Can crypto disrupt movies? These Sharknado and Snowpiercer producers are teaming up to find out.View transcript
In one sense, Micho Rutare has already disrupted the movie business. During the early 2010s, he developed the gleefully absurd SyFy channel horror movie Sharknado. Giving rise to five sequels and a mockumentary, the surprise mega-hit made “bad” movies great again.
Now Rutare and another accomplished producer, Ben Rosenblatt, are looking to make waves in Hollywood in another way. The two have teamed up to form a production company, American Meme, and launch a crypto token, $FLIX, as an innovative approach to raising financing for film projects.
Available through Uniswap, $FLIX offers investors the opportunity to fund creative projects that might not otherwise be made, and also to see a return if the movies are successful. Rutare and Rosenblatt also intend to engage with $FLIX holders through special exclusive movie screenings, events, and “ask me anything” sessions. If $FLIX is successful, the producers hope that it can revolutionize the indie film market.
We had a chance to chat with Rutare and Rosenblatt about their effort and their aspirations for the future of $FLIX. Here is what they had to say.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
CORRECTION: This piece initially stated the wrong number of Sharknado movies in the franchise. There are six Sharknado movies in the series. A spin-off mockumentary called Sharknado: Heart of Sharkness was accidentally included in the initial count.
Making Sharknado, forming American Meme, launching $FLIX, revolutionizing film financing00:00:00
Business of Business: I'm sorry, Micho, I have to ask you about Sharknado, beginning with just one question, if you don't mind. Your bio says you oversaw the inception of the Sharknado franchise. How on Earth did that become…incepted?I have seen tornadoes, I have seen sharks. Outside of the Sharknado franchise, I have never seen them together. How did that idea come about?
Rutare: Well, it's global warming. And we have to, you know, be on guard against all kinds of weather changes. So, I was working at a company called The Asylum. And we were partnered with the SyFy Channel. And the way it works is that we would do a lot of these, you know, straight to TV movies for them, wild over the top disaster movies, monster movies, everything. And the network came to us and said, “We'd like to see something with sharks in a storm. And we don't know what that is, but start thinking about it. And we'll talk on Friday.”
And so my job as Head of Development was to kind of source all the creative [work], and as kind of a shortcut, I would just do it myself. And so in this case, I thought about this preposterous premise. And I thought, you know, I can't think of any writers off the top of my head, who will, like, dial into exactly what this tone needs to be. So I wrote the one page treatment, and kicked it back and forth with SyFy and my bosses, and we got to the story that became Sharknado. Then I went and hired a writer. I had to convince him to write it. He was a little bit reluctant to do another shark movie. And then we were working together with the director, who I believe came up with the title. It has made Sharknado that everyone knows and loves. So that's sort of the backstory of Sharknado.
It's so bad, it’s brilliant. I think it defined a generation. So congratulations. So, just to get back to talk about you and Ben, coming together to form your company, American Meme. How did that come about?
Rosenblatt: Well, we knew each other since college, we actually ended up having our dorm rooms right next to each other. And we were always interested in filmmaking. And we started making little films, actually full-length feature films in college, but they were so bad. And both of us moved out here, and started our career paths.
You just heard Micho kind of go through The Asylum and Sharknado franchise-slash-legend. And for me, I started at DreamWorks, and worked at Paramount where I met J.J. Abrams on the first Star Trek movie. Then he lured me over to Bad Robot, and I spent six years making Star Trek, Star Wars and Mission Impossible movies. And he sort of taught me the ropes of producing from that side.
And then I left and started producing a television show called The Alienist and later Snowpiercer, and I just did a bit of work on Tokyo Vice. Thankfully, I got nominated [for an Emmy Award for The Alienist]. It was never going to win an Emmy, but it got nominated. And in that moment, [Rosenblatt and Rutare] were like, “This is the time to make the dream happen.” So we formed a production company and started working on developing content ourselves. And that’s what we’ve been doing since.
And how about $FLIX? How did that come together?
Rutare: I think you know, the story emotionally goes back to when we started talking about The Asylum. For me, it goes back to the early 2010s, when it was a period before the dominance of video-on-demand, and Netflix where The Asylum was truly an independent filmmaking company. And it wasn't independent in the kind of cool person way of like, you know, Cannes Film Festival, or Sundance, it was down and dirty, B-movie independent filmmaking.
“The beauty of that time was that being independent, you could have an idea or someone could have an idea, we would take it to the partners... And then we would go make it.”
And as a young person without a lot of experience, they gave me a chance to come work for them in development. And this was possible because it was independent. It wasn't, you know, part of a big system where I had to be so and so's assistant for five years before I could get a shot at doing anything. And the beauty of that time was that being independent, you could have an idea or someone could have an idea, we would take it to the partners. And we'd say, “Yeah, let's do it." And then we would go make it.
