Welcome to The Fringe: Why I Believe the Future of Filmmaking is Decentralized

by Zeek Earl

I believe web3 is going to upend the indie film industry. And I believe the movement will be led by filmmakers.

My team is presently envisioning a new model of film financing that will put full creative control back into the hands of the film's entire artistic team, provide filmmakers with new storytelling opportunities, and empower fans to meaningfully participate in the creation & eventual success of the thing they love.

Let me explain.

A lot of cinematic history can be framed as a struggle between the artists and the economic apparatus required to execute this expensive art form. I’ve always looked up to directors who found ways to operate outside the machine like Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, and the Duplass brothers. They were willing to take on unconventional strategies to get their films made and, in the process, they were also able to claim more artistic freedom.

I spent most of my twenties grinding to achieve my life goal of making a feature film. The process was grueling. I was trying to do something unusual for a first-time indie filmmaker: make a deep, densely detailed sci-fi world that required a huge amount of production design.

To bolster our unconventional approach, we presented potential financiers with a business plan to open our own production design shop, the key to making an $8 million film on a $3 million budget. We attached legitimate Hollywood players as producers (Director Chris Weitz) and signed with AAA talent agency WME.

Several promising deals fell apart when financiers got cold feet about our unconventional plan. Eventually, Bron Studios believed we could do it and gave us the green light. We were ecstatic and ravenous. A seven year saga of development was finally blasting off…which is why we didn’t hesitate to sign a pretty crappy deal.

It was actually a pretty standard deal, and that's really the point. We got to make the film and in exchange were paid a pittance while giving away all the intellectual property rights and control of the film.

We had good partners…great partners! I'm thankful to them to this day. But the thing is, the whole endeavor was entrenched in a system that I just can’t see the future in. At least not for the types of films I want to make.

PROSPECT was created by a group of artists now known as the TAKA Collective. The collective put an incredible amount of time and energy into the film, working nights and laboring vigorously for pay that couldn’t equal their passion. But we were working on our dream. It was thrilling. And in the end we pulled it off - and we pulled it off under budget I might add. The plan worked.

(The TAKA Collective Shop)
(The TAKA Collective Shop)
(Pedro Pascal as 'Ezra')
(Pedro Pascal as 'Ezra')

But aside from personal satisfaction (which ain’t nothing), once the film entered the distribution phase, the path started to narrow. The marketing was carried out by a system that could never match our love for the film and knowledge of the world we’d lived and breathed for years. The film and its larger IP had been passed off to owners who didn’t have the same personal stake in the film that we all did, who weren’t necessarily interested in nurturing it further. The world we had so lovingly and meticulously crafted was now gated. We were unable to continue to freely build on its foundation without permission, be it through the marketing, future films, or beyond.

But what if the incentive structure was completely different? What if the IP didn’t have to be sold wholesale in order to get the project off the ground in the first place?

Legend states that part of Vitalik Buterin’s motivation for creating Ethereum was that Blizzard nerfed his favorite World of Warcraft character. I completely get it. He invested a lot of personal passion into the game, but ultimately the experience was puppeteered by a less-invested entity. The people who truly cared had no power. But what if they had all the power?

We want to try something new. We’re gonna take our next idea to the people and attempt to replace an antiquated studio model with true sci-fi fans that match our passion.

We don’t just want to make a single film, we want to make a whole new cinematic universe, a new franchise. We want to make these films in a radically transparent way that includes the community of fans and artists at every step. We want this cinematic universe to extend far beyond films, organically infiltrating numerous forms of entertainment. And ultimately, we want this IP to be owned and guided by its creators and biggest fans.

Imagine if Lucasfilm or Marvel were owned and operated by a collective comprised of the people who care most deeply about the stories, the characters, and the world.

The structure we envision would allow all the filmmakers - not just the directors, but the writers, concept artists, production designers, costumers, camera team, VFX artists, etc. -  to have a stake in its outcome. I've seen firsthand the power of an entire collective of people treating a film as a passion project. This is not typical. This new incentive could make it much more common, inspiring a whole new caliber of filmmaking.

