LA Film Festival Mon 10.15.2018

Blockchain 101: Your Guide to the New Technology Blazing Trails for Indie Creators

Over the past few years there’s been a lot of discussion about blockchain technology as related to the production and distribution of digital media. And if you’re like me, a lot of this discussion tends to sail right over your head. But here’s some good news: it doesn’t have to.

On Sunday, September 23 at the 2018 LA Film Festival, a free-to-attend “Blockchain 101” panel was held at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which sought to provide a primer on the technology and its application to independent filmmaking. The presenting sponsor of the panel was blockchain entertainment studio SingularDTV and was one of two events at the Festival centered on the technology.

Although blockchain remains mysterious to many, there are plenty of people within the entertainment industry who are laser-focused on how filmmakers might use blockchain to rethink the way entertainment is produced and distributed—not to mention how these changes might help further the careers of artist and creators as they break away from more traditionally centralized Hollywood production models.

The panel was made up of Jake Craven, Director of Content Partnerships at SingularDTV and Eric Bromberg, Head of Dust Studios, a Gunpowder & Sky company. Here’s some of what we learned:

Simple enough to explain with two post-it notes.

In its simplest definition, “blockchain” is a digital ledger in which financial transactions are recorded chronologically and in public. Blockchains are typically managed by peer-to-peer networks and are, by design, totally secure.

Simultaneously de-centralized, public and unalterable, the idea is this: that blockchain circumvents the entertainment industry’s infamously murky (eg, shady) financial structures, providing greater transparency and helping to eliminate economic inefficiencies across the media production and distribution supply chain. But beyond that, blockchain can also be used to foster community, bringing together likeminded creators and consumers to develop systems of sustained creative support.

According to Bromberg, SingularDTV/Dust Studios have “linked up to disrupt the traditional way of making film, distributing film, of marketing film—all within the blockchain apparatus.” Craven continued: “One of the applications that we’re building is a decentralized distribution platform; a distribution portal where audiences around the world will be able to purchase or rent entertainment.”

Step One = internet. Step Two = ???. Step Three = profit.

What could this mean for filmmakers? Traditionally, filmmakers do not readily have access to information about who is consuming their product, or where. And similarly with revenue from sales, Craven makes the point: “You have to wait for quarterly reporting of who’s actually watching and paying for your film and what the ROI is on any marketing that you’re doing for a film is—that’s just crazy. Blockchain allows us to automatically share the data of who’s watching, where and [see] the transactions.” This platform that SingularDTV will be launching will allow for real-time reporting and access to data and—most interestingly— decrease windows of payment to filmmakers and other stakeholders in a project.

A result of such a radical change could allow for filmmakers to reinvest in marketing, but in a much more targeted and educated way, based on actual data one can see on the platform. This is super-important to independent creators, who must be efficient and smart with how any resources are being utilized.

Ultimately, the immediacy and free access to this data could prove invaluable to a creator’s ability to build a brand and a foster a community that has actual, lasting connection to the work. Currently, platforms like Facebook can be used to build these communities and engage with audiences, but filmmakers must pay for boosted posts to reach everyone who follows your project. What Bromberg is trying to do is build applications that take that direct-to-fan relationship, take it to the next level and eliminate existing pay walls.

But at this point, you may be saying to yourself: “Wait, who are SingularDTV and Dust Studios?” Glad you asked.

Still from the Dust shot “Robot & Scarecrow” (2017, dir. Kibwe Tavares)

SingularDTV is a blockchain start-up, which by using Ethereum blockchain technology is developing a suite of technical applications to create more transparency and better efficiencies in the production and distribution of entertainment: film, music, podcasts, etc. Essentially, SingularDTV is striving to offer an entire media ecosystem—from initial crowdfunding, to rights management, to peer-to-peer distribution.

The goal is to bring more sustainability and—in the end—greater autonomy to content creators. According to the panelists, the goal is help enable artists to cultivate careers and develop their voices as storytellers without having to contend with the traditional gatekeepers and middlemen. SingularDTV also functions as its own studio, producing, acquiring and distributing a slate of original content. They are releasing a feature documentary at the end of October, Trust Machine: The Story of Blockchain.

According to Bromberg, Gunpowder & Sky “thinks of itself as a digital studio [that] really tries to focus on doing innovative and bold content from 90 seconds to 90 minutes.” And within Gunpowder & Sky is Dust Studios, which over roughly the last two years has carved out its own space for premium digitally distributed sci-fi branded entertainment from both established and emerging artists.

Dust started their community on Facebook. The studio has been going around attempting to license as many great sci-fi shorts as they can, the idea being—according to Bromberg—that eventually Dust will eventually develop some of these shorts as larger properties, with the original creators. Presently the studio has about 250 sci-fi shorts available, and has begun investing in producing shorts films of their own, partnering with the filmmakers they’ve discovered with a push towards diversity. Last year they held a sci-fi themed screening event called The Future is Female with an all-female filmmaker roster.

The panelists’ hope is that these tools will eventually enable creators to self-manage their community engagement, allowing creators to look at their work in the larger context of being a small business—not just as someone making films.

Craven believes that is what will open up unique opportunities down the road for filmmakers, which goes back to the larger idea of autonomy; the ability to be a creator that can go back to the well with a baseline level of resources without having to start over from scratch each time.

Craven stressed: “The filmmakers that have been able to develop and foster their community independently are the ones that are really free and able to continually create stuff at a much higher output than the ones that are beholden to more traditional models of funding and marketing.”

Simple enough, right?

The 2018 LA Film Festival took place September 20-28 across the city. Catch more of our exclusive coverage of the Festival on our blog and YouTube. Keep up with everything Film Independent is doing on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. To learn how to become a Member of Film Independent, click here.