Apr 17, 2024

Blockspace Media co-founder William Foxley joins "First Mover" with his latest film "The Big Empty," a documentary that follows the people of Spur, Texas and Galaxy Digital Holdings’ 800-megawatt bitcoin mine that was built in the same town.

Video transcript

When you go through Spur, you go through uh East Texas and these sort of places, you'll often find that there have been companies out there, but they've come and gone. And I think that's the concern with Bitcoin. Like, are you going to stay over the next 1520 plus years and be a part of this community? And I think from Galaxy Side, they are and they've built out 100 50 or so megawatts of the facility, they have another 650 to build out. So there's a lot of growth there. But I think for the entire industry, the question is like, are you going to uphold your promise? Will you be here in 1520 years? Are you going to help us get to the next place? Are you going to help our kids go to college ahead of the upcoming Bitcoin? Having we've been talking a lot on the show about Bitcoin miners and their business models and the readiness for mining rewards being cut in half. But there's a human impact to mining that we haven't covered yet. Large mines are often set up in rural areas where the people living there have very little knowledge about the impacts of mining on their environment and society. Reports have outlined how miners in small towns have driven up the price of power provided few jobs and created tensions between locals and the mining companies themselves. A new film tells a different story. The big empty goes to the town of Spur Texas, a town with a pop of 863 people in a total land area of 1.6 square miles. The film focuses on the people of the small town and their positive views of their new neighbor Helios Galaxy Digital holdings. 800 megawatt Bitcoin, mine, my good friend, former co-host of the HASH R IP, founder of Vox Space Media and the creator of this film Will Foxley joins first mover. Now it tell us all about it. Will, what's going on? Good morning. Good to see you again. I know. Good to see you again. It has been not that long, but long enough, it's been a few weeks and I was so excited to watch this film. I just, you know, love anything that has your name on it. So talk to me about the story. How did you find the story and why did you set up to tell it? Definitely. Yeah. Thanks for having me on. Uh the story came up through a good friend, Amanda Fabiano. She was formerly the head of mining at Galaxy Digital. Uh She left last summer to start her own consulting business, uh which plug seems to be doing pretty well. Uh And so she created this, you know, helped make this, this mine possible. Argo Blockchain was the former owner of the Bitcoin mine. Galaxy Digital, bought the Bitcoin mine when Argo went through some financial troubles during last Bear Market. And then she went down there, she saw a story and she hit me up. I've done a few of these different mining films and we kind of worked together on scouting what a possible film could look like. We went down last June to talk with people basically did like 48 hours of random side interview with people just in street corners, people in gas stations, people on tractors and be like, hey, like, what do you think about Spur, what do you think about the Bitcoin mine? And we try to flush out there was a story there. Uh Before you knew it, we did find this story. It was a lot different than we thought when we first went down there, thought there was gonna be like more about Bitcoin and energy and maybe like politics like Texas politics. But we ended up finding a story about small town USA in the intersection with big tech. Well, 863 people live there, which was wild for me to read. Sitting in New York. Tell me a little bit about the town. What does it feel like being there. Yeah. No, it's small town. USA. And I have a lot of family who grew up in small town. Uh, so I've been to the small towns and I like highlighting those places because I do think there's an authenticity and sort of like an Americana that you can't get in other places. Uh, so with Spurs specifically, I mean, they have a lot of hometown pride. Uh, we were able to film over homecoming weekend and everybody shows out. So the population probably quadruples if not more during that period, it's in Dickens County and like the, the county around Spur and the entire county shows up for that homecoming game. You have people coming back from generations. There was the float parade that we got to film and there's people from the 19 fifties uh from their class, graduating classes in the 19 fifties who showed up just to go back to the small town. And there was even a few residents from Spur who have been there since the 19 fifties. You know, they graduated, maybe they're a farmer or maybe they worked in a store in town and they're still there and they're enjoying being a part of their community. Uh And just as like a filmmaker and as a storyteller, it's, it's hard to find those places. It's rare to find those places, but I do think it's central to not only the American story, but also what's going to happen with digital currency as it starts to seep into these different corners and pockets of the US. Well, tell me about those people, people who have been there since the fifties living in this small town, very small. Um, I guess area in the, in the US. What was their perception of the Bitcoin Mine? What was their more broad perception of crypto in general? Yeah, it's a great question. And even just as a filmmaker, you still scratching my head being like, is everyone giving me like their honest opinion about this? Could you put a camera? I was wondering when I was watching