Today we have a special guest post from Jon Rogers, formerly the founding executive and global head of live-action franchise development for Walt Disney Studios.
Overpriced JPEGs has teamed up with Jon to create Blockbuster, a recurring series that looks at what is happening across Hollywood, the global media industry, and the blockchain.
Jon is a brand leader with 20+ years of experience in media/entertainment, consumer packaged goods, and most recently Web3. Prior to Disney, Jon was a member of the Star Wars brand marketing team at Lucasfilm where he managed theatrical campaigns, brand partnerships, and retail marketing. Earlier in his career Jon was a strategy consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton working with clients in media/entertainment, high tech, and oil & gas industries.
Every step of the entertainment value chain is potentially disruptable by the blockchain.
I wrote last month about how I foresee blockchain changing the development process.
Today’s article will look at blockchain and the physical production of entertainment.
While there are many ways blockchain could work in physical production, I will focus on two:
How blockchain technology will change the relationship between productions and the audience
How blockchain can work for the management of production assets
For more, check out my recent appearance on Overpriced JPEGs, diving into this very topic!
Productions 🤝 Audience
Studios need to reevaluate their relationship to their audience and blockchain can make it happen.
In the traditional film world, the audience is held at arm's length.
The Studio rolls out carefully crafted marketing assets which are released and distributed on the Studio’s schedule and terms. The operating mentality is:
fans can’t handle unfiltered content
spoilers will leak and ruin the experience
bringing fans closer to the production process will be a distraction for the production team
The biggest film and TV projects in Hollywood use code names. Even vendors hired by the movie may not know they are working on the next Star Wars or Marvel film.
Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Tron were called Charlotte and Grid, respectively.
In fact, I worked on one film (now arguably one of the top 10 of all time) on which we debated the need for a code name for the code name.
(I was on the side arguing it would create more problems than it solved and fortunately the decision-maker also agreed.)
The emergence of the internet and the risks mentioned above have driven studios to push their fans away. Over time this has created a culture of mistrust and indoctrinated two generations of entertainment professionals to view their fans' motivations and interests with suspicion.
But the world is changing in fundamental and undeniable ways. If anything, fans require feeling even closer to their favorite projects and stars. Fans have been conditioned to expect this by social media’s biggest stars.
Mr. Beast feels like your friend, not a billion dollar content studio. Call Her Daddy, currently the most popular podcast among women, regularly gives fans a glimpse behind the scene at how the sausage of the show is made and invites them in as participants in that creation, through “questions of the week” and opportunities to request guests via social media.
Many are also transparent about their finances such as Shmee150 who is open about the challenges in building a channel and a responsible business at the same time.
Hollywood projects need to move in this direction and blockchain can bring fans and studios together with aligned interests.
This new model means:
Bring the audience into the room as stakeholders.
Empower them to become champions for the project.
Reward them for doing so.
No, this does not mean fans will get to tell a filmmaker how to make their movie, but they will be invited in (metaphorically speaking), and allowed to watch as it happens and engage with the filmmakers in real-time.
I like to analogize this new world to operating theater: You don’t get to tell the doctor how to remove a kidney, but you get to watch and ask them why and how they did it.
I was recently introduced to Claynosaurz on the Solana blockchain (I am admittedly a little late to it). I admire how this team has found a nice balance between bringing their community into their process while still finding opportunities to surprise and delight. This is particularly evident with how Claynosaurz shared the internal notes and designs as their characters progressed from pencil sketches to final 3D forms. What I am envisioning for Hollywood is what Calynosaurz has done, albeit on a much bigger scale.
The benefits to embracing transparency and involving the audience as stakeholders in a franchise are immense and will be a source of superior engagement and returns in the long term. Opacity is out and transparency is in. The audience is no longer a customer, they are a stakeholder.
Backoffice Use Cases: Asset and Approval Management
The use of blockchain to facilitate back office operations and transactions doesn’t receive a lot of attention, but also offers many of the best opportunities long term. Back-office applications are certainly not as sexy as those that are audience-facing, but will have the greatest impact on how the industry operates and why reorganizing around blockchain technologies is not a matter of “if” but a matter of “when.” One specific backoffice application of blockchain is in the management of production assets.
A typical franchise-level feature film is capable of generating close to a million digital assets. The photographs taken on set by the unit photographer can by themselves number over 250,000. Add in all of the reference photos, concept art, digital scans, blue prints, sound FX, VFX files, management documents… and the scale and scope of the creative output becomes overwhelming.
What’s more, you need to be able to share those assets with dozens, even hundreds of external vendors, partners, licensees, studio execs, media outlets, and more. AND… you need to know which of those assets are the current or final version and have also been approved by the relevant stakeholders such as the filmmaker, actors, and studio leadership.
When I worked at Lucasfilm, if there was ever a debate about the status of approvals for the artwork on a movie, we were trained to look for a stamp. THE STAMP. A red-inked stamp in all-caps of the word “FABULOUSO.” George Lucas was the one and only person allowed to use that stamp and so seeing the red stamp let us know that we were working with a good asset. The stamp is how he communicated what art was approved, not just to his art department, but the many thousands of people working on Star Wars. Fortunately, processes have become a bit more digitized since then.
Managing this complexity is a massive undertaking with responsibility usually shared across multiple teams. Software solutions have existed since the 90’s to support this effort and until around 2008 or so, most studios had their own internal systems for managing these assets.
These systems, developed in--house, were clunky, unreliable, and insecure. ~2008, a few SAAS vendors emerged and most of the industry consolidated on those solutions. The most popular, Pix System, was pioneered by David Fincher and won a technical Academy Award in 2019. Pix was groundbreaking and is today still the industry standard. But even this, the best system, has a fatal flaw: in time, every film project has to be archived. The crew who worked on the movie leave for their next gig, typically in another corner of the world. Studio staffers eventually leave for new jobs elsewhere, frequently with a competitor. The institutional knowledge of the show is eventually all but wiped out.
The solution the blockchain offers is the immutable ledger. The blockchain is not the solution in itself, but “minting” approvals and asset tracking on an immutable ledger solves the problem of loss of institutional knowledge over time. Just as the blockchain is an architectural innovation which will impact the studios, it will also be coming for critical industry vendors such as Pix System. The opportunity for Pix is to get ahead by proactively building the blockchain into their solution rather than create an opportunity for a nimble competitor to do it before them.
Pix has the opportunity to enhance their product, utilizing the blockchain to never archive a project again. All of those approvals and the necessary metadata will be minted on an immutable ledger that may be referenced immediately for perpetuity.
An immutable ledger also means its not under the control of the studio. Talent can trust the data on the ledger. They don’t have to rely on a studio to tell them what the studio’s records say about an asset approval that might be in question. I have seen many cases where an actor came back years later questioning if they had approved an asset that was perhaps seen in a documentary. The actor was adamant they did not approve the image. The sudio’s records indicated they did. With the blockchain, there is never a doubt.
In the world of film and television production, blockchain technologies are going to “squeeze” studios from two different directions. When it comes to the audience-facing aspect of production, studios may invite fans into the production process, creating a transparent and engaging experience that mutually aligns interests. The shift from a culture of mistrust to stakeholder participation, while a cultural shock for studios, will realize significant benefits.
Additionally, application of blockchain technology to back office operations will preserve institutional knowledge and allow for trust between parties due to the decentralized nature of an immutable ledger.
As the industry evolves, studios can continue to thrive in the digital age, but in order to do so, they must embrace blockchain technology as an architectural innovation and respond now.