The endless sequels and adaptations of tired properties are due to the fact that marketing original material with no name recognition is increasingly more expensive, often beyond the cost of the film itself. But if you build a passionate community behind a film before it’s even released, original ideas have a better shot of breaking through the noise.

Our new sci-fi universe is set in a part of the galaxy called THE FRINGE. This is the wild west, filled with cutthroat individuals and small tribes, striking out on their own to find their fortune in the unincorporated frontier. “Drifters” is the derogatory term for these people, reclaimed as a badge of honor. The Fringe is unconquered, unwritten, and full of potential. Not unlike the real-world frontier of web3.

We’re going to sell a generative collection of Drifter characters created by Prospect concept artist Laurie Greasley and other members of the TAKA Collective. These will all be characters in the universe. Some of them will appear in the first film (collectors will be able to compete for this opportunity). Others will appear in future films, graphic novels or numerous other possibilities. The Drifters will be sold as NFTs.

(These are early tests, art has not been finalized)
(These are early tests, art has not been finalized)

The Drifter sale will launch the cinematic universe. We plan to reinvest the profits of the sale to employ the artists necessary to build this new world. Next, we make a movie!

The first film in the franchise is currently being planned out and we hope to expedite its path to pre-production with the momentum of the Drifter reveal. The film will serve as a flagship example of this new method of fan-supported IP, giving it real-world viability with no delay.

Our project will be distinct from many other NFT sales. Our NFTs are collectables, but they are also the start of a much bigger journey. Owning a Drifter simultaneously grants unprecedented behind-the-scenes access and membership to a creative incubator. We are planning a slew of digital events and competitions. Holders will be eligible to compete and win prizes both digital and physical. They also will get a front row seat to the filmmaking process, access to our team of artists, and participate in seminars around worldbuilding elements from spaceship design to asteroid mining methodology.

After the sale we want to incorporate the NFT holders into a formal incubator with voting capabilities. They will participate in making creative and logistical decisions around the future of the universe. As a filmmaker, I’m incredibly excited to have this think tank as a sounding board during narrative development, whether that’s in the form of storyboards, graphic novels, short scripts, or 3D animations. This will guide the development of the first film, but also create other pathways for the universe’s evolution.

It’s a futuristic dream, but what we want to work towards is creating an original sci-fi cinematic universe whose IP is community owned. Think Star Wars if you could cut out the corporate machine and unite artists and fans.The legal framework for this doesn’t exist yet and is something we’re actively exploring. It’s something we’re going to have to build from the ground up.*

Lastly, and this topic deserves its own post, but we intend for our NFT sale to be carbon neutral. We are minting on the ethereum chain which is on a trajectory to drastically reduce its carbon footprint. However, it’s not there yet. We are presently working on how to estimate our carbon footprint of our project and make offsets a built in part of our sale. In contrast to the current system’s opaqueness, web3's transparency allows us to get close to what our actual carbon footprint is and neutralize it.

We are not conducting this project anonymously. We’re putting our reputations on the line because we want to make it clear that we’re all in. What we want is the opportunity to work as tirelessly as we did on PROSPECT, but with the chance for the entire team to actually see the fruits of our own labor. Creating a system that rewards all artistic contributions, replacing sterile corporations with a passionate community is too exciting not to put everything on the line and fight for. Despite the backlash against NFTs, I see the potential for a new wave of empowerment for artists emerging from the wild west of the web3 space and I can’t wait to see the art that comes out of it.

(Created by the TAKA Collective)
(Created by the TAKA Collective)

*Our lawyers want us to be super clear that the NFT sale is a collectible sale that provides access to the filmmaking process. We are in no way promising any returns of profit on the film. Regulation allowing - our hope is to create a system that allows for joint ownership of this IP with its most passionate supporters. It would be shortsighted and against our larger ethos of transparency for us to promise something we can't deliver or would end up with a lawsuit against us.

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