Shooting doesn’t begin until September for the upcoming horror film “I Live Here Now”, but award-winning photographer and filmmaker Julie Pacino has already made Hollywood and NFT history by becoming the first director to fund a feature film through the sale of NFTs.
In fact, Pacino’s creative process is arguably a first since it integrated original photography, released as NFTs, as part of the development of the concept. From an initial drop of 100 NFTs that were all 1/1s, based on photos that inspired the screenplay for “I Live Here Now” to the current larger “Keepers of the Inn” drop, a collection of 3,356 photographs taken by Pacino during the rehearsal process, photography and NFTs have fueled the creative engine of the project.
According to the website, “I Live Here Now” is the story of “A young actress, disillusioned with Hollywood’s conflicting demands on her body, runs away to the Madonna Inn after discovering she’s pregnant. She becomes aware that the Inn employees are watching her every move and feels the hotel has an even darker interest in her body as it slowly begins to swallow her sanity.
According to the press release, Keepers of the Inn has is to date the largest NFT photography collection ever sold, with primary sales of around $1 million and an additional $480,000 in secondary sales so far.
“I’m proud to have helped bridge the gap between filmmaking and NFTs. Keepers of the Inn is proof that NFTs can provide both substantial capital and a vibrant community to independent filmmakers. I’ve been most inspired by the support we’ve received for our initiative to create more opportunities for female-identifying and LGBTQIA+ artists. Amplifying voices through community is what the NFT space is all about, and I’m so excited that it’s bleeding into the film medium. Now we get to help build an environment in which us artists are supported in our pursuit of authentic expression,” Julie Pacino said.
Pacino has created a small grant program for other independent filmmakers and plans to reinvest a portion of the secondary sales from the project back into the NFT community, purchasing artwork from female and LGBTQIA NFT artists to help bring visibility to those underrepresented communities.
Utopia, who recently acquired Gaspar Noe’s Vortex and Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby, has partnered with Pacino to co-produce and distribute her directorial debut.
Julie Pacino took the time to speak with us on her exploration into NFTs and the way it has helped fuel her creative work.
Is it true that your interest in NFTs began with your photography? How did that work?
“Photography was always something that I did sort of as a hobby. And in preparation of stuff that I would that I was directing, I would sometimes take the camera with me and photograph the rehearsal process just as a way to get the juices flowing.
One of my good friends, and now manager, Kyle Kaminski, had seen some of my photos, and he said you should really be posting these, this is great content. But I wasn’t active on social media at all. I started posting (on Instagram) and getting a lot of attention… Instantly my following started growing. I started getting hit up for photography gigs… So, I started working more professionally as a photographer. And then as a result of continuing to post, another friend reached out to me to say these should be turned into NFTs,” Pacino said.
What was your learning curve like on NFTs?
“It’s hard to wrap your head around. But once you there’s a thing that clicked for me about the blockchain, proving digital ownership of a digital asset, and then realizing this is where we’re going. I didn’t think anyone would see value in my art. I was just making it because it felt good. So from a human standpoint, it was new to me that people wanted to pay me to photograph things for their brand and so on. That all was clicking at the same time,” Pacino said.
Have NFTs opened opportunities for you as a creator not available through traditional Hollywood?
“I feel I’m blessed in two regards – that I happen to be born into this family that is in the Hollywood system and I also really love expressing myself through the medium of film. I Live Here Now will be spending the first year shooting entirely at the Madonna Inn (in San Luis Obispo). It is based on the series of photos that I took last February at the Madonna Inn which inspired the script, and then I turned those photos into an NFT series. And now we’ve got the film funded through NFTs.
I had that script and I was taking it out to traditional film investors. It’s a low-budget horror film, so it’s not the most challenging project to get financed. My last name does help me get some conversations with people but then what I started hearing is things like, Oh, well, why don’t you just get your dad to be in it? And it’s like, well, because it’s about a woman who gets pregnant and is considering having an abortion. It didn’t feel like they were understanding or listening to what I wanted to express through this movie and why I think it can be a game-changer and can deal with a sensitive subject in a way that hasn’t been dealt with before.
I want to pave a new path and I want to hold the door open for everyone that comes after me because if I’m getting told that my art is not good enough the way that I want to make it and that it needs to adhere to some sort of ridiculous formula, imagine all of the other people who don’t even have the opportunity to pitch their idea that might have really important things to say and might be the next huge artist but they can’t even get their f***ing foot in the door.
The NFT space is absolutely the antithesis of that. The NFT space is about what is your art? The projects that are the most successful in the space are the ones that come with a story…,” Pacino said.
Blue Night #01, Keepers of the Inn NFT Series
What is the film “I Live Here Now” about?
“The main character is a struggling actress living in Hollywood, who gets pregnant accidentally, and she starts getting all these pressures from her agent and her toxic relationship and her acting coach, and everyone’s sort of trying to tell her what to do with this pregnancy.
So, she decides to just leave town and go to the Madonna Inn and not tell anyone as a way to just get away from it all and figure out what she really wants.
While she’s at the Madonna Inn, it becomes almost like “Rosemary’s Baby” meets “The Shining”, where she just starts to slowly lose her grip on reality and gets paranoid that the people at the establishment have some sort of stake in what she does with the baby.
