Flinch is more than a film franchise: it is also a virtual film studio and film3 community. Producer, writer, and director of Flinch, Cameron Van Hoy, is innovating the film-making process. His platform will give filmmakers and audiences alike the tools to build their own, unique stories. Mark Fielding asks, is Flinch the prototype for the democratisation of film-making?
Show, don’t tell. Transmit the experience, not the information. The preeminent tool in the screenwriter's arsenal. But what if you are the experience? What if you are the character? How do you show a character's flaws and idiosyncrasies then? How do you unveil a plot if the film is ‘experienced’ in the metaverse, and the audience is the deus ex machina?
It is early morning in California. Cameron Van Hoy, producer, writer, and director of film3 franchise, Flinch, has woken up early to compensate for the nine-hour time difference between us. Cameron is one of a handful of directors leading the film3 vanguard, but he is no stranger to Hollywood. As a child actor, he starred alongside Burt Reynolds and Mischa Barton in the 1999 film Pups, soon after he appeared on Hey Arnold and Crash. In 2010 he wrote and produced Tooken and Sharkproof, before producing comedy horror, Tragedy Girls. Flinch is his feature-length directorial debut and is receiving critical acclaim, not just in web3, but across the wider film industry.
Despite the early morning wake up call, Cameron is laden with enthusiasm. As he talks, he gives the impression that he would stay awake for days on end to speak about cinema, making movies, and the web3 future that he feels will become our present sooner rather than later. “When I learnt about the blockchain,” he says, “I realised that this is going to change film.”
He is not referring to distribution and licensing and NFT funding — although that is part of it —, he is referring to NFT communities and the virtual film studio that he is building. Yes, Cameron’s ambition for film is nestled in a loftier place than most. When finished, the Flinch ecosystem will give filmmakers, storytellers, and, perhaps more crucially, audiences an alternative route to get stories made. In many respects, Flinch is the prototype for the democratisation of filmmaking.
“The system still works,” Cameron says, weaving a narrative that leaves room for the existing structure to run in concert. “Hollywood isn’t dying by any means. This is going to be a new thing.” He accentuates the word ‘new’, adamant that former boundaries no longer define what is and is not cinema, what is and is not filmmaking. If the technology delivers on its promises, then there is space for this new ‘thing’ that Cameron speaks of. I imagine a Venn diagram of cinema, Hollywood, film3, the metaverse, and NFTs, the movie experience holding court in the centre.
“This is going to change film.”
— Cameron Van Hoy
Streaming platforms and the 'Golden Era' of television are responsible for some of the best entertainment since the creation of the cathode-ray tube. But the gift of such wonderful storytelling came with a cost: middlemen. With the dilution of quality and an audience increasingly aware of the constraints placed upon their viewing choice, might their hold be weakening? Cameron is as excited as anyone to see the advent of change. “Middlemen are getting cut out and I’m interested in seeing how it works in film. If you crack that code there is a big prize on the other side.”
What needs to be deciphered to crack that code? Where do you start? “What if the Flinch NFTS are characters in a franchise?” Cameron muses. “What if the community owns and builds the franchise? How powerful could that be?”
Cameron seems to do a lot of his thinking in questions. Curiosity outshone only by his creativity. But then, like a plot twist, the questioning stops and the certainty takes over. “I have to do this,” he says. “It’s the future. And that’s where I want to be; good things happen when you are pushing the boundaries.”
Curiously, he brings up the exclusivity of blockchain, defying the common crypto storyline. Is web3 not about universality, about tearing down the barriers of exclusion and opening the world up to everyone? I ask him what he means. “The tech makes it exclusive,” he explains. “Wallets, gas, onchain, offchain. There are lots of people who aren’t going to learn about that. It’s a barrier.”
He is right. But with that exclusivity comes passionate and dedicated people: not just filmmakers forced out of the frame for a further superhero reboot, but fans, too. The more Cameron speaks, the more evident it becomes that he is truly passionate about building for them, and about using web3 to create something extraordinary for his community. “People socialise online more than in real life. They go to work, then they get home and go online. I’m just trying to entertain those people.”
For clarity, there is Flinch, the film, and Flinch, the community and virtual film studio. The film is a crime caper about a hitman falling in love with a woman who sees him commit murder. It is a gritty love story steeped in greed, deception, violence, and desire: a true film noir. However, it was funded the old-fashioned way, with black and white private equity.
“Good things happen when you are pushing the boundaries.”
— Cameron Van Hoy
Though Flinch is available to watch on Amazon Prime and iTunes, it is the Flinch virtual film studio that really deserves interest. James Cameron used a virtual camera for Avatar, The Way of Water, a film that cost around half a billion dollars to make and which he says it will need to make $2 billion to break even. Those are scary numbers, but that is exactly why the Flinch virtual studio is so interesting. It could take the technology that only one filmmaker in the history of the world has had access to, and put it in the hands of a recently graduated film student, an independent filmmaker, or a community of NFTs holders, or you.
To understand how we got here, we first need to rewind to two years ago. Flinch introduced NFTs after the first film had been made as a way to build the community, fund the second film, and create the first film3 movie franchise.
“What if the community owns and builds the franchise?”
— Cameron Van Hoy
With the Flinch IP divided between just over two thousands owners, the Flinch ecosystem was primed to scale up. A second film was planned to build on the core story, then a third. Meanwhile, the community would build the ecosystem themselves and create their own offshoots and separate storylines. “People can build IP around their characters,” Cameron says. It would be a communal exploration of storytelling where fans own the characters and drive the story themselves.
And that is how the Flinch franchise would have continued, were it not for the summer of 2021. “I was always interested in game engines like Epic Games’ Unreal Engine and knew that they would play a role,” he says, but it was only over that summer when he learnt about them in-depth that he realised how significant the opportunity would be. “I saw an opportunity to create a virtual movie studio, which we could also use as a film set: city streets, a prison, a police precinct, a cinema, with the characters made in 3D to exist in this world.” Flinch evolved from a film franchise into a decentralised movie studio.
There are 5,555 NFTs, each an individual character, each a potential character in a story. How do you organise thousands of stories? How does the community decide what gets made? Cameron does not have a certain answer. “How to organise thousands of people who own characters in creating their own stories is brand new. I’m learning as I go, trying things”, he confesses. For now, holders will write stories in a Flinch app and the community will vote, possibly with a governance token, on what gets made and when.
“Anyone can own and build and create. We’re giving you the tools.”
— Cameron Van Hoy
Simple in theory, complicated in practice. One of the larger concerns about community-led film projects is the lack of quality amongst the population. Storytelling is an art, and it is not disrespectful to say that not everyone is a screenwriter. “If you’re not a writer,” Cameron explains, deflecting my question with impeccable ease — he no doubt asked himself this question weeks, if not months ago —, “you can use AI to fill out the script: an AI taught through the Flinch universe.” Is it too grandiose to say that Flinch could, with the use of AI, bring writing to the non-writers, and with Unreal, bring visual excellence to everyone?
“Jenny robs a bank,” Cameron says, giving an example of an infinite number of stories that could be filmed in Flinch. “The holder could voice the character, use AI to do the voice, or even licence the IP to somebody else.”
With Flinch, Cameron Van Hoy is building an ecosystem for people to make films and incredibly good content. “Anyone can own and build and create. Whether you’re coming out of movie school or you have two hundred films under your belt, we’re giving you the tools. That is the democratisation of it.”
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