Exclusive Interview: Using NFTs for Fan-Funding in Filmmaking

Exclusive Interview: Using NFTs for Fan-Funding in Filmmaking

Interviews with Jennifer Esposito and leaders in NFTs and the film industry. 

It’s been an outstanding week in NFTs for cinephiles with two NFT drops from two of the greatest living film directors.

David Lynch’s continuing search for truth in the sea of consciousness has led him to a new NFT drop -- the continuation of his 2011 collaboration with band Interpol that combines his surreal visuals with their music for a new evocative experience. The SuperRare page explains: 

“Items from both the world of Lynch and Interpol lay around a vintage television displaying the first moments of the short film "To Touch A Red Button Man." The clip accompanies a new expression of "lights" featuring the haunting piano and drums of Interpol. This one-of-a-kind piece by Lynch and Interpol represents the first in a 7 part series, each with their own unique clip, song and universe.”

Quentin Tarantino recently announced an NFT drop that includes seven uncut scenes from Pulp Fiction. Of course, these scenes are shared as hand-written scripts including Tarantino’s margin notes along with VO commentary by the director. 

“I’m excited to be presenting these exclusive scenes from Pulp Fiction to fans. Secret Network and Secret NFTs provide a whole new world of connecting fans and artists and I’m thrilled to be a part of that,” Tarantino said.

We spoke to Guy Zyskind, Founder and CEO of SCRT Labs who explained the appeal for fans.
“The script has a lot of stuff that Tarantino wrote to himself. It has little nuggets and secrets related to the movie and related to his personal life and how they intertwine. No one has seen that before, like this has been kept safe and secret by him. We digitized seven of those scenes. And then for each one of those scenes, Quentin recorded commentary, where he explains the scene. His thinking process as he created the movie in the scene…,” Zyskind said.

Of course, in both cases, these NFT drops are extensions of existing work by A-list directors with globally-known names. That raises the question of how NFTs might be used by filmmakers who have not already secured their place in the pantheon of legendary directors. 

Fan-Investor Funding for New Projects

Award-winning actor, Jennifer Esposito, is making her directorial debut with the independent feature film Fresh Kills. Esposito is taking an innovative approach to funding the film, turning to fan-investors in a $3.5 million Initial Public Offering (IPO) on Ethereum-based exchange, Upstream. Apart from purchasing Fresh Kills’ securities, fan-investors can show their support for Fresh Kills movement by purchasing “FRESH NFTs” which offer unique content and access to the talent involved with the project.

We interviewed Esposito to learn more of her perspective on filmmaking and fundraising.

Jennifer Esposito

So you're getting into the NFT space, as I understand it as sort of an alternative source of fundraising. Is that correct?

“I think the NFT space and the crypto space are just revolutionary. I truly think this is a game-changer for artists everywhere. The general consensus is people are tired of the people on top making all the rules and then everybody else is kind of left to fend for themselves. And I really feel those days are over. NFTs put power into the artist’s hands to get their work to the people to get funding through selling the NFTs and then going and making your art. And then those people that actually support you have something that could be worth a great amount of money. I just find it so liberating. I think it is the future, I couldn't be more excited about it. 

In my business, certain people will only fund your movie if it has a male lead and a male director…  It's my belief that the world is shaped by what we're seeing, what comes across our media, what's on our TV, what we grow up watching these programs are their stereotypes... If we want to change the stereotypes then we have to change who's making the product. And we do that by allowing people to have their voice in their stories. And how do you do that? You do something like going to the NFT space...  it levels out the playing field a bit. I think it's revolutionary. I think it's the future,” Esposito said.

When did you begin having an interest in blockchain? 

“I was hearing about it for a while. And of course, I thought, oh, whoa, I don't know. But once I looked deeper into it, I got behind the idea of what crypto is and started listening to some people that were very knowledgeable about what this movement is about, and then I was all in.. Of course, I started with Bitcoin and then Ethereum...  I think crypto gives wealth to people that may never have had wealth. It gives people control over their own money. I think it's fantastic,” Esposito said.

What do you see as the opportunity with NFTs?

“NFTs are new to me, but the more I learn about them, the more it just makes sense to me and the freedom that they could offer an artist is pretty incredible. That makes me excited,” Esposito said.

I don't know the whole thing with the metaverse, I'm not I'm not gonna lie. But it's fascinating where we can go -- concerts in the metaverse and it makes sense to the progression. Of course, I don't know enough, but I know enough to know that it is the future. I know enough to know that, people collected baseball cards at one time and they were worth something. And that was a piece of cardboard. I just feel that it's something that we really have to pay attention to. And as you see, everyone in their mother is getting involved in it at this point,” Esposito said.

Are you currently holding any NFTs? Are there any NFT projects that you support?

“I am still learning, but I have to say the NFTs that we have for my film.  I found this incredible artist named Gala Mirissa too. She's a female NFT artist living in Spain and her work is so extraordinary. She made these five original NFTs for my film and I was blown away. Even the people on upstream were like, Oh, this is not just something you threw together for your film like this is artwork, it's beautiful,” Esposito said. 

So what's the name of the production company on your film? 

“Our producers, Alexis Varouxakis (Good Time, Arkansas, Blood) and Christine Crokos (Pimp) have a combined 45 years of experience in the film industry and have worked on award-winning films. So we've all come to the table with a lot of knowledge and they loved the script. And, you know, we went about trying to get this done the old-fashioned way. And like I said, there's a lot of roadblocks. If you get the right male lead, then they'll give you a lot of money... but my film wasn't about a man. So it was like, what do we do here? 

