The red carpet can be deceiving. The glamor of Hollywood can mislead. Consider, for example, the case of working actors in television.
“Unless you’re a series regular, you’re not making real money,” says David Bianchi, an actor with over 100 film and TV credits that range from “NCIS” to “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” to “Westworld.” “That’s an important thing to talk about, because I do want to level the playing field.”
These days Bianchi has “made it,” but back when he moved to Los Angeles he had cockroaches in his kitchen, slept on the floor and worked as a bartender for 15 years while cranking out acting gigs. The bartending job was discreetly hidden from his IMDb page but it was crucial for survival.
“I wasn’t gonna turn down $1,500 cash a week, right?” says Bianchi. “To call myself a ‘working actor?’ It’s ridiculous.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bianchi found something he believes will level the playing field for actors and creatives. You can probably guess where this is going.
“Web3, I think, really chops down the barricades,” says Bianchi.
That overall idea might not be new – many have called for Web3 to “disrupt” Hollywood and empower creators. But Bianchi isn’t just speaking in abstractions. In a sense, he’s betting his career on Web3. The founder of Exertion3 (a blockchain production company), Bianchi is executive producing and starring in “Razor,” an upcoming dystopian sci-fi drama about neural implants, coding culture and black-market crimes. It will be released on the blockchain through a partnership with Gala Films.
“Why is the blockchain important?” Bianchi asks. “For the first time in Hollywood history, audiences will be able to actually, tangibly own a motion picture. That’s never been done before.”
This isn’t Bianchi’s first brush with crypto. He’s also a poet who has created a genre he calls “Spinema,” or “spinning cinema through spoken word” – indie and activist art that isn’t exactly Hollywood-friendly. Enter non-fungible tokens. Bianchi minted and sold Spinema NFTs such as “I Can’t Breathe,” designed to bring attention to police brutality and the murder of George Floyd. (The “I Can’t Breathe” NFT was actually bought by MetaKovan, the prolific collector who bought Beeple’s $69 million NFT.)
After that? Bianchi was all-in. “I knew I was here to stay,” says the actor, who spent months in Clubhouse rooms and Discords to immerse himself in Web3 culture. He even begins our Zoom call with a cheery, “Gm, gm!” The man knows the space. Here, he opens up about how Web3 can empower artists, lead to the creation of better content, and unlock a future of media that he calls a “cataclysmic shift.”
Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
The NFT world can be tricky. When you first got started, how’d you navigate it?
At that time I don't think there was anybody in NFTs who was minting entire short-form films as one-of-one pieces of art. I was probably the only one. And I had no idea what I was doing. I was just like, “I got a lot of hustle, I believe in my heart, I believe in this and I'm just down to be a part of whatever the hell is going on.”
I really just asked a lot of open-ended questions. The NFT community was so generous with their time, and they were so available to answer these newb questions. I was blown away by their generosity. It’s incredibly unusual for people in Hollywood to offer their time freely to answer questions and to send me their phone numbers and talk to me.
So when you minted “I Can’t Breathe,” it was bought by MetaKovan. How did that impact you?
Forbes covered the story. I donated all the proceeds to the George Floyd Memorial Foundation. I was able to educate the Floyd Foundation on the values of blockchain and cryptocurrency.
And this is how powerful the NFT community is. The film was seen by [civil rights attorney] Lee Merritt. It was seen by Benjamin Crump [another prominent civil rights attorney]. It was seen by Bridget Floyd. And not only did they see it, out of all the content that the Floyd family received during that period, they said, “This is the one. We want to show this film at the one-year memorial of his passing.”
And I can't tell you how many times I wept, how many times I cried during those Clubhouse rooms. There were 4,000 people and not a dry eye in the room. And for the first time in my entire life, I felt like my work had purpose.
Incredible. And now let’s back up a bit. Can you talk about how your artistic journey entered the world of Web3?
One of the main reasons I came to NFTs is because I was pitching Spinema as a television series, and it got represented by a big agency. When I pitched, everybody unanimously said, “David, we love your passion, we love your idea, we just don't know what to do with it.” Hollywood told me no.
So I said, “Thank you for telling me no. That just gives me a reason to go left or to go right. But I'm not gonna stop moving.”
