Director Jack Hsu wants to crowdfund Taiwan’s films with cryptocurrency, creating a whole new, immersive ecosystem that benefits creators and viewers with his platform SELF TOKEN.
The difficulty of finding funding for a film is a tale as old as time. “The challenge to shooting a film is the general assumption that you’ll lose money out of it, so it can be difficult to find investors to guarantee quality content,” muses Taiwanese director Jack Hsu. That’s why he founded SELF TOKEN, a blockchain-based token project that gives viewers the opportunity to fund movies upfront and support the Taiwanese film industry by doing so. Launched in 2017, it does this using SELF, a cryptocurrency that allows users to earn rewards and benefits from subsequent box office releases. “You can use a SELF TOKEN for a film ticket, or it can be used to grab food or drinks at partnered restaurants. It gives an interactive element to the film experience where the public can be part of the story and its creation,” says Jack. Having just wrapped the filming of his own movie The Last Thieves, developed off the back of this process, he sat down with us along with his Co-Founder, Economist Dr Tom Lam, to explain his proposal for a new, decentralised film funding system that benefits both movie makers and viewers.
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“SELF TOKEN is a way for a consumer to be part of the creation process where you can be part of a bigger story. It’s not just being a viewer but also a participant,” explains Jack of the mutually beneficial ecosystem he is trying to build. “TOKENS are issued to promote a crowdfunding product, and through money donated and revenue that comes from the use of these tokens, we help to fund a movie. It’s a different way of funding a film, and I’d say we’re pretty unique in our way of merging entertainment and financial issues into this ecosystem of ours that benefits both sides.”
Consumers can contribute to revenue for the film production through the SELF PAY system, and they are rewarded for doing so with perks and bonuses. These rewards could be secured tickets for when the movie comes out, points to spend at partner restaurants or bars (Jack launched his own bar to cater to just this), or the opportunity to immerse oneself in the actual movie – something Jack was able to afford his future viewers, who participated in the funding of his own film The Last Thieves. A film about an entrepreneur’s experience with blockchain created alongside executive producers including renowned Hong Kong Actor Eric Tsang and award-winning Film Producer Yeh Ju-Fen, he used it to demonstrate the sort of immersive experience SELF TOKEN can give moviegoers, for example, by letting them ‘buy’ visits to the set ahead of the movie’s release. As Tom sees it, this makes them both beneficiaries and ambassadors of the film industry. “It’s both a community based on entertainment and an incentive for everyone to get together and create more economic value.”
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For Jack, making a movie about blockchain has been as much about a need to illustrate what SELF TOKEN can do for the industry as it is about personal interest. “While in the process of writing a screenplay on blockchain and delving into all that detail, I realised that we could apply it beyond the content of the film,” he says. As Tom puts it, “The Last Thieves isn’t based on a true story. It is the story.” And, it’s one they hope will be accessible to all regardless of how much they know. “Blockchain isn’t the most accessible topic,” admits Jack. “But a film about bitcoin where you can essentially live through the story introduces people to the concept. I think that’s a pretty good use of technology.”
The pair are keen to point out that SELF TOKEN is not just for blockchain experts. “There are lots of people who are using SELF TOKEN with the purpose of learning about blockchain at the cinema, but there’ll be lots of people who are just trying it out of curiosity,” says Tom. “Still, they will get something out of the experience. And, film is such a good medium to communicate the message to people of all levels. Take The Big Short and economics, or Interstellar and science; you don’t walk into those films and become experts, but the movies have the magic to get you to notice these things and maybe encourage you to learn a little while having a really great time.”
Jack and Tom see their business set against the background of an extremely challenging film industry in Taiwan. “Everyone knows Ang Lee, for example, but as an industry overall, we can be pretty limited in terms of funding. With a USD 400 million market cap for local films, we get less than 5% of it,” states Jack. Still, they do see shifts. “The landscape is changing a bit. About a decade ago, Cape No. 7 directed by Wei Te-Sheng came out, which became the highest-grossing domestic film and the second-highest-grossing film in the country’s history. Now, we’re seeing higher numbers of commercial films being produced domestically and our overall box office for domestic films has started to grow.” It’s SELF TOKEN’s hope to be right there with them. “The Last Thieves is releasing in October. There have been marketing campaigns running across Taiwan and Israel, and we’re about to join the Golden Forest Festival, the largest in Asia,” says Jack. “Our plans for the future are to keep expanding our boundaries. We’re planning to do more than 10 movies per year with this technology about all sorts of topics, from economics to technology, and even more commercial films like romantic comedies.” And, they plan to do it whilst giving viewers a cut of the action as they go.
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