Making a film is an expensive business. Even the short films aspiring directors use as calling cards can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Small wonder, then, that it's a challenge for those starting in the industry to get a project off the ground—and that the organizations that provide funding for filmmakers are swamped with applications.
"You need to move to Hollywood, you need to get representation, you need to get actors," Mike Musante, co-founder of crypto-powered filmmaking platform Decentralized Pictures, told Decrypt. "To get actors, you need to know people. Most places don't take unsolicited submissions, so to get people to just read your project, even if it's great, is exceedingly difficult—again, unless you know people or you have some special inside information."
As VP of Production and Acquisitions at American Zoetrope, the production company founded by "The Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola, Musante is intimately familiar with the obstacles that the industry throws in the path of emerging filmmakers.
Our first blog post is up! Read through to learn more about our #charitable mission to open the doors of Hollywood to #filmmakers through the use of #blockchain technology.
We're excited to get started!https://t.co/NQToy9hfac
— Decentralized Pictures (@DCP_Foundation) July 27, 2021
The problem, he explained, is that the film industry is insular and decision-making in Hollywood is very centralized. Because studios and production companies have very small development teams, they find themselves "drinking from a firehose" of pitches from prospective filmmakers, and take a risk-averse approach to producing scripts.
Breaking down the doors
That's where Decentralized Pictures comes in. Co-founded by Musante and producers Roman Coppola and Leo Matchett—with a board that includes directors Sofia and Gia Coppola—it's aiming to solve the problem of film industry gatekeepers by turning the pitching process over to a community of filmmakers and using cryptocurrency to incentivize participation.
Built on a "slightly tweaked" version of the Tezos blockchain, Decentralized Pictures' platform invites filmmakers to submit movie pitches, paying a submission fee in the project's native crypto token, FILMCredits (FILM). The funding for awards will initially be stumped up by the Decentralized Pictures nonprofit itself, but will expand to include awards from other organizations, and even non-financial prizes like writing competitions, mentorship and representation.
The filmmaker's FILMCredits entry fee goes into a smart contract, which automatically pays members of the community for reviewing the projects that have been pitched. The top-rated projects become finalists, with Decentralized Pictures doling out the awards to winners. Community members can either buy FILMCredits on the open market, or earn them by participating in the community, performing tasks such as quizzes, reviewing other projects, or offering other forms of assistance.
"Unlike a Kickstarter, where the filmmaker's asking the community for money to back their project, on Decentralized Pictures the filmmaker is paying other members of the community to give their opinions," Musante explained. By incentivizing participation through cryptocurrency, he added, "we believe we can get massive amounts of opinion data that we can then analyze and help us to make decisions about which projects to finance."
It also aims to foster a sense of community among filmmakers, said Musante, who explained that when a project's submitted to the site, the creator can also spin up a chat room for their project. "We see that as a place where reviewers can have discussions about that project and give their feedback, and it can be a conversation. That's not just submitting a review. But it's also a place where the filmmaker could connect with other people in the community, perhaps find somebody to work with."
While the initial schedule of awards will come from Decentralized Pictures, the plan is to let other donors create funding awards on the platform. "If you're the World Wildlife Fund, and you want a documentary about an endangered species to shed light on this critical issue, you can create an award or call for entries," explained Matchett. "Anyone who's interested in telling that story from the community can...submit a selfie pitch video to the community about why they're the best person to tell the story. And then, you know, the community will decide who the most deserving artist is."
The other crucial component is that Decentralized Pictures isn't offering grants—except for "very small awards to help out early filmmakers or film students." Instead, winners of the awards get an option for financing, with Decentralized Pictures taking a share of the profits.
As Decentralized Pictures is a nonprofit, all of the net revenue goes back into the film fund to finance future awards. "What we're trying to create here is an evergreen, self-sustaining film fund, that can support independent artists and artists from underserved and underrepresented communities going forward," Musante said. He pointed to plans for a "significant portion" of awards to be made "exclusively available to filmmakers from BIPOC communities, from indigenous communities, LGBTQ+ communities."
Building a virtual studio
While Decentralized Pictures will initially focus on film financing, it has grander ambitions of becoming a "virtual studio," using blockchain to help with every step of the film production process: casting, location scouting, sourcing stock footage and even distribution. "Our vision is that this virtual studio will be a constellation of apps that support independent artists and underserved artists" built on a blockchain dubbed the Talent Network. "Decentralized Pictures is just the first application on that blockchain," said Musante.
We've designed our peer review process in a way that encourages reviewers to provide honest feedback by rewarding them for their opinions. Read more about our review and reputation-building process in our most recent blog post! https://t.co/PUQGqZuN1b
— Decentralized Pictures (@DCP_Foundation) September 30, 2021
"We're taking the position that it's an arts and culture-focused application ecosystem," said Matchett. The duo is also eyeing some of the features of the Tezos-based blockchain for future applications, such as distribution. "There's some really interesting use cases for the shielded contracts and shielded transactions within Tezos," Matchett said. "If we're getting into distribution or residuals, not all talent or producers necessarily want the world knowing how much money they're making on something."
Decentralized Pictures also has one eye on the metaverse—the persistent, shared virtual world that's attracted the attention of everyone from Facebook to Adidas. "We've been thinking about reaching out to companies like Decentraland," said Matchett. "We actually created a 3D model of the old Zoetrope studio lot. People could have their little virtual offices, have virtual meetups and coffee shops and things like that."
Ultimately, Decentralized Pictures aims to sit alongside the existing studio system rather than supplant it.
"We're building another road," said Matchett. "It ends up at the same place, but we're not going to be interfering with the status quo." Instead, he sees Decentralized Pictures' role as "filtering" quality filmmakers for production companies and studios. "The chances are, when we discover a great filmmaker, they're gonna probably end up working for them down the road. So you know, that's a win-win for us and for them."