production, production and post.
Calladita also offers its NFT holders utilities and perks. A Tier-1 buyer purchases the NFT for 0.18 ETH and receives their name in the credits, a private link to watch the film, access to a private Discord server and governance rights to the film’s DAO. For 6 ETH, Tier-4 NFT holders receive all the previous perks plus an NFT mint pass for an on-set photo, a physical piece of the film’s memorabilia and an avatar in the movie’s credits.
Is the industry ready for Film3?
Businesswire reported that “the global film and video market is well consolidated, with a small number of behemoth players operating in the market.” Large corporations such as Disney, Comcast, AT&T (Warner Media), Sony Pictures Digital and ViacomCBS control just over 35% of the total market. According to the Motion Picture Association’s 2021 Theme Report, eight of the top 10 most-watched streaming films were viewed on Disney+, while two were seen on Netflix.
It’s fair to say that the movie industry is entrenched and centralized.
Although it’s hard to imagine Hollywood’s gatekeepers voluntarily relinquishing full control of a filmmaker’s IP, Web3 elements are starting to pepper the industry. Actor and producer Reese Witherspoon’s company, Hello Sunshine, recently inked a deal with NFT powerhouse World of Women to create feature films and TV shows.
Co-head of Vuele, Cameron Chell tells Magazine that the rights to Anthony Hopkins’ new thriller Zero Contact were purchased by the NFT collectibles platform. According to James Hickey, team lead at Moviecoin, the Web3 streaming platform partially funded Prizefighter: The Life of Jem Belcher starring Russell Crowe. Decentralized Pictures, a Web3 offshoot of Francis Ford Coppola’s American Zoetrope, is actively discovering new talent and funding new projects. The platform’s co-founders include Leo Matchett, a Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards winner, American Zoetrope vice president Michael Musante and Coppola’s son Roman.
Also, according to a 2020 Forbes report, baseline Web3 technologies, like “digital IDs, underpinned by blockchain encrypted biometrically verified tech, will be the norm” for the biggest entertainment providers. It is argued that mega-streamers such as Netflix, who lose over $12 billion per year due to password sharing, could benefit financially from digital IDs.
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Moreover, on April 5, Reuters reported that WarnerMedia’s recently departed CEO Jason Kilar believes the industry’s future is tethered to the blockchain. In a memo to the news outlet, Kilar said, “The future of Hollywood is in the Blockchain.” In a follow-up interview, Kilar told Reuters, “I think that’s [NFTs] going to be a potential wave that’s going to be coming to Hollywood, in the same way that the DVD wave came to Hollywood in the ‘90’s.”
If Film3 eventually makes a splash and captures the full attention of all the streaming and studio giants, will they push back against today’s blockchain pioneers? Will they release full control of the artist’s IP and embrace a decentralized future? It’s hard to say, but the Web3 community is undoubtedly hopeful. Crasneanu came to Cannes with limited expectations:
“I was expecting a very low level of interest from the traditional filmmakers present at Cannes, and mostly indifference or criticism at best.”
But according to Crasneanu, people were more curious, open-minded and open to experimenting. Crasneau tells Magazine that traditional industry members were “eager to discover, to find out what can be done in Web3 with filmmaking, in all stages of film development, production and distribution.”