Then I landed in the NFT community and I met people like you – young, influential, well-to-do, tech-savvy, connected and hungry for high art and purpose. And suddenly the clouds parted and it was almost like Neo in “The Matrix" when he sees the code and can dodge the bullets and see the matrix.
What was it that you saw, exactly? What became clear to you?
Creator economies. Residual income that artists can earn. The open nature of the blockchain and everything that comes with it. And I knew I was here to stay.
There was nothing that was gonna pull me away from minting and creating NFTs, and creating socially conscious art that talks about who we are as a people, that talks about where we are as a community, that raises the voices of BIPOC people, that raises the voices of the struggle, that raises the voices of the people who don't have voices. I wanna be able to create art that will be discussed in 2100.
That’s a good segue to “Razor.” It will be distributed on the blockchain. How does that work?
The mechanics are still sort of being tested. But what we're playing with is the idea that if you own an NFT then you won't necessarily have to pay to stream to watch.
If you don't own an NFT, then we will either create a PPV [pay per view] model, which will be a nominal fee for a single view or it will be a very low membership rate that will absolutely compete with the major streaming platforms in Web2. So when you're watching the content, you'll actually be watching it from a streaming mechanism.
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So it’s going to have Web2 streaming as well?
The Web3 assets that are tethered to “Razor” and the world of “Razor” will be minted as ERC 721 tokens. So you're gonna have NFTs and then you're gonna have the streaming mechanisms.
We'll have an exclusive window of streaming that will be on Gala, and then we will release and do licensing deals in Web2. So that could be Netflix, it could be Hulu, it could be Amazon, it could be HBO Max.
Ah, so if you own an NFT and you watch it on the Gala blockchain, you might get to see it weeks or months before it’s available on Netflix or Hulu or whatever?
How else does digital ownership fit into this?
We're going to be minting storyboards, graphic animatics, a lot of digital assets, and giving digital access to the community. But also IRL access to the cast and crew – like table reads, premiers, etc.
I'm even eventually going to be able to NFT three lines in an episode, and I'm gonna bring you [the theoretical NFT holder] in, and set you up with an acting coach and you'll have a trailer. We'll knock on your door and bring you coffee, and you'll become a working actor.
Love it. What’s the timeline on this?
It's aggressive. We’re rolling out our pre-production NFT collection in November. Then we're going into physical production on episodes one through eight in Los Angeles starting in November. We’ll probably have episodes one and two ready to drop around the end of Q1 2023.
Okay, there’s one thing in the world of NFTs, where “scarcity” is prized, that never really gets talked about. All of that innovation sounds great but, ultimately, people need to want to see the show, right? The underlying asset needs to be something compelling, right?
It can't suck.
It can't suck! Exactly. So on top of experimenting with a new Web3 model and platform, do you also feel this added pressure to nail the content?
Oh, man. I mean, look, if I told you that the intimidation wasn't there, I'd be fooling myself and you. Is it terrifying? Sure. But it's exhilarating, right?
The distinction between the fearful man and the courageous man is that the courageous man walks through fear. And I have never shied down from any challenge. I tend to do my best work when my back is up against the wall.
But you're absolutely right. The world of "Razor" has to compel you enough that you want to buy into this. Now Gala has a very, very robust community – [among] Gala Games, Gala Music and now Gala Films. And we’re starting to do slow-rollout campaigns where there are thousands of Web3-fluent people who are sort of film buffs, and don’t yet know what we’re doing.
So for us, community-building is just as important as pre-production, which is why we’re doing a pre-production NFT drop – we want to engage with our audience as early as humanly possible to keep them a part of the process.
Getting the Discord alive, answering questions, allowing people to really chime in and weigh in on what they like, what they don’t like. Because that’s a fundamental component of a community of Web3 – we really get to hear their voices.
That all makes sense, but how does this tack back to the idea of the underlying content and it needing to be compelling?
One of the things Hollywood doesn't do very well is that they make movies and then they test them and they hope they work. You know, we just saw the $90 million "Batgirl" get trashed, like, it just didn't get released. They completed it. But what ended up happening was they realized they overshot the budget and the movie was gonna be lost no matter which way you slice it and dice it. Unfortunately, their box office metrics showed that minority-led pictures usually don't break $25 million. So they threw it away, they trashed it.
