For 100 years cinema has been controlled by the suits, wielding their power over what gets made, when it gets made and who profits. Josh Wagner is on a mission to blaze a new path that favours creators over committees, community over control, and participation over profits. He speaks with Mark Fielding about Virtue Animation, the Basemint Gang and the future of animation.
Until Mexican cartels came to dominate the trade, Missouri was the meth capital of America. Not long ago, it had 27.6 labs for every 100,000 residents. In some areas the ratio was higher than for the number of doctors. Josh Wagner, who Jordan Bayne credits with taking film3 to the next level, grew up in a trailer park in Southern Missouri. “Most of the people in the town I was born in work at McDonalds or Walmart,” he recalls. “They pay bills, taxes and they die.”
Wags – as he is known in web3 – is an underdog who revels in battling the odds. The meth capital of America would be his training ground for one simple plan. “I'm going to escape the circumstance I was born into.” Unconsciously mimicking Warren Buffett, he became a teenage entrepreneur, selling Pokemon cards, t-shirts, and home-made Kool Aid for a dollar fifty a bottle. He soon got a job at Anheuser-Busch, the world’s largest brewer, where he taught himself statistics and programming as he moved up the corporate ladder. He’d made it out. But had he made it? “Is there more to life?” he wondered. “What am I missing?”
He left the corporate world behind, with a new plan “to do cool shit with cool people, have a lot of fun, and make an impact on the way.” The fun times came. And went. After building a smart contract company on Ethereum, he watched it go under in 2018 as the markets crashed. “I learned that being an entrepreneur is like being in a hardcore fight, every single day. It's not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done: consistency, relentlessness, growth... every damn day.”
The underdog got back in the ring and founded Virtue Animation, a web3 studio that produces IP for the metaverse. Virtue claims the future of animation is film3. If it is, when you look at the calibre of the partners and advisors – executives and producers from the world's top studios - they are well positioned to lead the charge.
Before they can revolutionise animation, however, Wags wants to change web3. “There was no storytelling, no content, no customer retention.” Anyone who has spent ten seconds on NFT Twitter can testify to that. Here today, gone tomorrow is often a fairer reflection than WAGMI.
The Basemint Gang is the first original IP from Virtue Animation. “It has South Park vibes,” Wags enthuses. “It’s about a group of degen underdogs who take it upon themselves to explore worlds and save the metaverse.”
With a 5k sell-out NFT drop last October, the community allows owners to participate in a collective experience. Fans will be able to interact with the Basemint Gang story, help write and imagine their characters' quirks, traits, humour and psychosis. The community will build the ecosystem: be part of the IP. And of course, profit from it, should it become the next South Park.
Web3 creates opportunities for communities to be involved well beyond fandom. Characters and stories weave together as ideas and the community grows. “The community is open, collaborative,” Wags says. “There’s this really cool energy: let’s come together as a team.” It’s interactive fandom, and rather than a community that cheers on from the sidelines, community is part of the source. A place where fans not only imagine, but actively contribute.
“I want to be one of the pioneers.”
— Josh Wagner
Millions descend on Comic Con and fan conventions every year. They crave inclusion and participation; to be part of the story. Web3 has the potential to make a reality from that fantasy, and Basemint Gang is one of the first animated IPs to utilise its power. The exchange of ideas is swift; what works is ironed out in a Twitter Space or Discord, and what fails to meet the consensus of the community is unceremoniously dumped. In the five weeks since inception, the Basemint Gang has written and developed nine story episodes all set to be streamed on Rad.Live.
“It's not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
— Josh Wagner
How can creators and artists further leverage the technical innovation of web3? Collaborations, tunes, and beats are everywhere in the Basemint Gang. Case in point? A 15-song soundtrack featuring 15 different artists. When royalty payments can be split onchain rather than go through a slew of paperwork, collaboration becomes a viable way to create. But not all of it will be immediately available. The team has gamified access to some songs and holders will have to complete challenges to unlock extra music traits embedded in their NFT.
Taking it further, could fans write songs for inclusion in the story? If the community digs the tune, could they be used? It is one of the many questions that web3 is asking and Virtue Animation is attempting to answer through Basemint Gang.
Community, creators, IP sovereignty, art, fun, rebellion. The pillars of web3 and NFTs. “I call it the degen-aissance. The renaissance bred amazing works of art and creativity and thought. We have the opportunity to enter an era like that. I want to be one of the pioneers that helps to lead and does it the right way.”
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