Is Cryptocurrency A Viable Fundraising Option For Hollywood?

Could the next studio blockbuster be funded through Bitcoin? The concept of cryptocurrency has been around for years already, but it looks like Hollywood is starting to take notice.

The producers of a planned Atari movie about the founding of the influential video game company are looking to raise as much as $40 million through a new cryptocurrency to secure enough funds to complete the film. Could this be a viable way for companies to make movies?

The concepts of cryptocurrency and blockchain can be difficult to explain, but this segment from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver segment does a good job of presenting the basics:

The Atari Movie

Variety (via The Verge) reports that a production and financing company called Vision Tree is looking to raise $40 million through the private sale of "Bushnell tokens," new digital coins named after Nolan Bushnell*, the founder of Atari. Companies you've never heard of attempt to capitalize on big trends all the time, but what drew my attention here was that Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way production company is co-producing this movie. They've produced some major films over the past few years (The Wolf of Wall Street, The Revenant, Shutter Island, etc.), so if they think there's something to this, maybe there is?

Producer J.D. Seraphine told Variety:

"While the film has received offers from conventional and studio-sourced financing, we have elected cryptocurrency funding to accelerate the filmmaking path in a whole new way, offering Atari fans the opportunity to share in the creation of this movie with us. We wanted to enable Atari fans and gamers to co-own the project and the experience."

Sounds like they're using the same approach as crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, which offer rewards for contributing to a campaign. The benefits for backers of this Atari movie involve co-ownership of the eventual film itself, as well as the ability to "vote on the trailer" and "help select cast members."

Variety also pointed out that a new indie romance called No Postage Necessary will become the first movie to be released using blockchain technology when it comes out later this year. People interested in watching the film can check it out in limited theaters or buy it with cryptocurrency through Vevue, a blockchain-based video app. The filmmakers are offering Vevue tokens to theatergoers who post a review of the movie as soon as the film ends as extra incentive in the hopes of building word of mouth about the movie. Here's the trailer:

Implications For The Future

So is cryptocurrency a viable option for Hollywood financiers? It's still too early to say for sure, but I'm not fully convinced this is going to be the way of the future for this industry. Hollywood is notoriously risk-averse, and the very nature of cryptocurrencies involves paying traditional money for a portion of currency with no physical form or intrinsic value. It's an inherently risky proposition, and it doesn't help that Bitcoin – the most recognizable cryptocurrency – lost a third of its value by the end of January earlier this year because the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) is paying increasingly more attention to these deregulated markets.

The notion of a major studio relying on cryptocurrencies to fund a huge blockbuster seems unlikely to me, but as these aforementioned examples are proving, there seems to be room for smaller production companies to experiment with this technology while it's still considered the Wild West of the tech world. So while Avengers 5 probably won't be funded using Bitcoin (or "Stan Lee tokens," or whatever the hell), it's very possible that we'll see more examples of smaller cryptocurrency-funded projects popping up in the future. Until the bubble bursts, that is.

*Bushnell is currently under fire for inappropriate behavior in the workplace during the early days of the company, and in the wake of those allegations, a prominent gaming conference recently rescinded their decision to honor him with an award. That's not the focus of this article, but I figured it was worth mentioning.