Just in September, we’ve seen Bored Ape Yacht Club sell a bundle of 101 cartoon ape images [main image] selling for an incredible US$24 million, while FTX, a crypto exchange platform, sold a crudely written ‘Test’ graphic for a whopping US$270,000.
In fact, 2021 has seen video files from the likes of digital artist Beeple, aka Mike Winklemann, sell for $69 million via esteemed auction house Christies, while Twitter’s Jack Dorsey pimped his first ever tweet for a solid $2.9 million. As for the music scene, we’ve seen the likes of Kings of Leon earn roughly $2 million from NFT sales of their album When You See Yourself, while pop artists such as Post Malone, Shawn Mendes and Deadmau5 have begun aggressively flirting with the market. But before we take a look at some of the filmmakers beginning to test the NFT waters, lets unpack some of the basic questions?
So, what the fuck is an NFT?
Who else better to offer up an explanation than Paris Hilton, who endeavoured to enlighten Jimmy Fallon on the digital platform during a recent interview: “It’s a Non-Fungible Token,” explains the former Reality star turned DJ turned Reality star. “Which is basically a digital contract that’s on the Blockchain. So, you can basically sell anything from art to music to experiences, and physical objects.”
OhhhhKay? So lets break that down a little further.
Non-fungible? At its most simplistic, a non-fungible item is something that can’t be replaced with something else. A bitcoin for example is a fungible entity, meaning that, a Bitcoin is always equal to another Bitcoin. Just as a dollar is always valued at a dollar.
A NON-fungible item is unique to itself, and therefore can’t be replaced by any other similar item. It’s like owning an original Brett Whiteley painting while your friend owns a poster purchased from the gallery gift store. Obviously, your original is going to be worth a small fortune, while your friend won’t be able to regain the price of the ink their poster is printed with. Even though they take up the same wall space and look almost identical.
And what exactly is a Blockchain?
Although the title alludes to a device you’d expect to be found in Christian Grey’s Red Room, it’s actually something of a digital ledger. A currently secure repository of certifications as to who owns certain digital assets at any given time, such as Bitcoin, NFTs etc. and the current value of those assets. Again, in simplistic terms, it’s similar to a bank statement, but instead of the account monitoring the comings and goings of the money passing through the account, the account itself chronicles the old, new and present owners of the money that’s locked in place, thanks to the Blockchain.
So, an NFT is a digital work of art, be it a painting, photograph, music, video clip or an evolving experimental medium guided by an artificial intelligence. Some have even suggested that a downloaded consciousness or specific memories could be sold as an NFT in the future. Sure, it sounds a little like science fiction, but look at the memory harvesting concepts seen in films like Blade Runner 2049, Ghost in the Shell or Kathryn Bigelow’s seminal 1995 thriller Strange Days. And with Elon Musk pushing for brain implants, it’s not so farfetched. The future could see you actually own the digital mind of Paris Hilton.
As long as you can upload it securely to a legit NFT exchange, you’ll be able to give your (art) work an authentic digital signature protected by blockchain security. Just like a traditional artist signing his work. And, depending where you look, the internet is basically one giant multimedia art gallery where you can browse works from some of today’s most accomplished artists to utterly nonsensical and profoundly insignificant dabblers. Never before in human history has the well-trodden adage ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’ been more relevant.
So, what kind of benefits could NFT offer to aspiring filmmakers? In much the same way as cable and streamers have elevated the broadcast game to rival cinema in quality and production, NFTs have the ability to deliver filmmakers a new disruptive audience willing to take risks on unproven talent, while also allowing said talent to drive new branding initiatives, from release strategies to self-evolving content, feeding new scenes, characters or visual enhancements into their digital narratives.
Recently, producer Rick Dugdale released a trailer for his directorial début Zero Contact, staring Anthony Hopkins (The Father) and Aleks Paunovic (War for the Planet of the Apes). A thriller, billed as ‘one of the first’ feature length NFT movies, Zero Contact was released online via a number of drops, including the ‘Platinum Edition’ and the ‘1 of 1’ release, in which the buyer/winner will be awarded a walk-on role, which will then be inserted into the film and featured in subsequent versions of the film’s release.
Closer to home, we recently spoke with Australian writer/producer/director/actor Samuel Wilson, co-founder of Size 8 Studio out of Vancouver, Canada, who has been utilising the rising NFT arena to help promote, fund and experiment with his upcoming releases, including the jazz infused ‘anti-love’ skateboarding tome, Miles Away.
“I’ve been developing a live streamed feature film, with Melbourne based director Michael Beets,” explains Wilson. “That was the initial spark that’s pushed us into the world of NFTs. A live streamed feature film is a very new age concept, so we began looking at different ways to engage and potentially reward our audience.
“Reimagine the idea of ticketing – what if each ticket is a unique NFT which offers the audience bonus features and with time (and the potential success of the project) even rewards the audience/ticket holder as an investment. A model where audiences can share in the profits, rather than the middleman reaping all of the rewards.
“Michael has pulled this off. He shot a film called Nezunoban which premiered at MIFF. It was the first short film to be split into NFTs and sold. His $6 generative art tickets are now being sold for huge money three months down the line. He still has five chapters left to sell and he’s set to make a profit… on a short film, how extraordinary. That’s an amazing thing.”
However, as the medium continues to evolve and open up new and exciting, if eclectic, strategies for filmmakers, Wilson does acknowledge that NFT culture demands a new perspective on filmmaking. He encourages filmmakers to recognise new commodities such as effectively monetising their cutting room floor.
“At the moment, I’m making NFTs from extra footage of my feature film Miles Away, which will be released early next year. In one way, it’s like a new age of behind-the-scenes/bonus features.
“I have 14 hours of DV tapes that I’m cutting into a short film which I will then sell in chapters over the coming months. One chapter will feature the dashing KJ Apa (Songbird, Riverdale) without his shirt on. So, hopefully that can turn some heads.
“I mean, it will be really fascinating to see what happens with In The Mood for Love on October 9,” referring to the hyped NFT sale of director Wong Kar-Wai’s never-before-seen outtakes from his acclaimed film. “I think they’ll sell for millions, and they’re just extra takes. But who knows how much they will actually go for?”
But while the NFT market – much like the bitcoin phenomenon that preceded and inspired the new creative arena – continues to operate in a state of flux thanks to a propagative combination of content saturation, early adaptor culture and hype, Wilson’s own experiences, limited as they are, have forced the filmmaker to reflect on the impact that awaits the filmmaking community.
“There’s a lot of different art forms competing for attention, which is kind of fascinating, as they’re all on the same platform. Film is definitely at a bit of a disadvantage compared to those who are doing really generative stuff. Those using A.I. and doing all sorts of really intriguing things.
“But my next film, after Miles Away, is going be shot with a super 8 film camera, for nostalgic value, and it will be like a moving image that comes to life, and then returns back to its own place. That’s where I’m putting my attention now, whereas before, I wouldn’t have thought to make anything like that. The platform is inspiring the way that I’m thinking about art and the way I’m thinking about what I can do with film.”
Much like cryptocurrencies, and the Blockchain itself, NFTs aren’t going away. The next twelve months will hopefully see the format stabilise and genuine values begin to find a parallel with real-world markets and retain some sensibility. But regardless of those investing, trading and hyping the new media, the artists and creatives that have paved the NFT foundations with their output seem to be facing a brave, bright and profitable new world. That is, unless of course, as Wilson jokingly reflects on the creative feeding frenzy currently taking place, “what if the internet just shuts down? And nobody can access anything online anymore?