And there were no intermediaries. The only people we had to answer to were our overseas buyers. And so the way that the film industry, especially at that low independent end used to work is that it still does, to some extent, is that you would sell off the rights and individual territories overseas. And whether it be at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, the Berlin Film Market, Cannes, there's all these markets around the world. And small independent filmmakers can pre-sell the rights to their titles that they're going to be making piece by piece cobbled together cash flow, and use that money to fund production.
And so it was a modest business, but it was a fun business. And it was an independent business. And over the years, over the 2010s, I started to notice that those deals became harder and harder to make. And a turning point for me was I was on a panel in 2014, with James Foley who directed Glengarry Glen Ross, and also was one of the directors of the first season of House of Cards. And so at the time, this streaming series model was new. And we're on this panel, we chatted, and I was talking to him afterwards. And I said, you know, James, I heard that Netflix doesn't share their numbers, like they don't tell you what the ratings are.
And I figured that, at least an eminent filmmaker like David Fincher, the creator [of House of Cards], I figured that they would at least have, you know, the insight into how well their show was doing. And James looks at me, and he says, “not even Fincher knows the numbers.” And I'm like, this is unfair, this is an unfair business practice. And it's an unfair system. And it makes you as a creative have this insecurity all the time. You don't know how your how your thing is being received, and you don't know where it's going. And then on top of that, when you sell to Netflix, they take all the rights. You sign it away, and you're done. And so instead of being independent, you're working for Netflix. So that's the emotional backstory.
On a practical level, the way that $FLIX started was that I was introduced to the Baby Ape Social Club, which is an NFT collection. And I wrote the story for them because they wanted to differentiate themselves. This is a big, you know, a big space right now, things are changing quickly, and they needed some edge over the competition. So they hired me to write a narrative. So I created this world, and baby apes are smoking weed, and all this kind of stuff. And it was a hit with the community. And more importantly, it helped to fuel one of the bigger NFT launches in December.
And so I thought, you know, there's something here. And it's not just the massive financial gains that can accrue to a crypto project. But it's also the sense that we're all in this together. I felt that spirit of the pirate ship that I used to feel back in the early days were, right before we made Sharknado. And I felt like we have to capture this somehow we have to turn this into a movement. So that's, that's kind of how it started.
Rosenblatt: Just to give you the very, very quick version of mine, my sort of counterpart story: just that when I was at Bad Robot, I think what people know about the J.J. universe are the movies and television series that come out of the big franchise series. But what was really fun when we were there is J.J. would have an idea for something or one of us would have an idea for something and J.J. would just say something we used to, we used to joke about it, he just be like, “We can just go do it. Let's go do it right now.”
And we had a number of resources in the building at Bad Robot. And if there was an idea that came up for a short or, or something animated, or even something that's like a proof of concept for a longer project, we would just go do it, and we'd be in production three days later. And that kind of energy, and that kind of ability to do things without the constraints of the giant multinational corporations that run all the studios was really liberating.
And it was a contrast to these huge franchise films we were making, which were also very cool. But they didn't have quite the same sense of inspiration that came from coming up with an idea that was original and new, and then kind of following it through immediately. So for me, it was like, How can we set up a system for ourselves where we can follow that same path?
I've seen some efforts involving crypto and DAOs, where it kind of seems like a giant crowdfunding effort really. But yours is different. This has like a mechanism built into it [to generate returns from successful projects]. Can one of you explain how that works exactly?
Rosenblatt: Yeah, I would say what we're looking to do is build the coin itself as a way of investing with eventually, the promise of a very specific kind of return. That investment would be about the promise of the future, which is our stated goal of making things with money that comes from taxing every transaction buying and selling on the exchange. When we use those funds that are raised in the film fund with the film wallet, we call it eventually, the money that is made from those projects are going to go into buybacks of the coin itself. Buybacks and burns, which is going to raise the value of the token itself.
Put simply, our goal is to long term increase the value of the coin, the same principle of which is with a stock and the stock exchange, except for our sake, it's going to be a currency. And we have much longer term ambitions to actually make a viable ecosystem for use of the currency. So we're sort of buying into a larger dream and using a portion of each transaction to help raise money to get us there.
“We have much longer term ambitions to actually make a viable ecosystem for use of the currency. So we're sort of buying into a larger dream and using a portion of each transaction to help raise money to get us there.”
Rutare: I think I think it's important to differentiate from a traditional investment or traditional stock in the sense that we are not paying any dividends. They’re not shareholders. The currency is a standalone entity. And it's deflationary, which is a nice thing in this time of inflation to have something that is actually going to only grow in value over time, in terms of each unit of currency.
And so we haven't actually had a conversation about what each unit of currency is going to be called as a single $FLIX token, a “Flick,” we haven't discussed this. But anyway. So the revenue comes from people's action in the crypto market. But also, eventually, when we monetize and sell these films, then the revenue will come in a more traditional way. So the beauty of that, it's like, we're kind of standing on two legs, and we're not dependent on one stream of revenue.
