The new indie film Lotawana has a very 2021 claim to fame: The filmmakers believe it to be the first-ever movie to be sold as NFTs via blockchain technology.
The film is about two people who reject the materialistic confines of society to go live in a boat on Missouri’s Lake Lotawana, and the theme of breaking away from the mold melds neatly with the filmmakers’ embrace of the burgeoning technology, also known as non-fungible tokens.
“We really look at this as a good opportunity to show the industry that this can be a viable path, and our entire end goal with the whole thing is to make enough money to get our next movie off the ground because every filmmaker listening to this right now knows what a challenge it is to raise funds for a film,” the film’s writer and director, Trevor Hawkins, says on the latest episode of Demystified from StudioFest, which you can watch above.
If you’re wondering what the heck blockchain and NFTs are, here’s what you need to know.
First of all, non-fungible tokens are essentially just units of data that are recorded via blockchain technology, which is a digital database that is most commonly used as a ledger for transactions. The two work hand-in-hand. We’ll let Demystified‘s Jake Bowen explain:
“When you purchase a digital asset via an NFT, the NFT is like a digital certificate which verifies that you are the undisputed owner of that digital asset. This system allows digital assets like JPEG images, animated GIFs, the first-ever tweet, or a share of a movie to be bought and sold in much the same way as physical commodities where things like scarcity and supply and demand are at play,” Bowen says. “So just like how a traditional painter could sell 100 sign copies of his paintings, a digital painter could mint 100 NFTs to sell 100 unique copies of his digital artwork.”
And before you ask the very obvious question that’s probably on your mind, Bowen has the answer to that, too.
“Now, why would someone pay money for the official version of a digital picture when anyone else on the internet can just right-click and save the same picture to their hard drive? I guess for the same reason someone paid $450 million for Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi, even though anyone can hang a high-quality print of it for free in their living room,” he says.
All that aside, there’s something else that you should know about NFTs. When artists sell a digital painting, they don’t just get the money from that sale — they’re also entitled to a cut of every future resale of that painting. Bowen describes it as built-in residuals.
The team behind Lotawana hopes it will be a lucrative way for indie filmmakers to make a profit.
“That’s putting the power back into the artist’s hands to retain their value, to not have a middle man. I think it’s going to drive a new world of digital art that we’ve yet to see. We’re just happy to be a part of that,” says Tucker Adams, the film’s digital strategist and first assistant cameraman.
To be clear, Hawkins and his team aren’t selling downloads of the movie as NFTs — they’re selling official frames from the movie (like digital posters), as well as posters that include tickets to the digital premiere and posters that include shares in ownership of the film itself.
“If we can show that why we made some money off Lotawana and this is either a good starting point or a good funding opportunity to get the entire next movie off the ground, I think that will really show people that this can be a sustainable path that puts decision-making power back into the hands of the filmmaker as well as income to keep your dream alive,” says Hawkins.
When they sell NFTs of their movie, they’re really selling shares of ownership. As Demystified‘s Charles Beale puts it: “That’s an agreement that you are signing with somebody. It’s like having all the same contracts we have today, but hosted via something that can’t be controlled by any one party anymore, except for the minter or creator.”
You can purchase shares of ownership of Lotawana via lotawanamovie.com.
“Tucker was the one that first smelled the opportunity, and even though I didn’t fully understand in the 10 minutes when he was explaining it to me, I did understand that time was of the essence and that this was something we really needed to seize upon,” says Nathan Kincaid, the film’s producer and first assistant director. “We feel like it’s already been successful just for the sheer fact that we’ve been able to separate our film from the noise of the oversaturated market, but we’re still open to where this goes.”
The Lotawana team also said they’re glad they decided to maintain ownership of the film for themselves. They turned down a chance to pre-sell the film directly to Red Box, which would have solved the problem of funding, but taken away their say in important factors like casting — and whether or not to take risks on rare opportunities like NFT.
“I’m really proud of the team that we decided to own the movie ourselves from the get-go because we were able to take this opportunity without asking permission,” Kincaid added. “We’re also using it as an opportunity not just to market ourselves and get out there, not just to make some income as independent filmmakers through the NFT space, but by adding this kind of real-world value application to the NFT we’re also using this as an opportunity to be experimental within the market… we know that there are a lot of people just kind of watching to see what happens and we’re happy to be the guinea pigs.”