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Why I'm Funding a Short Film With NFTs

Decrypt's special projects editor is trying out a crypto-powered crowdfunding platform for filmmakers. Here's how it works.

5 min read
A director's chair. Image: Shutterstock

At Decrypt, we believe in experimenting with the technology we write about. And for the last year or so, I've been writing a lot about the film industry's growing interest in crypto, from its first tentative flirtations with blockchain to full-fledged DAOs aiming to shake up the way films are funded.

Making a film—even a short one—is an expensive business. I should know, I've made a few in my time (if you're feeling brave, you can check them out here).

And while it's true that you can shoot a film on a smartphone these days, the bulk of the cost doesn't come in the form of flashy 8K cameras or expensive casting; it's the unglamorous stuff like insurance, location permits, transport and catering.

That creates a high barrier to entry. Aspiring filmmakers are left scrambling for the few sources of funding available, like government-backed film funds and writing competitions (each of which has its own list of terms and conditions attached). Crowdfunding offers another avenue, but it's very dependent on having an established community of fans and followers.

So when I was approached by First Flights to try out their new crypto-powered crowdfunding platform FF3 in beta, I jumped at the chance.

The idea is pretty straightforward: each film on the platform has its own crypto token, which the public can buy. Depending on the amount they pitch in, they receive rewards ranging from NFTs, to Discord channels with filmmaker Q&As, to early access to the finished film as an NFT. 

A ghost in the machine

The film itself, "The Dead of Winter," is a classic ghost story with a Christmas setting and a moral center. A death in an alleyway, a man haunted by his conscience… or something more supernatural. 

Think M.R. James, "The Innocents," "Tales From The Crypt," and "A Christmas Carol." I wrote the script for the short film a couple of years ago, and since then it's won awards and reached the finals of a major screenwriting competition. Now I have the chance to make it real.

One of the NFTs from The Dead of Winter. Image: First Flights

And no, the subject matter of the film isn't crypto, or Web3, or blockchain. I think it's important to show that the crypto world isn't always inward-looking—it can provide a viable means of funding to projects that have broader, mainstream appeal and have no crypto plot.

So why fund films using crypto? "Everybody knows it's getting increasingly difficult to make and finance films on the indie side," FF3 executive producer Phil McKenzie told me when he described the platform. "A lot of the ethos of crypto, Web3, tokens and NFTs is about putting the power back into the hands of the creator, and giving them more control over their project from the point of view of funding and distribution."

And since many rewards on the platform take the form of tokens, it opens up some intriguing new possibilities. "For short films, a classic reward is an executive producer credit," said FF3 founder Nick Sadler. "Now, you can have that be time-based. Up until the film is picture-locked, that executive producer credit can change ownership; and then the final person who has it on picture lock is the person who actually gets that executive producer credit."

The ultimate aim, McKenzie said, is to build FF3 into a platform that any young filmmaker or creator can use to raise funds, keep control of their IP and distribute it. "They'll be able to build an audience and their fan base and investor base for themselves rather than knocking on the doors that just don't open to 99% of people—which is what we currently face."

The FF3 platform is built on Polygon, an interoperability and scaling framework for creating Ethereum-compatible blockchains. As well as low gas fees and interoperability, a key consideration was to minimize the project's environmental impact. "Having a zero carbon footprint was really important to us," Sadler said. "A lot of creatives are concerned about the environmental impact of crypto trading fees and NFTs on the environment."

The future of film financing?

Although they're focusing on short films initially, FF3 has grander plans. "When you look at features, that's where crypto really comes into its own; having a very transparent way of being able to invest in a project," Sadler said. Film finance, he pointed out, can be very confusing. "There are plenty of stories about filmmakers not being paid as royalties come through. This is a really great technology for making all that transparent."

For filmmakers, there's another draw: a new class of crypto-rich investors looking for places to spend their newfound gains.

"Potentially, there's a growing pot of money of people who've invested in crypto," Sadler said. "They were part of some early ICOs, they've got this money sitting in their digital wallets, they want to spend it on stuff. If we can have a platform that connects these new crypto millionaires with budding filmmakers, that's a huge win for us."

Hollywood is already taking notice of the crypto nouveau riche. The Winklevoss twins, owners of crypto exchange Gemini, are already producing a film based on their story. If other crypto millionaires decide to follow suit, Tinseltown players might be well-advised to delete any snarky tweets about Quentin Tarantino's NFTs and Matt Damon's crypto ads.

The crowdfunding raise for "The Dead of Winter" ran from January 24 to January 31 at app.firstflights.com, successfully raising over $10,000 towards production of the film.  Find out more about FF3 here, and join the FF3 Telegram channel for more info.

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