When Serenity Pictures released their movie Toxica it was the opening salvo in a war against the corporate filmmaking machine. Toxica was the first movie to be released on the blockchain. This release ushered in new possibilities for filmmakers to not only distribute but also a way to maintain ownership of the entire process.
The plot of Toxica centers around the protagonist Augusta, played by Charlie Blackwood. Augusta is infected with an ancient toxin and sets out looking for a cure while trying to evade her boss and stay alive.
I had an opportunity to talk with all the film’s major production players. They include the team from Retro NFTs, Ivo Alexander, Carlos Boellinger, and Rona Walter, the film’s writer, director, and producer.
The First NFT Movie On The Blockchain
The ingredient that’s different from most movies is the whole blockchain part. It’s the first feature film ever sold as an NFT, which is a path no other production company has ever traveled. Nathan, with Retro NFTs, told me “Toxica and Serenity Pictures have forged the path by bridging web3 and the film industry.”
Walter sings the praises of Retro NFTs’ work. She told me “We were looking for more than just a technical team that would build innovative tech on top of Hoskinson’s blockchain” and they fit the bill
During my research, I found many examples of other movies that had flirted with that distinction. Zero Contact, for instance, appears to have NFTs as a ticket to watch the film and get exclusive content but doesn’t appear to have the actual film on the blockchain. Antara and Lotawana are other movies that give you ownership of the film, however, It doesn’t appear that the films are actually on the blockchain.
I tried to find another example of a full-length movie on the blockchain. I couldn’t find one. When I asked Retro NFTs’ Nathan about his knowledge of the subject, he said: “There have been LOTS of research into whether Toxica is, the first full-length feature film as an NFT, and all sources seem to return the same information”. My experience researching for this article also found me constantly coming back to Toxica as being the first.
I talked to the team about their decision to use the Cardano chain to release Toxica. Walter told me ” I spent a month observing every blockchain, making notes, and looking at if I felt comfortable in the recommended Spaces.” She continued by saying “Soon I also found out that Cardano embodies something we needed to make our mad plan happen – a rebel soul.” If they were looking for a blockchain with a rebel soul, they came to the right place.
The Production Team
Serenity Pictures is built around three people, Rona Walter, Carlos Boellinger, and Ivo Alexander. Each played a different role in Toxica. This isn’t their first project working together. Boellinger and Walter met at the screenwriting Film Festival in 2016, and he introduced Walter to Alexander. The company was founded specifically for the blockchain. Ivo told me that “Serenity Pictures was founded when Carlos, Rona, and I decided we are going to team up to release films on the blockchain, and we needed a badge, a presence, to become its own thing.”
According to Alexander, he entered the film industry “in a very roundabout way”. He served in the military, worked in the corporate world, and lived in China for a while before getting his post-graduate degree in Marketing and Project Management.
During his studies, he helped a friend do some work on her film set. Alexander figured out quickly how the process worked and he thought: “I understand what’s happening here, and I can also do this.” He found a film mentor, and before long he was writing, producing, or both. He told me “The process of making the written word into living breathing 3D reality captivated me from the start… The way the film medium interacts with the talents and orbits of others is almost karmic.”
Walter says of Ivo that he “has a rather mother hen approach to things, and makes sure everything runs smoothly, is safe for everyone and there are no naughty quotes in contracts before we sign them.”
Boellinger co-wrote the screenplay acted, built props, acted as a stuntman, edited the film, and was a producer on Toxica. He also directed Clay’s Redemption, Serenity’s next feature film to be released on Cardano. He’s also the most veteran filmmaker in the group. Boellinger was fascinated by movies from a young age. He said that his “first attempt to direct was a “remake” of Ghostbusters at the age of 10 with kids in my neighborhood using a handy cam.
“As I started working professionally in post-production in 2009, I started writing ideas and scripts and participating in as many challenges as I could. Boellinger met Ivo Alexander in 2016 and started working on short films together. This path eventually led to Boellinger’s first feature film Clay’s Redemption, which Alexander co-wrote.
With all the roles Boellinger played in Toxica, I wondered which part of filmmaking is his favorite. He told me “although I did enjoy everything I did for Toxica, it was definitely done out of necessity. I don’t mind having a limited budget as that forces us to come up with creative solutions rather than throw money at a problem.”
Rona Walter didn’t grow up dreaming of making movies. In fact, before she considered working in the film industry, she was a professional ballerina and an award-winning horror novelist. It wasn’t until a mentor told her that she would make a great director and later watched Sleepy Hollow for the “eighty-sixth time” that she said she thought “I’d love to tell stories like that one on the silver screen.”. She told me “Only when I attended a Jurassic Park screening in a vintage cinema there was no denying the fact that I was serious about the idea to craft worlds outside the pages of my books.”
For her first film, Hunting Snow White, an adaptation of her novel Gläsern, she spent a “few months scouting a gothic location which also provided two manor houses, a forest, a meadow, and a little guesthouse, all utterly otherworldly looking.” She found creative ways to finance the film including house-sitting for an actual Bavarian Count.
She also began making music videos and wildlife documentaries; “I worked as a camerawoman and diver filming sharks and turtles”.
Walter told me that after meeting Boellinger and Alexander “It didn’t take long for the three of us to realize that together we covered every base of creative, efficient, and productive filmmaking: Carlos and I are the crafty folk who make Victorian costumes and light sabers respectively.”
Reverse Engineering A Movie
During my conversations with Serenity Pictures team, the phrase “reverse engineering” was mentioned more than once. Carlos told me reverse engineering a film “is using the resources you have at hand (equipment, locations, talent, etc), and creating a story around those.”
Rona told me about what she did when she started planning Toxica. She told me she “wrote a list of what I already had at hand, what I could make myself, and what I could get for a favor or time banking – working off the time you need a location for with bartending, collecting rubbish, etc… on said location.”
It’s enlightening to hear about people being so resourceful to meet their goals. Without the backing of major studio budgets, filmmakers have to do what they have to in order to make their art. It’s the people who have a substantial drive to succeed who overcome obstacles to get things done.
What’s Next For Serenity Pictures
The company is producing a documentary highlighting its processes. The documentary will be released at the Sitges Film Festival, one of the world’s most respected and popular international film festivals for horror and fantasy, starting on October 6, 2022. According to Walter, they want to “enable indie filmmakers who lack marketing budgets but have great ideas and the skills to make a movie to live a sustainable life while doing what they cherish.”
They have also just released the trailer for Clay’s Redemption, a movie directed by Carlos Boellinger. He and Ivo Alexander wrote the film, and Walter designed the costumes and part of the set. It’s about a body-jumping enforcer that’s forced to live in a world of ancient Gods. It’s available as an NFT on the Serenity Pictures’ website. You can buy the noir (black-and-white) version or the full-color neon edition.
The release of the full-length feature film is set for September 17, 2022. It will also be available on the website.
The team also has long-term plans for helping to usher in the NFT movie industry. As Walter told me, “We want to bring back original storytelling, something we lack severely these days. It is an ability our future generations will need to create instead of going in circles by copying the same old.”
How Serenity Pictures Could Establish Themselves As The Premiere Filmmakers On The Blockchain.
They are the first, but they won’t be the last. Other people will put films on the blockchain. Part of what Walter, Boellinger, Alexander, and Retro NFTs are doing is blazing a path. But, they are also doing much more. Their new documentary will be a virtual mentor for young filmmakers, that will help them make better movies. Whether it’s reverse engineering the production or showing other companies get their projects on the blockchain, Serenity Pictures knows how to do it right.