The filmmaker tells IndieWire why he’s giving a $300,000 grant to Coppola’s Decentralized Pictures for filmmakers to complete their films.
From an early adoption of day and date releases to self-funding and coming out on top of being among the first filmmakers to use RED digital cameras, Steven Soderbergh has long been unafraid to experiment with new technologies. So when he first spoke to Roman Coppola about supporting emerging filmmakers through Coppola’s blockchain-based non-profit Decentralized Pictures, Soderbergh was also eager to see for himself if the promise of resolving Blockchain’s revolutionary problems could extend to entertainment.
Soderbergh’s Extension 765 production company launched a $300,000 prize pool available on DCP’s platform on Tuesday. The Andrews/Bernard Prize will support several filmmakers with finishing funds for English-language fiction feature or short films. Soderbergh says he and Coppola share an interest in ways to nurture filmmakers that don’t necessarily lead to the studios, and he’s eager to help emerging talent.
“As with a lot of things I’ve done, it’s kind of an experiment,” Soderbergh said in a recent interview with IndieWire. “Part of my interest in it was to really understand how it’s supposed to work to see if it really works. Because to me that’s still an open question, only because anything invented by a human being will probably at some point have the flaws of a human being. I really want to get up in the grill of this blockchain approach or structure to see if it’s going to do what it’s supposed to.
Last year, IndieWire wrote an in-depth analysis of the DCP model, which you can read here. The bottom line is that creators submit proposals for specific cash and financial rewards. They pay a submission fee in the form of DCP’s FILMCrédits token. The fees are paid into a smart contract, which compensates members of the DCP community for giving their opinion on the projects. The highest rated projects become finalists from which DCP will choose the winners.
DCP was co-founded by Coppola, tech and entertainment veteran Leo Matchett and US Zoetrope executive Michael Musante and led by a board of directors that includes fellow filmmakers Sofia and Gia Coppola. Like many in the space, DCP leaders say the blockchain-based essence of their nonprofit allows it to lead with values of democracy and transparency — rather than fund decisions made in meetings. behind closed doors, the best project is more likely to win and create a fairer framework around talent discovery.
Soderbergh’s 1989 feature debut, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” helped launch the indie boom of the 90s. Although he would go on to make commercially successful studio films like the award-winning “Erin Brockovich an Oscar, he retains a do-it-yourself sensibility and a desire for independence.
Disenchanted with Hollywood, Soderbergh took a decidedly independent approach to his 2017 film “Logan Lucky,” which he reportedly financed himself and via overseas pre-sales. He even created his own company to distribute the film and used a targeted advertising campaign. At the time, he called the radical approach “an experiment,” an experiment with surprisingly similar virtues to blockchain.
“There is no middleman. The money does not pass through anyone’s hands. All of these people working at scale to make this movie will literally be able to log online with a password and watch this account as the money is delivered from theaters. So it’s total transparency,” he told GQ in August 2017.
The Hollywood Reporter would go on to state that no, “‘Logan Lucky’ hasn’t changed the film industry“, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Soderbergh, always keen to investigate possible innovations and examine the post-mortem takeaways.
“What I like about [blockchain technology], potentially, is that it should provide the thing that I believe in – which is that everyone knows everything all the time,” he said. “I would love to be able to go to Warner Bros. or somebody at one of the big talent agencies and say, ‘OK, here’s my real-world experience, here’s something you should really look at that creates real efficiencies .’”
But no blockchain project would suit Soderbergh. It’s essential that DCP be a non-profit organization, he said, that retains a more focused mission of helping filmmakers rather than trying to profit from them. And he insisted that for his award, eligible projects would have to be nearing completion. “I’m much more confident that we’ll identify real talent more effectively than if we just release scripts,” he said.
With “Logan Lucky,” one of the problems Soderbergh hoped to resolve was his belief that Hollywood spends too much to market movies inefficiently. Soderbergh says a problem with supporting filmmakers is that many of his peers are reluctant to wade in for fear it will get messy. “Most people I know are interested in it, they just don’t know what the best way to do it is,” he said. “If we can go through this, learn the things that we need to learn, I can turn around and say to half a dozen other filmmakers, ‘You should get involved if you want to help people in this way with these adjustments. ‘”
Last year, DCP awarded a beta test award to Tiffany Lin for her short film “Poachers.”
“Making a film can be a complicated and expensive business, by providing support we can launch opportunities for people who might feel left out of mainstream funding channels. Mr. Soderbergh’s award is an amazing resource for next-generation filmmakers to express themselves. We believe it represents the highest bar in the world of independent and experimental cinema as well as a remarkable experience in traditional Hollywood studio film. For DCP, he embodies the best of adventurous creativity in the film world and we are very grateful to him for mentoring a new generation of film artists,” said Roman Coppola.
Additionally, DCP recently launched a collection of NFTs featuring 56 creations by Lithuanian director and artist Robertas Nevecka. They mirror a deck of playing cards, with each card illustrating a role or element of a film set. Proceeds from the sale will go to DCP’s mission. NFT holders will be able to attend special events and receive a free buy-in to an annual DCP charity poker tournament.
More information about DCP, including the Andrews/Bernard de Soderbergh award, is available at distributed.pictures.