But really, the movie explores what it means to be a woman in today’s world, having people telling us what to do with our bodies and what’s right and what’s wrong. But it’s also in a lot of ways about what I’ve gone through as an artist trying to make it in an outdated male-driven system. So it’s about being pregnant with this idea… And being told by all different people what the best thing for it is and how to do it and how to make it good. It’s about the fact that the real horror is Hollywood in a lot of ways,” Pacino said.
Have you been surprised by the support for your work in the NFT space?
“I absolutely always knew there was an audience for this type of content because I make the stuff that I would want to see. Utopia films signed on as our distribution company before any of the NFT stuff happened, based on the screenplay… They understand that as long as the content is thoughtful, and taking risks, they want to be a part of it.
The NFT space rewards vulnerability and authenticity. As soon as I started realizing that and talking about my sexuality, and how my artwork was a way for me to embrace my sexuality and come to terms with it, that’s when I saw my voice getting more and more amplified… It is male dominant, and there are a lot of toxically masculine individuals in the space but I truly have found that the men that I’ve interacted with in the space have been incredible. I think that’s what sets Web 3 apart from other communities and systems is to me. It has seemed like the men in this space are open to hearing about things that need to change and are open to helping those things change… That’s been really exciting for me to see because I feel I’ve got a platform to speak on and I’m supported… We can all coexist in this space,” Pacino said.
Blue Night #23, Keepers of the Inn NFT Series
Is this your next move you’re going to be looking at the next film to fund this way?
“Yeah, I mean, we’re the first film to do it. And so I feel an absolute responsibility to hold this door open for everyone that’s coming after me. But a lot of NFT filmmakers, including me, really want to make sure that we preserve the artistic integrity of what is going on here. Because we already have some Hollywood producers that are coming into the space to get their films financed this way. I’m sure the studios will soon follow after. And we want to make sure that we continue to talk passionately about why the art matters. And so I’m definitely not going anywhere,” Pacino said.
What has been your path from your first NFT drop to the most recent “Welcome to the Inn” drop to making the movie “I Live Here Now”?
“The second drop is on a much larger scale. The first drop was 100 photos that were one of one (1/1). The second drop was about 3,400 photos, comprised of editions. It does have 20 to 1/1s in the collection, but it has a lot of editions. In the second drop, the photos are pictures that I took during the rehearsal process of the film. So we took the script, we went to the Madonna Inn, we picked our 16 most pivotal scenes, and for three days we just stayed in character and walked through the scenes and rehearsed and came up with new scenes. And it was just an absolute trip doing that… The photos from the first drop inspired the script. And then the script inspired the photos for the second drop. And now, the second drop is going to fund the film. It’s just everything keeps kind of feeding into itself,” Pacino said.
Red Night #25, Keepers of the Inn NFT Series
In production of the film, is there some improv and you set up situations and have people do their own dialogue?
“I’m big on the rehearsal process. So, a lot of that gets sorted out in the rehearsal process. We usually have a pretty tight script that we stick to when we shoot but we schedule time to be able to see something on set that inspires an idea and then run with it.
How much have you raised from NFTs for the film?
“I think it’s 296 Ethereum (Eth) on this on the primaries, and then I think we’re at around 187 on 188 on secondary (sales). Eth is volatile, it fluctuates, but we’ve made sure to cash out what we need to be able to get the film financed and to also be able to launch the other items of our roadmap and utility that we’re excited about where we’re going to be giving away three different grants for female filmmakers to produce short-form content, and then mint and sell those as NFTs,” Pacino said.
Are you creating a foundation to do those grants?
“Not in an official way. Right now, they’re just called the Keepers of the Inn grants. And I’ve got a wallet called Cult of Pink. And so we do weekly spaces as Cult of Pink and every week we buy from a new female or LGBTQIA artist who has not made a sale in a direct way to just bump those numbers up. So right now, it’s pretty informal, but I think definitely the bigger picture goal, especially if we can continue to grow and generate funds is to have some sort of foundation or a DAO, and do some really, really big things in real life and in the metaverse things from a philanthropic charitable perspective, but right now we are at the very beginning stages,” Pacino said.
What advice do you have for female creators in the space?
“I think the best advice that I always give is just to spend as much time in the space as possible learning, listening, asking questions, and not being afraid to reach out to people who you think you can learn from. That’s the cool thing about the space and Twitter, it does feel like everyone is very accessible. And so definitely take advantage of that,” Pacino said.
Art and collectibles may just be the tip of the spear in terms of how NFTs will change the world – but as far as art can carry and help promote the format and blockchain overall, it’s good to have artists like Julie Pacino leading the charge.
With the amount of wrangling required to get funding from Hollywood film studios, it’s easy to understand how filmmakers are attracted to NFTs. Creators like Pacino are able to develop a core audience of financial and creative supporters even as they form the concept for the film – building a valuable core of demonstrated support that will give them a superior bargaining position even when speaking with traditional studios.
It’s like being able to demonstrate your concept to investors that are first and foremost interested in ensuring profits by showing that you have already sold over $1 million in merchandise before your film is even fully formed. It would have been unthinkable before NFTs.
Of course, traditional Hollywood won’t ignore a new revenue stream, so what is a game-changer today may become an expected standard tomorrow. Perhaps in a few years, it will be unwise to pitch a film that hasn’t already demonstrated the ability to turn a profit through pre-production crowdfunding.
Or perhaps filmmakers will find they don’t need big studios at all anymore.
*Cover image: Roses Arrive #57, Keepers of the Inn NFT Series