And when we were approached by Mark, who just designed Upstream the platform, and he told us what was capable, it just kind of blew our minds. Because we thought, okay, this is the future of funding films. So we really want this to work, not just for us, but we really believe this can pave the road for others that are finding it difficult to get their product made. So, we're actually going to give 5% back of anything that we make to the next female-driven film behind us,” Esposito said. 

How are you going to choose the projects that get funded?

“Well, there's a bunch that are coming to us because of the platform. I told Mark when this went out into the world that he was going to get a lot of phone calls. And sure enough, he has gotten a slew of phone calls from Hollywood because they want to know how this is working,” Esposito said. 

So tell me about the movie. Is this something that you're writing, producing and directing?

“I wrote it, I'm helping produce, and I am directing, I'm also going to be in it. It's a very personal story -- a beautiful story about these two sisters that grow up in this mafia world. And if you look and go back, you will see you've never seen the female perspective from the mafia genre movie...  It's basically a male-dominated genre. And I thought, you know, I grew up around seeing that, and I thought these women have voices. I want to talk about that. I want to show what that is. Ultimately, the movie is about trying to find a voice in a world that wants you to stay silent. And that is for everyone,” Esposito said. 

Jennifer Esposito in a promotional image from Fresh Kills.

Do you have any advice, specifically for female artists and filmmakers entering the space?

“First of all, your material has to be good. My material has gotten really good responses but then you hit all those pitfalls of who's in it and who's directing. So my advice to them would be to forget about your agents because I know a lot of people get stuck on that. Nobody's helping you... But the beauty that we have today, we have the internet, you can grab your camera, start to create a following that is really interested in hearing your voice. When you do that, then you can start going out there and testing the waters. That's where crowdfunding and NFTs come into play. Because I've been in the business for 20-something years. So know that and they need to keep going because all voices have a right to be heard,” Esposito said. 

Will NFTs create more opportunities in film?

Esposito is leveraging a clever combination of traditional ICO and NFT sales as a new paradigm for funding independent projects and the premise seems promising. Fresh Kills is offering five levels of NFTs -- from common NFTs (5,000 available) which start at $1,000 to ultra-rare NFTs (3 available) which are listed at $500,000 and include perks like your name on the IMDB page and dinner with the creators of the films.

But are NFTs an alternative source of funding for new creators who don’t have the public profile and long-standing industry career of Esposito?

We spoke with Leo Matchett, former film producer and co-founder & CEO of Decentralized Pictures Foundation (DCP), a nonprofit organization founded by industry leaders whose mission is to support independent filmmakers from underprivileged and underrepresented backgrounds using blockchain technology. Matchett is bullish on the potential of NFTs to help new voices in the industry.

“I think it is a great opportunity for filmmakers to create additional revenue streams, especially when it comes to independent films. Many first-time filmmakers don't get the best terms regarding distribution and sales. A filmmaker could use the marketing power of their partner companies to help bring in additional revenue without disrupting the sales of the film in theaters or streamers. I think they will certainly give filmmakers more power,” Matchett said. 

Abhay Singh has financed, produced, and distributed 13 film projects in Hollywood and Bollywood markets. He is now Group CEO of VMC, a Singapore-based media & entertainment-related investment entity that launched a Bollywood collectibles NFT platform Fantico. In an interview, he was clearly bullish on the potential of NFTs for filmmakers worldwide.

NFTs present an exciting space for filmmakers both artistically and financially from the get-go… On the business side, NFTs are poised to be a great alternative financing model, allowing filmmakers to secure the needed funds to bring their projects to life. This will breathe new life into the industry as it opens equitable opportunities for both large and independent filmmakers everywhere, empowering them to tell stories that were previously unlikely to get greenlit from studios and producers. Furthermore, by adopting the NFT model, filmmakers can interact with their core fans in a more intimate manner – allowing the audience to have a direct hand in the production of the project,” Singh said.

Singh echoes Esposito’s sentiments about alternative funding through NFTs freeing creators from the restrictions of the traditional studio-led system in filmmaking. 

“Another unexpected turn is the rise of independent filmmakers leveraging NFTs as a form of film funding and content distribution. Multiple independent movie titles include Jennifer Esposito's Fresh Kills and Emmy award-winning Trevor Hawkin’s Lotawana. NFTs allow for these creators better monetization of their work and a more direct route to film funding, especially in an industry often gatekept by traditional film studios and distributors,” Singh said.

Conclusion

Whatever your notions about the future of the NFT market, it undeniably has created opportunities for new creators. It is an exciting space that combines the collective will of fandom more directly with funding and purchasing, as acts of support and participation, than ever before. Leveraging the energy of these fan-investors is a promising way to use the power of NFTs, allowing every retail investor to vote for the creators they like not just by “buying the t-shirt” but by funding the project directly. In return the fans can achieve an unprecedented level of access -- for a fairly steep price. 

The continued blending of the line between creator and fan is one of the side effects of NFTs as a cultural phenomenon. For creators like Tarantino and Lynch, who already have huge bases of dedicated fans, NFTs are just another way to connect with their base, maybe on a deeper level, and make more money by building on existing works. But for creators without the benefit of enduring global fame, NFTs create opportunities to present their work that may have simply not existed before.

In a world where it’s easier to ask 3,500 fans for $1,000 each than it is to get a large studio to fund your indie project, we will continue to have more niche content driven by fandoms, large and small, that are willing to shell out their money to invest in participating in the creation of the content that they wish to see. 

Cover modified from image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

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