By Jonathan Marcantoni
As a movie fanatic as well as an aspiring filmmaker, I grew up during the ‘90s, when independent filmmaking was at its popular culture peak. My idols were Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, and Kevin Smith, the latter of whom happens to be promoting a show on YouTube regarding how NFTs are going to change the movie world.
This movement is being promoted by Smith and others as a way to cut out investors who might take control of your vision or place burdensome restrictions on your production. NFTs give the filmmaker total freedom. All you have to do is purchase some. These “digital baseball cards” (as one YouTuber describes them) supposedly will revolutionize independent filmmaking.
Exciting, no? Kevin Smith famously made his first feature, Clerks, for under $30,000 by using “10 credit cards that Kevin had to his name, funds garnered from store credit after he sold his comic book collection, a family donation, and paychecks from working at a Quick Stop and RST Video.” Which is to say, Mr. Smith was poor and went into major debt, using every resource he could find to get his movie made.
This was the story of all of the indy titans of the mid to late 90s. These were not trust fund babies. Rather they were middle or working-class folks who had no connections to the industry. All they had was a script and ambition and the right group of friends to make their movie a reality.
Could the convenience store worker Mr. Smith afford to buy NFTs back in 1993, with a cost runs between tens of thousands to millions of dollars in value? If an NFT cost the $30,000 that Mr. Smith used to make Clerks, would he have gone into all that debt he accrued while making a movie to purchase an NFT, instead of just making the movie?
Yet that is beside the point, the conversations around NFTs to fund movies are not geared toward scrappy, up-and-coming filmmakers. It is targeting already established, wealthy filmmakers who just want to leave the studio system and raise funds in a way that puts all of the financing in their own hands.
This is not progress. This is the wealthy helping out the wealthy, and by and large, the voices promoting NFTs are white filmmakers. The videos discussing this subject also do not discuss such wealthy people using NFTs to fund struggling filmmakers.
In other words, there is no altruism to this movement. It is easy, in discussions around crypto, to get caught up in the technical brilliance of the currency. But this currency means nothing without the humanity to utilize it. Established producers and filmmakers should be using this technology to embolden black and brown and indigenous filmmakers who not only cannot afford NFTs, but who don’t have the credit to purchase ten credit cards.
Despite what Mr. Smith and other champions of NFTs say, it is not “revolutionary” to do the same thing with crypto that banks have been doing for a thousand years. NFTs are not, in their current configuration, a viable future for young, first-time filmmakers who don’t already have a trust fund. Perhaps Mr. Smith has forgotten where he came from, and the fact that most people are still there, and not in his privileged position.