In mid 2022 I witnessed a resurgence of the film-media-crypto combination that I had seen come up in the past and even did a presentation on at The Live at Heart film festival back in 2017.
I was intrigued at this new wave of artists, platforms and protocols attempting to bring blockchain technologies to the media creation segment, part public archive, part window shopping and part open-source-investigation here is what I learned over the 20 weeks in which I hosted Crypto Movie Club.
A weekly Twitter Spaces where I interviewed with startups and artists bringing the processes of media creation and distribution to the blockchain, or was it the other way around?
FYI: None of this is investment advice & full disclosure I went on to use some of these products after interviewing.
We had 20 guests in total representing 13 platforms and 7 artists with many many more we did not mange to connect with on the show.
They included Film DAOs, NFT Projects, Metaverses and general Film production platforms with many attempting to tackle pre-production through to Distribution with an emphasis on community generated and supported productions across various blockchains.
For simplicity sake I will frame this post around Glenn Gers of Writing for Screens six essential questions, with what is essentially a two sided market comprised of artists and platforms, blurring the lines a bit when it comes to a shared definition of community. Many of the artists are also platform builders.
I use Glenn Gers six essential questions because I personally find them a useful tool when doing character analysis and development. And at the end of the day no matter how much high-tech you put into something, there still exists a human interaction that can be observed somewhat rationally.
Protocols (The new middlemen)
Before getting into it I want to define the role of protocols, essentially a set of rules that both sides are agreed to adhere too. These rules are typically wrapped up in a smart contract or series of smart contracts and ideally can only be changed by reaching consensus from both sides. These rules are important and how they come into existence even more so, from talking with both sides, it’s become apparent that many of the platforms have built and launched the smart contracts prior to going out and attracting filmmakers.
While this is understandable from a business perspective I do believe that this can cause issues down the road, depending on how changes are able to be made to the contract, and how easy it is for a non-technical filmmaker to validate the contract rules as it stands before choosing to engage with the platform.
Essentially the protocol is what is going to replace the traditional way in which we make films, taking the important decision making away from one side of the market participant, and placing it in the hands of all participants involved.
This is why there is such confusion around the role of a community member, are they a customer? are they a producer? are they a marketer? a budget organiser? etc, the truth seems to be dependent on the design of the contract at its inception, participants could be all of those roles and more, again depending on how the protocol is designed.
The more pressing questions then become how and who designs, launches and validates the contract? and what mechanisms have been set up to alter its performance (if any) going forward? The emergence and maintenance of these contracts, these sets of rules for which we all agree to play by, provide the fundamental building blocks for how future collective creative endeavours will ultimately play out.
Who is it about?
I include the range of creatives that exist across all medias, from content creators, NFT artists, AI artists to independent filmmakers and industry professionals.
What do they want?
If we look past the over-use of the somewhat vague and yet all encompassing term community, creatives are essentially looking toward blockchain based tools as a solution to bypass or enhance traditional methods of building teams, developing stories, producing, distributing & monetising their works.
Why cant they get it?
The perception is that there exists gatekeepers and entities that hinder the creatives ability to become successful, and by utilising various blockchain based tools they can bypass those entities holding them back. At the same time they can build a loyal fanbase that will secure their collective future success going forward into any future creative endeavours.
What do they do about it?
Creatives primarily utilise unique digital tokens (NFTs) or cryptocurrencies to attempt to develop a loyal following, allowing their fans (or anyone) to buy into their creative vision, in the hope that these unique digital assets will become more valuable in the future and so make those holders of said assets hopefully both stick around and eventually participate in future creative endeavours.
Why doesnt that work?
For some creatives this does work, although the metrics used to measure these successes are not entirely easy to verify, even if using a blockchain. While developing a loyal fanbase using exclusivity or collectibles is nothing new, using digital assets adds it’s own set of unique challenges often only addressable by those creatives with A. an already substantial fanbase or B. those creatives with access to a substantial budget. None of which have historically needed a blockchain to do so.
How does it end?
What happens is that we largely see and hear stories from those creatives that have been successful via large NFT sales or token trading volumes, which puts much of the emphasis on attempting to tie the monetary value of an associated asset to the creative ability and success of the artist them self. For me this is a distortion of whats actually happening, and those of you that are aware of the various economic incentive behaviours that exist within the traditional art markets will understand that while those of us that create work through our own internal motivations, a very different set of motivations exist when it comes to the marketing and sales of creative works out in the marketplace.
My final questions to filmmakers looking to leverage blockchain technologies provided by platforms to help them succeed in their creative ambitions, is how well do they understand the contract? are they able to play a meaningful role in any future governance of these contracts? did they have a say on how the contract was developed and deployed?
Who is it about?