Instead, what we’ll be doing is releasing assets, and we're gonna be measuring the pulse of the community.
Ah, so the idea is that you’re sort of working in collaboration with the community from the jump, improving the chances that it lands? Got it. So tell us about “Razor.”
I wanted it to be something that was existential, gritty and character-driven, and taps into socially conscious notions of what we are as a society, who we are as human beings and where we are going as a society.
It’s a dark, somewhat dystopian look at the world of neural implants, code culture and the underbelly of black-market crime. It revolves around a character named Razor, and it was actually inspired by Elon Musk's Neuralink Technology.
What happens when you can create a neural device that you can implant into your cerebrum that can tap into all the information of the World Wide Web instantaneously? And what does that do to the mind?
Great hook. I’m in. So in the spirit of sci-fi, give us a few real-world predictions. Let’s imagine that it’s five years from now and Web3 in film and TV really takes off, really finds mass adoption. What does that future look like? How would it be different?
It's a great question. I think about this a lot.
First, from a work-model perspective, there will be a work system where – whether you’re a gaffer, an electrician, a [production assistant], a cinematographer, an actor or whatever – your work portal will have your profile and your experience tethered to the blockchain. Your digital wallet will be there. All of your tax paperwork will be there.
When you come on set, it's completely paperless, it's moneyless. All your pay is authenticated on the blockchain. Everything happens seamlessly. I see the unions, the Screen Actors Guild, I see IATSE (they may not like this). Because what does transparency do? Guess what, you can't cook the books anymore.
I’m eventually going to start building this.
Interesting. How about a prediction from the consumers’ perspective?
We’re in a generation where the idea of digital ownership is still quite foreign, right? We grew up in a world where somebody climbs to the top of Mount Everest and takes a great picture and we think, “I got it for free, why would I pay for it?” But the question of these assets is, why wouldn't you pay for it, right?
So now we're headed into this new world where Gen Z is gonna be very accustomed to digital ownership and transparency. I think it’s going to be demanded that people have digital ownership of assets tethered to the TV shows and the movies that they like to watch.
How about a prediction for distribution?
At the exhibition level, for the movie theater-goer, there will be NFTs that will be your monthly movie pass and you’ll have credits for popcorn. You're gonna be able to have all these [digital] collectibles and memorabilia.
But people aren't gonna call them NFTs five years from now. It's just gonna be like, "I just bought some stuff." Like, nobody says, “I’m going on the information highway to look for a movie ticket.” I'm just hopping online, I'm buying a movie ticket, right?
100%. I agree it’s likely that the acronym NFT eventually dies, even as NFTs get more prominent. One final prediction?
Now people are very tricky about the acronyms, on whether it’s [called] AR or VR, but I’m thinking of something like HoloLens technology, where it’s what I consider “extended reality.”
I’m wearing this device on my face so my hands are free, and I have extensions of metaverse elements in my physical reality. I could tell if my dog is chewing up my couch and I'm not blindsided.
So follow me on this one. You're watching your favorite show, maybe it’s "Mr. Robot.” You're watching it while you’ve got your HoloLens glasses on, and they’ll be very lightweight. And as you're watching it, you'll be able to pause, stop, zoom in, see that shirt that Rami Malek is wearing and say, "I wanna buy that shirt." You're gonna buy that shirt.
And as you're watching, you’re going to be able to pause, stop, and see the casting. And then you go to IMDB and you're gonna see digital assets. And then while that's happening, you can just swap your frame and you can go to your football game.
While you're watching your football game, you think, “Wait a second, did he step out of bounds?” You can pause, you can zoom in, you can see that he actually did step out of bounds.
Then you can check the game’s over-under [gambling odds], and for fantasy football you’ve got your stats, you got all your players and you can buy and sell memorabilia. And all of this is gonna be happening behind the veil of your extended reality glasses that will be connected to the blockchain to authenticate all this stuff.
Last question. What’s your ultimate goal with all of this?
I want to leave a legacy of work – that can be writings, poems, films, performances, screenplays, you name it. When the blockchain archaeologists of the next millennia look back in time at these early days of NFTs, they’ll look at what art was really standing out, what art really talked about our civilization. And I hope that my art will be in that discussion.
That’s a good goal. Congrats, and best of luck with “Razor.”
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