And that's what will give us, what this is all for at the end of the day, is the creative presentation. And when you're not like living and dying on every sale, you can afford to take more creative risks and get back to the areas that we love in filmmaking, which are predominantly, I would say, like the 70s, and the 90s, if I'm speaking, generally, and these were times when you did have a little disruption in the model, you're able to make independent movies that became hits.
And then the other thing is like, we're not trying to make billion dollar movies, although, God willing, we will. But you know, for us, we would love to just see things get made, and make their money back and maybe a little bit extra. That's what we've been in it for this whole time anyway. And even if we lose money on some, if they're badass ideas, and if we're proud of them, and you know, people like them, and if they have a fan base, we don't mind losing a little money on some and we can afford to with this model.
“We're not trying to make billion dollar movies, although, God willing, we will. But you know, for us, we would love to just see things get made, and make their money back and maybe a little bit extra.”
Rosenblatt: Just to add, we really want to evolve the traditional thinking behind crowdsourcing, as we know it. Oftentimes, even in the DAO version of it oftentimes revolves around a lot of giving of money, not a whole lot of something, some value coming back that is monetary. And so even though we're not paying a dividend, what we are doing is increasing the value of the coin, like everything we're doing is about increasing the value of the coin, and then that people are going to see the actual benefit of their support for the project.
Rutare: And the value proposition. Sorry to keep rambling on. But the value proposition for token holders is not just like when you're going to look at your stock portfolio, like, “Oh, it went from 10 to 20.” It’s that, but it's also the feeling of investment on a personal, emotional, creative level.
And that's something that I think skeptics of Web3 and crypto miss is the feeling of like so many of us in this period of uncertainty. So many of us, especially younger people who haven't really established themselves in their careers, you just feel adrift and like what I do doesn't matter. And so if you can get involved in a crypto project, you're doing something fulfilling with friends, and you're all in it together. And that's a very millennial and Gen Z ethos for doing this anyway.
Awesome. Are there any projects that you have in mind that you would want to talk about in vague terms or whatever that you think you'd hope to want to fund with this?
Rosenblatt: You know, we have a number of projects, and we have maybe five or so in particular that Micho and I have kind of designated for $FLIX support, funding support. Obviously, they're in different stages of development, and mostly secret, so we don't want to unveil them.
But the one that we want to lead with and do want to talk about and are really excited about is a project we're calling Crypto Heist. And the idea is to make an Ocean's Eleven style heist film, set in the world of crypto, involving these new elements, which we really don't think has been done in a sort of definitive way. I mean, our take on it just vaguely as sort of the new school meets old school, in terms of professionals doing this. And I think there's a lot of opportunities for characters.
Rutare: Yeah, so we really came into this idea for Crypto Heist with the characters in mind, because anybody who's followed the crypto space knows that it's rife with these amazing characters, beginning with Satoshi himself. I mean, what an amazing character. He reminds me of the Usual Suspects and Keyser Soze. It sort of sets you up for that kind of crime, you know, twisty heist movie. So there's Satoshi then you had Dread Pirate Roberts. And then recently, we had this couple [accused of laundering billions of dollars in crypto].
And so just everybody that you hear in crypto is just this colorful character, and it lends itself perfectly for a crime caper.. Also, I was gonna add that we brought on a creative executive named Izzy Rubinstein. So he's a creative executive, and he's one of our advisors. And he's kind of spearheading the development of this project for us.
And so in your mind, if this is a successful model, do you see other film producers basically launching their own coins and replicating it?
Rutare: Well, we would hope that they would come under our umbrella and partner with us, that would be our first goal. I think there's plenty of upside for everybody who gets involved in $FLIX. And, you know, nobody wants to see a competitor out there. But you know, if they come, let them come.
Rosenblatt: I think a lot of crypto projects, like we all know of, are all about hype, and all about marketing, and building short term value, and not really about a long term plan. Or if there is a long term plan, it's somewhat thin. I think what our ambition is to sort of do the opposite, and to really deliver on what we're promising.
“I think a lot of crypto projects ... are all about hype, and all about marketing, and building short term value, and not really about a long term plan.... our ambition is to sort of do the opposite, and to really deliver on what we're promising. ”
And that when people see that, we do hope it's a game changer, whether that's in film or in several sectors, to show that you can have a long term plan in a cryptocurrency setting, and actually deliver on the goods. And that could have repercussions for others in film, but it could also have repercussions for others in various businesses. So I think that's our thought about that. And if it’s successful, we'll just be better than everyone else. And that's how we'll deal with it.
Can people buy these tokens now? Can someone start investing in this?
Rosenblatt: Yeah, we had a very successful launch. And we're on Uniswap right now. We’re going to add more exchanges in the near future. But for right now head over to Uniswap, you can invest in the token and you can check our progress. We have a really good Telegram setup for it. And on Twitter, we'll be tweeting out updates. So that's our hope. We're ears open in terms of any ideas people have. The democratization of this all is a key component for us. So we want to make sure that people get involved.