I include those platforms and protocols that provide a tool or toolset for the artist to assist in achieving their goals, namely accessing production efficiency, communities, Metaverse’s, DAOs, fundraising platforms etc.
What do they want?
In accordance with their sales pitch they want to “empower the artist” typically by pitching the idea that they bring access to a suite of new blockchain powered tools that can help creatives get exactly what they need to succeed, this is often summed up as the provision of a (not explicitly stated) growth in attention, capital and camaraderie. Platforms essentially want all creatives to adopt their toolset so that creatives can use them to realise their ideas of success, and in doing so attract more creatives to the platform. For that to happen they need success stories.
Why cant they get it?
Many of the platforms operating in this space as of 2022 are launching into a market thats already highly dominated by a handful of platforms, saturated with enormous amounts of creative works, and being pitched mostly to people that haven’t the capacity or resources to bring any much needed attention to the platform itself.
What do they do about it?
Platforms like these want & need to scale in order to stay relevant, ideally they also need to appear to be decentralised as that is one of their foundational reasons for existing. So they make partnerships, lots and lots of partnerships. This gives the appearance of growth, coupled with a sprinkling of creator success stories where much emphasis is placed on the associated dollar denomination of the underlying asset, which as some of you will know is not always that easy to truly quantify without special tools or knowledge.
Why doesn’t that work?
To some extent it has worked, although broadly speaking recently many more have become vocal about the lack of decentralisation on these platforms. Protocols are the outlier here as they are more often than not launched as open-source projects from the get go, this is much harder to achieve the more promises you make to your users. The reason newer platforms are having issues attracting creatives is obviously related to the current market conditions, but with time those conditions will change, my concern is if the platforms can adapt to what I see will be a growing consumer demand for decentralization over the coming years.
How does it end?
I’d imagine many of the platforms operating today will become like those that came previously, essentially zombies that can be overtaken by anyone and spun into a new thing, much like what we saw SingularDTV do over the last five years until it didn’t know what it was any longer. Some will probably make it, but likely through mergers with bigger players that have the resources to absorb everything and dominate the market.
My final questions to platforms looking to attract filmmakers in order to prove their concept of empowering the artist while attempting to compete directly with the likes of Hollywood is; how can a filmmaker trust you have put in place a set of rules that cannot be arbitrarily changed without the majority of participants reaching consensus? how can a filmmaker know you are not wash trading your assets to inflate the perceived value? whats stopping filmmakers launching their own platforms organically?
The suite of efficiencies that are brought to creatives that utilise blockchains to further empower themselves do exist. The part of it that works best today though in my opinion is just that – efficiencies. While their is certainly a kind of empowerment in efficiency, I’m not entirely convinced making your art more accessible by putting it behind token-gated communities will serve to empower creators for very long.
Those larger mainstream creative projects we are now seeing become tokenised already established themselves many many years ago without the need of a blockchain, arguably they did that due to their access to masses of endless resources, but just as arguably they created genuinely cool art that all kinds of people really enjoyed consuming.
This tends to make me feel like we haven’t evolved the concept of empowering creatives very far just yet, focusing more on capturing groups of people within an ecosystem that they hopefully will always want to be a part of.
In this sense there has been a massive amount of progress, many new groups of creative people have begun to congregate around ideas on numerous new platforms and that’s a net positive for the entire space. It shows people do want this stuff, there is some demand. I’m personally just not convinced you need a blockchain for any of it, apart from bringing more efficiency to regular day to day back office duties.
Assuming a truly decentralised creatives platform could exist it is likely still many many years away and that gives us plenty of time to keep throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.
My hope is that we are able to maintain our individual creative projects in a way that those bringing value are directly benefiting from their creative contribution in a equatable manner, and avoid slipping into creating another behemoth studio that we already have issue with in the traditional creative industries.
If we can prevent slipping back into business as usual while also addressing the issues of laundering in the art markets then I think we will have genuinely empowered the creators. That goes beyond getting filthy rich and cuts to the heart of addressing the issues creatives actually have – how to set rules, and too much an extent control on what happens with their work in perpetuity.
Minus the middle man : )
Big thanks and to those that participated and shared their vision for the future.
- Ian Grant of Greenlit protocol
- Dan Thomas of Architect
- Tim Tayshun of EZcoin Aceess
- Ravi Krishnan of Filmrare
- Ana De Cesaro of Meet NFT
- Rah Crawford of Bushwick film festival
- Viomarin of Fade & Float
- Zander and Julia of KinoDAO
- Kimain Okearah of Let me out productions
- Alex Hilton of FILMIC
- Gex Williams of Moonstream
- ALexander Newton of Moviekey
- Richard FLynn of MILC platform
- Sundog of Tales of Time
- Chriss Hacket of We the film 3
- Austin and Daryl of Kino App
- Genevieve Thiers of Entertainmint
- John Mugavero of RAD NFTV