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Steven Soderbergh’s Next Indie Film ‘Experiment’: Blockchain Financing with Roman Coppola — Exclusive

The filmmaker tells IndieWire why he's providing a $300,000 grant to Coppola's Decentralized Pictures for filmmakers to finish their films.

Director Steven Soderbergh attends the "No Sudden Move" premiere during the 20th Tribeca Festival at The Battery on Friday, June 18, 2021, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Steven Soderbergh

Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

From an early embrace of day-and-date releases to self-financing and releasing to being among the first filmmakers to use RED digital cameras, Steven Soderbergh has long been unafraid to experiment with new technologies. So when he first talked to Roman Coppola about supporting emerging filmmakers through Coppola’s blockchain-based nonprofit Decentralized Pictures, Soderbergh was similarly eager to see for himself if blockchain’s promise of revolutionary problem-solving could extend into entertainment.

Soderbergh’s production company Extension 765 on Tuesday launched a $300,000 pot of money available on DCP’s platform. The Andrews/Bernard Award will support multiple filmmakers with finishing funds for English-language fiction features or shorts. Soderbergh says he and Coppola share an interest in avenues for boosting filmmakers that don’t necessarily lead to studios, and he’s eager to help up-and-coming-talent.

“As with a lot of things I’ve done, it’s kind of an experiment,” Soderbergh said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “Part of my interest in this was to really get under the hood of how this is supposed to work to see if it really does work. Because for me, it’s still an open question, only because anything that was invented by a human being is probably at some point going to have the flaws that a human being has. I really want to get up in the grill of this blockchain approach or structure to see if it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do.”

IndieWire last year wrote a deep-dive on DCP’s model, which you can read here. The gist is that creators submit pitches for specific financial and financial awards. They pay submission fees in the form of DCP’s FILMCredits token. The fee goes into a smart contract, which pays DCP community members for giving their opinion on the projects. The highest-rated projects become finalists from which DCP will choose winners.

DCP was co-founded by Coppola, tech and entertainment veteran Leo Matchett, and American Zoetrope exec Michael Musante and led by a board that includes fellow filmmakers Sofia and Gia Coppola. Like many in the space, DCP leaders say the blockchain-based essence of their nonprofit allows it to lead with values of democracy and transparency — rather than funding decisions being decided in closed-door meetings, there’s more of a chance for the best project to win and create a more equitable framework around talent discovery.

Soderbergh’s 1989 feature debut “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” helped kick off the indie boom of the ‘90s. Though he would go on to make commercially successful studio movies like the Oscar-winning “Erin Brockovich,” he retains a DIY sensibility and drive for independence.

Disenchanted by Hollywood, Soderbergh took a decidedly indie approach for his 2017 film “Logan Lucky,” which he reportedly financed himself and through foreign presales. He even created his own company to distribute the movie and employed a targeted advertising campaign. At the time, he called the radical approach “an experiment,” one with virtues strikingly similar to that of blockchain.

“There’s no intermediary. The money is not passing through anybody’s hands. All these people who work for scale to make this film will literally be able to go online with a password and look at this account as the money is delivered from the theaters. So it’s complete transparency,” he told GQ in August 2017.

The Hollywood Reporter would go on to declare that no, “‘Logan Lucky’ Didn’t Change the Film Business,” but that seems to be no problem for Soderbergh, ever eager to investigate possible innovations and examine takeaways postmortem.

“What I like about [blockchain technology], potentially, is that it should provide for the thing I believe in — which is everybody knows everything all the time,” he said. “I’d love to be able to go to Warner Bros. or somebody at one of the big talent agencies and go, ‘OK, here’s my real-world experience, here’s an aspect of it that you should really be looking at that’s creating real efficiencies.'”

But not any blockchain project would do for Soderbergh. It’s key that DCP is a nonprofit, he said, which keeps a more focused mission of helping filmmakers rather than attempting to profit off of them. And he was insistent that for his award, the eligible projects should be close to finished. “I feel much more confident that we will be identifying real talent more efficiently than if we were just going off scripts,” he said.

With “Logan Lucky,” one of the problems Soderbergh hoped to address was his belief that Hollywood spends too much to ineffectually market films. Soderbergh says one problem in the filmmaker-support arena is that many of his peers are reluctant to wade in for fear of it getting messy. “Most people I know are interested in that, they’re just not sure the best way to do it,” he said. “If we can go through this, learn the things that we need to learn, I can turn around and tell half a dozen other filmmakers, ‘You should get involved if you want to help people in this way with these adjustments.'”

Last year, DCP awarded a beta test award to Tiffany Lin for her short “Poachers.”

“Making a film can be a complicated and costly endeavor, by giving support we can kickstart opportunities for people who might feel left out of the usual ways of financing. Mr. Soderbergh’s award is an extraordinary resource for new generation filmmakers to express themselves. We feel that he represents the highest bar in the world of independent and experimental cinema along with remarkable experience in the traditional Hollywood studio film. To DCP, he exemplifies the very best in adventurous creativity in the world of filmmaking and we’re very grateful that he is sponsoring a new generation of film artists,” Roman Coppola said.

Additionally, DCP recently launched a collection of NFTs featuring 56 designs by Lithuanian director and artist Robertas Nevecka. They mirror a deck of playing cards, with each card illustrating a role or component of a film set. Proceeds from the sale will go toward DCP’s mission. NFT-holders will be able to attend special events and receive free buy-in to an annual DCP charity poker tournament.

More information on DCP, including Soderbergh’s Andrews/Bernard Award, is available at decentralized.pictures.

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