that? Yeah, when you put a camera in front of someone and you don't always know what you're gonna say. Some people are very honest. Some people maybe not so much because they're not sure. I do think we did capture probably like 90 95% of what's actually going on down there. And that's as much as you probably can hope for. Uh a lot of people are pretty scared about it. They don't know what it means. Uh There's a really great line at the beginning of the film where we talk with someone just walked up to them at a pig roast. So like, what do you think about Bitcoin mining? And they said, you know, where are all these coins going? How do you get them? How do you get paid? I don't understand it. And I think that's a perception of a lot of people down there. Now, on the other hand, people who interact with Galaxy, the Bitcoin mine down there either have like friends and family working there, work there themselves or get like paid as contractors through Galaxy. They're much more open to Bitcoin. They're much more open to Bitcoin mining and they're starting to trust a little bit more because they're interacting with it, which I think is a threat. We're gonna start pulling on a little bit more in the Bitcoin mining industry next few years is that these rural communities that have Bitcoin present in the town are going to be places for adoption versus, you know, the San Francisco and New York of the world where oftentimes we think of those places as being like the bleeding edge tech areas of the world. I know you mentioned uh just a few minutes ago that the story came to you from a former Galaxy employee. What was Galaxy's involvement in the film? Definitely. Yeah. So Galaxy was the investor for this piece. So I set up a contract for, you know, they gave me a lump sum to go make a documentary and then uh they worked with me a little bit at the end of the film and basically it was done to like Polish some lines. So uh nothing looked too bad if it went out the door. They're a publicly traded company uh for media. This might even be just like an interesting side angle, you don't see a lot of films made in Bitcoin or in crypto in general. And when you generally see them, they're paid for by the industry. And so we sort of have like these two sides, right, where it's like we have the antithesis with mainstream media or with people who don't like crypto and they're paying for film projects or media projects and the way people within the industry, they're also doing that and trying to find a way between it is increasingly difficult. I would like to find a way to do it. Uh I think you have to do something like a coin desk or something else where you're doing it as an independent company. Uh But until we see that we have to work with the providers and partners out there, I think Galaxy did a really good job of allowing me to go down there in the first place. Like they opened up the facility, there wasn't even anyone from the corporate side of Galaxy down there. It was just like people at the Bitcoin mine and they give us full access to film for two weekends and then also a stint in New York. Uh So I think overall yes, it would be great to have like a truly independent film, but the industry is not quite there yet where that's able to happen. And I think this is the best we could get. Uh as, as far as money comes comes to it. I mean, you know, this, but I've gone through the same process and trying to get, uh films or projects made that are about the industry. Why do you think it's so hard? Hey, money, I mean, film projects are expensive. A good camera person costs a lot. A good director costs a lot and they're time intensive. I mean, the amount of weekends I spent just shuffling through different music selections for, you know, a 32nd piece. Uh It's worth it in the end. And I, at least, I think it is because you get a little pat on the back from friends. You're like, ok, maybe that wasn't worth it. But I do think when it all comes together, you can kind of see like a whole narrative unfold. We get a story of people who oftentimes don't have the voice to tell other people and it's worth it for film directly. I think it's going to happen more. Uh I'm working on a few different film projects at the moment and if you're interested in doing more films, let me know. Yeah, totally, you know, rare audience member out there. But there's a lot of Bitcoin mining stories to be told because they're about people and people can, we can always tell more stories about people. You can always tell so many stories about digital currency and what the next Bitcoin is, but you can always tell more stories about people. Well, OK, let's get back to those people and talk about it. Um I watched the film last night. There are a bunch of positive impacts that are mentioned in the film that the people of Spur are experiencing now that this Bitcoin mining facility is there in their town. Talk to me about some of the ones that stood out for you. Yeah. Uh The easiest one to point to from the numbers perspective is just the standard of living rising because Galaxy showed up. So Galaxy pays about 30% over the average minimum wage in town for basic jobs. And that kind of creeps up between like all the other different positions in town. So if you work at Galaxy, like you're getting paid 30% more than your next door neighbor and that money can flow back into the community. So why is that? Well, because you're basically just buying things from the town store right there, from the grocery store, things like that. So Galaxy coming in had an immediate economic impact that you can actually measure. The second thing that, you know, the film really zeroes in on is this concept of the town pool. And I like kind