StoryDAO and the Quest to Recreate Hollywood

Justin and J.P. Alanís are launching their first IP universe later this year. In 10 years, they believe “the next Star Wars, the next Pokémon will be community-owned.”

AccessTimeIconOct 12, 2022 at 9:15 p.m. UTC
Updated Oct 12, 2022 at 9:22 p.m. UTC
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Hollywood is a $100 billion business. Much of that business, for better or worse, is now fueled by franchise intellectual property (IP) – “Star Wars,” the “MCU,” “Harry Potter,” “Fast & Furious.” If you own the IP, you own the game.

But what if that IP was owned by the fans? This is the conceit of StoryDAO, which describes itself as “a radical experiment in community world-building,” created by Justin Alanís and his brother J.P. Alanís.

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J.P. went to USC film school and worked in Hollywood, where he quickly became disillusioned.

“I saw really amazing projects get completely ruined because of a regime change,” says J.P. “A whole different person gives notes on a project and it just turns into, like, a pile of [crap].” And the gatekeepers were stifling. He grew tired of seeing “amazing creators not be able to get in rooms because they didn't have the right resume.”

Enter StoryDAO. The idea is not just to scrap the middlemen, but to grow entire IP universes – franchises, series, even blockbusters – that are owned by the community. StoryDAO takes the idea of “industry disruption” to the bleeding edge.

Maybe one artist has an idea for a dystopian sci-fi universe, another creates a Western, a third creates a war epic set in Ancient Rome.

“It quickly became evident to us that you could use these new technologies – tokens, [non-fungible tokens] and [decentralized autonomous organizations – to create new, bottom-up systems that tell stories, where creators can come in and create new intellectual property together,” says Justin Alanís, whose background is in tech entrepreneurship.

StoryDAO started as just a wild idea, but the brothers have now built a seed community of 300 Hollywood-type players (including execs from blue chip firms like WME and UTA). They’re launching their first IP universe in November, and J.P. predicts that in 10 years “the next Star Wars, the next Pokémon will be community-owned.”

Interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Your goal is to remake Hollywood on the blockchain. How does that work?

Justin Alanís: There’s all this creative talent out there in Hollywood today, but you have these gatekeepers. And what is Hollywood, really? Hollywood is a network of producers, animators, storytellers, editors, VFX specialists and so on. Ultimately, if you're gonna recreate the fabric of this $100 billion industry on the blockchain by eliminating these middlemen, then you need to have all the same creative forces at play in here as well.

Right. How do you bring those forces together?

Justin: We've already established our early community. It's called our producer token holder community. We had a huge volume of applications, and we hand-selected 300 members of that community. We're talking business leaders, animators, writers, novelists – amazing humans from all around the country who are really passionate about what we're doing.

And that community is a brain trust. We're organizing them into guilds around the different functions of the business, and they’re helping us think through what the tokenomics should be, what the governance model should be and what the first production and the platform should be.

Then, as we get into community-based productions, we'll have a similar methodology where each community-based production will have producers around it that have a unique token. Then all the creatives, the audience and the consumers of each story will contribute in different ways.

So to clarify, you’re first setting up the main DAO. And then eventually you’ll have different communities – one for each “universe” – that each create their own stories?

Justin: So, StoryDAO today is a centralized business with ambitions to eventually decentralize through a token. And each universe within StoryDAO operates as a DAO.

Each DAO then is governed by the NFTs that are part of that universe. All the people who are interested and engaged in that universe have NFTs, and they govern it with the shared treasury. They decide how the intellectual property is expanded. They decide what creations get into “core canon” through the centralized creators, the story architect and the story artist.

So ultimately, the governance of the platform will probably be governed through some sort of token as we decentralize in the future.

You’ve created this “producer token holder community” of 300 people who know the business. And they’ll help decide what stories make the cut. But critics might say, aren’t these just the new versions of Hollywood “suits”? The new gatekeepers? How has anything really changed?

J.P.: I think it's part of our plan of progressive decentralization, right? The goal is to be this completely open platform where anyone can come on and create the basis for a new narrative universe. We want to create the platform for them to do it. What's the right way to create that platform? To start, we have to build the platform with the centralized team, and we have to think about how we maintain the quality of those productions. So, we're starting with our own.

And then we want to turn this over. We want to make this a public good, essentially. We want this to be a platform for everyone to be able to come onboard. This is all part of our plan for progressive decentralization.

Justin: Even the producer token community, right now, is actively discussing how and when to open up membership.

What’s the format of the content you’ll be producing? Movies? TV?

