For those outside the tight-knit circle of cryptocurrency devotees, the buzz around blockchain technology can feel like an impenetrable collection of technobabble — maybe nothing more than a passing fad. But early adopters of these decentralized data systems have long said blockchain is poised to change everything from finance to transportation and, yes, even entertainment.
Now, the potential of blockchain in the film industry has earned a major vote of confidence from one of Hollywood’s most influential families. The nonprofit Decentralized Pictures — co-founded by Roman Coppola, tech and entertainment veteran Leo Matchett, and American Zoetrope exec Michael Musante and led by a board that includes Sofia and Gia Coppola — plans to go live in the fall with a mission to discover and support underrepresented filmmakers using a blockchain-powered web platform.
“In a sense, this is a democratically selected film fund,” Musante told IndieWire. “Instead of a boardroom of executives, it’s our community that decides, that gives their opinion and tells people what they like.”
The winner receives a funding award and enters into a financial agreement that includes a network of partners that includes production companies, agencies, and management companies. Creators will be able to submit pitches for specific financial and non-financial awards: Pots of money from the nonprofit itself, awards granted by individuals and organizations for specific film topics, and non-financial awards in the form of mentorship or representation. Creators will pay a submission fee in the nonprofit’s native cryptocurrency token. That fee will go into a smart contract, which pays others members of the community for giving their opinion on the project. The highest-rated projects become finalists from which Decentralized Pictures will choose winners. Eventually, that last step will be handed over to the community itself.
Community members will be able to review treatments, scripts, and pitch videos and chat with creators. They’ll vote on various criteria that varies by funding round, including social impact, creativity, characters, and plot.
The platform is currently in beta with members of the Ghetto Film School and USC School of Cinematic Arts. Once it goes live, anyone will be able to join and vote on or vie for awards of a few thousand to several hundred thousand dollars.
Matchett outlined three major points about how blockchain technology allows for such a unique nonprofit project: fairness, rareness, and efficiency.
“We’re going to be giving away significant amounts of money and support, and we want our community to trust the process. So having the voting data all on (the blockchain) with signatures validated by each person who’s contributed their opinion is very important — it’s auditable and immutable,” Matchett said. Anyone will be able to join the community and vote on projects, but a reputation system will weight the opinions of those with track records of success in the industry higher than others. Other members will have a chance to boost their scores, too, by establishing a pattern of voting on projects that go on to be successful.
Filmmakers don’t have to pay submission fees in cash; they can save up enough tokens by voting on other projects to pay their way too. But tokens are a key part of making the whole thing work. “The token needs to have value in order for our incentive mechanism to work … if people aren’t incentivized to give an opinion because there’s no rareness, no value, then it defeats the purpose,” Matchett said.
The nonprofit’s initial funds for development and other startup cost came from selling tokens to friends, family, and other investors. Decentralized Pictures will sell the same amount to the general public at the same price. No one associated with the project, including board members and vendors, is being compensated in tokens.
“It can be inefficient to pay out thousands of people with micro payments, you can end up with the problem where the stamp on the envelope can be worth more than the check inside. With blockchain, we can very efficiently pay everyone who’s given their opinion,” Matchett said.
Erick Opeka, chief strategy officer and president of Cinedigm, a streaming and distribution company involved in blockchain-powered NFT projects, said Decentralized Pictures is significant in two ways: its nonprofit status and the people behind the organization.
“To get people who have a nonprofit, with solid Hollywood credentials, with solid creative credentials, it feels different from a lot of initiatives we’ve seen before,” he said.
One thing that Opeka sees as critical to Decentralized Pictures future success is its ability to attract and retain members with a favorable enough incentive. That’s a challenge faced by many tech endeavors, he said, citing Google’s decision in the early days of Android to offer incentives to developers in 2007 before consumers could even get their hands on an Android phone.
The company’s impending launch comes as other Hollywood notables are dabbling in blockchain. Anthony Hopkins is starring in “Zero Contact,” which will debut this summer on Vuele, an NFT viewing and distribution platform. And Breaker Studios, a division of a blockchain entertainment development and services company, produced “Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain,” a 2018 documentary from “Bill and Ted” director Alex Winter.
While many in the crypto space beat the drum of disruption, Decentralized Pictures’ executives see their role in Hollywood as complimentary.
“Let’s say the status quo talent discovery systems, agencies, managers — are all sharing a highway,” Matchett said. “We’re trying to get to the same place but we’re building a new highway next to it and we’re telling those guys, ‘Don’t worry we’re not trying to disrupt your system, but maybe the people who we discover will end up working with you down the road.'”