of like to think of the town pool in this story as like the promise of Big tech. We, we get these promises from Big Tech, whether it be like, make your life faster, make your life easier, connect you with more people for the people of Spur Texas. And often these small towns where big tech is moving into, the promise is very physical and it comes down to infrastructure or helping kids get uh loans to go to college or grants. And for Spur Texas, they have a swimming pool that was out of commission for about 15 years. Uh The previous Bitcoin mining company had tried to fix it but have financial problems. So they weren't able to galaxy, came in, had to set up and fix the Bitcoin mine before they could fix the pool. Uh And so it became sort of like this uh conflict between the town and Galaxy. When is this pool gonna be finished? Is it going to be finished? And at the end, we see spoiler that the, the pool is, is finished and fixed and I think that represents like a promise that big tech and especially Bitcoin companies that uh uphold their promises can be good neighbors and can uplift these rural communities that haven't had anything in 6050 plus years. They haven't had anything to hang their hats on. Uh with Bitcoin moving in these large data centers, uh There's promise of rejuvenation and more people being able to have higher standards of living. I mean, you've been in the mining industry for a little bit now. I know you're very knowledgeable about it. You talk about it on your podcast that's also on the Quin desk, uh podcast network. What challenges do you anticipate firms like galaxy experiencing in the years to come. Like it sounds all really positive now. But what challenges do you think that they will experience in the next two or three years? Yeah, definitely. I think we didn't gloss over some of the expectations and fears that townspeople have about Bitcoin mining. So let's focus on those. Again. The film, we talked with uh the editorial staff, the Texas Spur and I have a soft spot for media. So we made sure to go and talk to them just as like the eyes and ears of the town and they definitely have concerns. Uh I think the pool was the biggest thing. They want the pool to be done. They wanted that promise to be kept. But even past that, like saying that there's jobs now doesn't mean there's always going to be jobs and especially in such a volatile market like Bitcoin, I think the concern is big company comes to town prices go down, big company leaves and the town is kind of back in square one. It might even be a worse off position because as all this old infrastructure can't really sell it, sort of an eyesore. So when you go through Spur, you go through uh East Texas and these sort of places, you'll often find that there have been companies out there, but they've come and gone. And I think that's the concern with Bitcoin. Like, are you going to stay over the next 1520 plus years and be a part of this community. And I think from Galaxy Side, they are, they've built out 100 50 or so megawatts of the facility, they have another 650 to build out. So there's a lot of growth there. But I think for the entire industry, the question is like, are you going to uphold your promise? Will you be here in 1520 years? Are you going to help us get to the next place? Are you gonna help our kids go to college, those sort of things and just to round this up, I know the having is happening on Friday or Saturday. We don't know exactly when uh yet, but from a mining company perspective, what do you expect to see after the having is done in terms of consolidation? You just mentioned, you know, do we know if this company is going to be around in 15 or 20 years? What do you expect to see? Yeah, I mean, I think probably see about 10% of network cash rate go offline. Uh Just you can think of that in terms of numbers, like that's gonna be like 10% of facilities or 10% of Bitcoin miners won't be able to operate profitably. And so they might turn off for a little bit in order to like not have to pay for the price of electricity. Uh Maybe they'll come back online in a little bit typically. Do you see Bitcoin price go up after Bitcoin happening, whether it be three months later to nine months later, it's typically the trend we see. So I do think a lot of people in the Bitcoin mining industry are sort of banking on number go up theory. But even past that, there is a lot of exciting stuff with like Bitcoin and FTS or ordinals, which I'm sure you guys talk a lot about on this show and there's a lot of speculation around those fees moving into miners pockets and enabling them to stick around. The last thing I'll say is a lobby of miners has spent the last four years making their entire fleets more efficient. So I think we'll see less hash Ray come offline than in the previous happenings. Colin Harper over Alexir Tech had a great piece in this. I think in a coin desk article you guys published yesterday talking about how we'll probably have the least amount of hash ray come offline this having compared to all the other ones. So generally bullish. Hash ray definitely going to be a pain point for a few miners. But I think a number goes up across all metrics and will just to wrap us up here. I don't let anyone do this on the show, but you are a special case. How can people watch the film? Love it. Thanks for your uh plug there. Yeah, you can go to block space dot media and go over to our film section. You can watch it there, uh, or just go to the Big empty.xyz and you'll find the film there as well. We'll do a few screenings, I think, maybe down in Texas and then fingers crossed one in New York in May. So few places to watch it.

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