J.P.: So, it's a new format. The idea for our first productions is for them to be very transmedia, so that they're sort of medium-agnostic. You can weave together a narrative through a tapestry of different mediums.

What does that mean exactly?

J.P.: When we talk about native Web3 storytelling, we think of it as transmedia. So, maybe the first piece of that story is told in prose and art. But maybe the second piece is told in a narrative podcast. Maybe that third piece is a short-form video. Maybe that fourth piece is something else, but they're all weaved together so it's very easily digestible, and you can consume all of it on the platform.

Interesting. Why are you going this route?

J.P.: We’re going to be an IP incubation platform. And there are so many creators that create in different mediums, right? There's comic book creators, there's writers, there's people who do Claymation in their basement. We don't want the platform to be restrictive. So when someone comes in with a community project and they want it to be an audio experience, the platform should be able to broadcast that audio experience in a really engaging way.

We're building our first stories as transmedia properties because we want to really open the aperture of what's possible on the platform.

How do you kick all of this off? How do you create the first “universe”?

Justin: From a content and production perspective, to start we're seeding the platform with our first production. We’re partnering with A-list Hollywood creators, and we're launching that in mid-November.

The idea is that they are the story architect and the story artist and they are the central creators of that first universe. The story architect is putting together a world bible. We’re now creating the beats of what that first universe will look like, and we're weaving NFTs into the actual storyline and the story process itself.

People will be able to experience the story through the NFTs. If I have an NFT, I can do certain things and actions that actually interact with the characters in the story. The NFTs are gamified. They become an immersive piece of the story.

Interesting. How are people viewing and consuming content on StoryDAO? Is it on the blockchain?

Justin: There are really two sides to the platform. There's this social network side of the creators and producers, and then there's a consumption side of the platform where people can have a lean-back experience and really just consume almost like a visual novel, where it’s all these different mediums.

The distribution is going to happen through our platform, but we'll also use existing distribution channels. We think that given our connections to Hollywood, we’ll get licensing deals with Netflix and the existing distributors of the world, and we’ll have this feedback loop. Then all of a sudden somebody sees a premium movie or a TV show on Netflix and they say, "Wow, this was created by StoryDAO. Okay. Let me see what StoryDAO is." And they start to get involved.

How many of these universes will you have? Is the idea like five or 10 or something?

J.P.: A thousand.

Wait. Really?

J.P.: A thousand.

How could you possibly scale that?

Justin: It probably evolves a bit like some other accelerators out there, right? If you look at the original days of how Netflix started with its content, you start with unique pieces of IP. Then you bring in new IP through community. You grow it gradually and make sure that the content is high quality and you continually expand, right?

As the automation gets better, as the community gets deeper, as the funding patterns get more embedded you can go from 10 to 20 to 40 to 50 to fully open at some point. So the idea here is that if you have enough content in the system and the network is working the way it's supposed to, you can have an infinite number of projects.

For all of these community-based story projects, I keep bumping up against the same thing. How do you deal with the fact that “communities” are generally pretty lousy at making art? Usually art needs to come from an artist, not the crowd.

J.P.: You're absolutely right. And it's something that we thought a lot about. A lot of projects that you're seeing [like this] are designed so there’s complete community decision-making. I think that takes away the role of the auteur. And if I know what creates a great story, it is a centralized vision. So that's what we're creating around all of these. We have central creative teams that are in charge of creative decisions for all of these DAOs.

Give us a prediction. If this shakes out the way you’re hoping, how could media and entertainment look different in five or 10 years?

J.P.: In five years, someone will have created a new piece of IP that is culturally resonant that they never would've had the ability to do so had StoryDAO not been around. And it [will be] someone who never came from the Hollywood system.

And in 10 years?

J.P.: In 10 years I feel like the entire landscape of Hollywood has changed. In the same way that streaming came in and really disrupted things, we want ownership of IP to be disrupted completely.

We want fans to be co-owners of the biggest franchises in the world. If you’re a fan, you're not just treated as a consumer. You are an owner, you are a decision maker, you are a piece of what this is. We think that creates deeper levels of engagement, deeper levels of fandom. And so we think that the next “Star Wars,” the next Pokemon will be community-owned in 10 years.

Justin: And that really looks like a vibrant social network where people build reputation on the platform, they build an identity on a platform, and they start to create and have connections on the platform. And when you have a really vibrant network that works well, then new and interesting creative expressions will emanate, and new voices will emanate.

Best of luck to you. Can’t wait to submit my Peloponnesian War space opera to the DAO.


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