How film maker Julie Pacino is using blockchain to chart a new future for Hollywood

Léa Rose Emery
June 21, 2022
'Imaginary Friend', which inspired the characters behind her NFT-powered film, Keepers of the Inn.

Julie Pacino is making a name for herself in the NFT space, and is making a name for film3 in the future of cinema too. She spoke to Misan Harriman about finding her true self and re-wiring the film industry. Léa Rose Emery tells the story.

Effortlessly navigating the overlap of photography, film, and NFTs, award-winning photographer and film-maker Julie Pacino has been evolving the space since her first collection, I Live Here Now, dropped in August 2021.  

The collection of 100 1/1s wasn’t planned, and that spontaneity and playfulness radiate from the images. “I didn't prepare for that shoot,” she explains. “I just went to the Madonna Inn with some friends.” Imagination took hold, and soon Julie was “turning floor lamps upside down,” creating light, scenes, and — as would become clear — a new pocket in the NFT space. 

That surge of inspiration, the images and characters that emerged from the shoot, inspired a screenplay of the same name. Without realising it, the first NFT-inspired film was born — financed by a quickly-sold-out first collection. “The story did not exist before those photographs, which is really cool because it's essentially web3-native IP that has inspired a movie,” Julie explains. “We dropped that in August of 2021. We sold out in under 30 minutes and my head was just spinning.” 

“It was, to me, a moment of realising the areas in which I could live a more truthful life.”

— Julie Pacino

But the alchemical relationship between NFTs and film was still bearing fruit. The screenplay went on to inspire her Keepers of the Inn collection, an incisive blend of chaos and stillness, neon and darkness, with a hauntingly human core. Soon, Julie was selected for the TIMEPieces Build a Better Future drop, cementing her as a top creator in the space. Despite the almost overnight success, Julie is acutely aware of the space’s limitations — and the potential of a toxic positivity that can place suffocating demands on artists. 

“Your timeline gets flooded with all the victories,” she explains, “it's only people's wins. I guess that's just social media in general. And I've fallen victim to that and have recently been honestly pretty fried by the whole space.” Setting boundaries on social media use has been a helpful tool, but so has been reminding herself of one simple truth: “it's okay if you're not feeling good about what's going on in your life.” It is OK to not be OK, even if your timeline is telling you otherwise.

Tow The Line, by Julie Pacino, from 'I Live Here Now'.

There is a clear-eyed self-assurance in Julie, one that may be down to the lockdown soul-searching that many artists grappled with. “I did a lot of writing and a lot of self-realisations happened through that writing,” she says. “I think it was, to me, a moment of realising the areas in which I could live a more truthful life.” This awareness enabled a “surge of creative energy on a professional level and on a personal level” as she came out of the pandemic. That meant embracing herself and “being proud of the artwork that I was making and the stories I wanted to tell, that dealt with themes of sexual identity and womanhood.”

While on one hand web3 has given Julie a huge platform for expression, that same clear-sightedness makes her acutely aware of the barriers to the space, which has an immense potential for democratisation and visibility as well as significant frictions when it comes to onboarding others, as Julie discovered herself. “I kind of spent a couple months lurking and not really actively participating, but just vibing it out and trying to educate myself. It was a real process for me.”

Julie hopes that in the future the technology will become less intimidating — and easier to use. “That is what stopped me from getting into the space for many months. Just because it was scary with 'crypto' and 'MetaMask' and 'decentralisation' — and these horror stories of people like losing millions of dollars because they accidentally sent their money to the wrong address.” Julie recalls the story of how her mother lost her seed phrase, only to ask Julie to “call up the blockchain” to get it back. “These are things that now (still) seem so crazy to me, but before I was immersed in this, were just so terrifying.” 

This complexity is a huge barrier to onboarding others — and she hopes mainstream media can help bridge the gap and begin to illustrate how easy it is to enter the space. Because once that barrier is overcome, Julie sees a huge potential not just as a platform, but as a place of recognition and worth. “I think as web2 artists we are often conditioned to believe that our work has no value, that our artwork has no value — with ridiculous royalty offers for photographers, and especially as under-represented voices, women and LGBTQ, BIPOC,” she argues.

“We're all conditioned to think that anyone that buys our art is doing us a favor.” With web3, she was overwhelmed by the demand for her work — and remembers that first thrill when her pieces first started being collected: “it's the best feeling in the world, seriously. Just thinking someone wanted to buy my JPEG.”

Having traversed new ground and synthesised the world of NFTs and film, Julie shows no signs of slowing down. She is at the forefront of this new area of “creative freedom” that’s been dubbed film3. “That's coined by Jordan Bayne, who's an amazing film-maker in the space; she founded the NFT Film Squad. I think that the main thing is complete control and I know that there are producers and filmmakers coming into this space looking to exploit that.”

“We’re all conditioned to think that anyone that buys our art is doing us a favour.”

— Julie Pacino

Keeping that creative control — and a high bar for artistic integrity — will be key as bigger players try to come into the market. “If I'm able to go out there, put together this high concept, shoot, pour my heart and soul into it, and make this artwork that I'm really proud of that I think can stand the test of time, then, I would imagine that any studios coming into this space trying to put a drop together can have the resources to do the same. And we should hold them to that. The artwork should come first and it should matter.”

At the moment, she’s doing what she can in the bear market, focusing on finishing a new draft of her screenplay and moving toward pre-production. She’s also experimented with a new direction with her SuperRare campaign, which has given her the space to explore herself and her story in greater depth. With two photographs minted so far, the collection “is really a study on the female gaze and the female form and photographing women; photographs of women, by women, and how photography is a tool for me to embrace my own sexual identity”.

“It’s the best feeling in the world, seriously.”

— Julie Pacino

She knows how imperative the female lens is in the web3 space — a place where, she believes “wholeheartedly” that equality can be achieved and that “real change can happen”. She’s aware that this utopia is some distance away for now, but is plotting the path to get there. “I've also realised how much of a boys club it still is and that equality is a bit further away than I thought when I first got into it. I think that what we need to do is onboard more of these representatives into this space.”

She’s committed to helping make that change happen. “That's where I've shifted my focus now, trying to see who in the web2 world I have a connection with that has deep pockets, that has similar values as I do, that can come in and start to open up opportunities, lucrative opportunities, for underrepresented voices.”

But Julie is realistic about the work still to be done — a challenge from which she is not shying away. “I’m just reminding myself and anyone else that comes to me to vent: we're building long term and there's such comfort in that.”

A photograph by Julie Pacino, for Keepers of the Inn.
A photograph by Julie Pacino, for Keepers of the Inn.
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Léa Rose Emery
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Léa is an American writer, editor, broadcaster, and presenter based in London. Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Guardian, The Huffington Post, WhatWeSeee, Cosmopolitan, Bustle, Teen Vogue, and The Daily Dot. She is working on her first book.

Collaborators and honourable mentions: @Julie_Pacino, interviewed by @MisanHarriman