The phrase ‘art is the utility’ rings more true in film than anywhere else. Miguel Faus is making one of the world's first films funded entirely by NFTs. Barcelona-born, his film ‘Calladita’ is an example of how web3 is empowering new voices to tell new stories. He tells Mark Fielding how it's happening.
In April 2021, Miguel Faus demonstrated a commitment to web3 that many allude to, yet few act on, and invested his savings in CryptoPunk #2098. Eighteen months later, the director, writer, and now leader in the vanguard of a swiftly maturing film3 sector, wrapped up filming on Calladita, the first European film funded entirely by NFTs.
Calladita is a Spanish-language film that tells the story of Ana, a Colombian maid working for a wealthy family belonging to the Catalan bourgeoisie. It combines independent film ideas with web3, whilst remaining distinct from the existing filmmaking narratives that we are used to today. If this is the evolution of cinema that NFTs promised, directors, producers, and storytellers will be looking to Miguel for inspiration and a roadmap to discover what decentralised movie-making is all about.
“I was an enthusiast, investor, and collector,” he says, recalling the 2021 NFT bull-run in impeccable English. “But I was focusing all my attention on Calladita at that time,” he adds. “I spent most of my time thinking about how I could bring this film to life. It was natural that the two paths of filmmaking and NFTs would converge at some point.”
On March 2nd 2022, the Calladita plan rolled out. “Did it surpass expectations? Yes. Were we overwhelmed by the interest of the community? Yes. How much did we raise? I can’t say. NFTs are so new and particular and weird; it's hard to have concrete expectations. I remember the day that the Calladita NFT dropped — I had no idea if we’d sell three, or sell out.” Amongst other marketplaces, the collection is available on OpenSea, mintable from the Calladita website, and is viewable on Etherscan. He appears to have raised almost 300 eth from around 500 contributors.
Calladita is a satirical, subversive story about female empowerment, racial inequality, and class conflict. But Miguel makes his position clear: he asks the questions, he doesn’t supply the answers. “I’m not a message filmmaker. If I had a message, I’d become a preacher or a politician. Films are for asking questions, for questioning reality, for interrogating ourselves and our society. Calladita is a question on class dynamics, on what identity and liberty mean in this context, and whether freedom is something internal or external. This is answered by the audience, not by me.”
“I had no idea if we’d sell three, or sell out.”
— Miguel Faus
Is Calladita the story that web3 has promised for so long? Miguel Faus is not quite a fringe filmmaker, but he is a relative unknown. And he is the one telling a story that, without web3, might not get told. At least not now, not yet, not with this much expectation and conviction. It’s a film funded by cryptocurrency; by CryptoPunks, Nouns, and Bored Apes. But it’s also a foreign-language film on class war and freedom.
“There is a lot of freedom in money and social hierarchy. But sometimes that freedom is less important than inner freedom.” I wonder for a moment if he is speaking about the social NFT hierarchy, web3, and what it means to be free as an artist — as a creator. He isn’t, but he could be.
A pseudonymous supporter known as straybits is Calladita’s biggest backer by some distance. “I backed it because it was a beautiful and meaningful story,” he explains. A photographer and a Crypto Punk, straybits sees filmmakers like Miguel as defining “the future of film”, and draws parallels to broader trends in the movie-making industry. “Much like Netflix is able to finance more niche shows that appeal to a smaller base, web3 allows those with niche interests to self-organise and see the stories that they want to come to life.”
“If I had a message, I’d become a preacher or a politician.”
— Miguel Faus
Calladita is creating a new narrative for independent filmmakers. It will act as a blueprint going forward. But what about on set? By removing the stresses studios place on filmmakers, is there a new dynamic? Did the way Calladita get funded change the way it was filmed? “Yes, the validation of five hundred strangers on the internet who believed in my project gave me a feeling of confidence, of satisfaction, a feeling that this movie deserved to be made.”
Filmmakers are watching, web3 is watching, the CryptoPunks are watching, alongside the rest of NFT Twitter. Is Hollywood watching to see what happens next? It is a lot of responsibility for one man to haul around on his shoulders, but Miguel isn’t worried. Besides, he wasn’t the first to do it. “To me Keepers of the Inn was an earlier blueprint. Not only because I was inspired by some of the things that Julie did, but because they proved it was possible at all.”
With all due respect, Julie Pacino has a different level of recognition. She was successful in the NFT space as a photographer long before launching Keepers of the Inn, the NFT collection that funded her eponymous film. By contrast, Miguel is a relatively unknown filmmaker from Spain who used NFTs to make a movie. It was unthinkable three years ago. “I hope Calladita can serve as proof that this is possible. I hope filmmakers can greenlight themselves with the power of JPEGs.”
Greenlight themselves with the power of JPEGs. That’s the NFT degen speaking. What about the artist, the film philosopher. “In web3, we build in the open. Nothing’s been done behind closed doors. Everyone can see our site, our Twitter, our code.” What about Nouns DAO, his second largest backer? “That was done through an on-chain proposal to the DAO. It’s a very transparent mechanism that can help future filmmakers go back and investigate everything that we've done. They can take what we did right, and discard what they think they can do better.”
He adds, “thanks to NFTs and the decentralisation of decision-making power, we can start to have more passionate and diverse filmmaking that comes directly from the creators.” Anyone can check the proposal, see who voted ‘yes’, who voted ‘no’, and observe that it passed unanimously.
I raise the topic of web3 product placement and NFT easter eggs in Calladita. Was it always the plan to feature NFT collections and reference crypto culture in the film, or was it something that evolved naturally? “For the past few years I’ve been surrounded by web3 culture. My movies are personal and that shines through in Calladita. It felt natural.” Web3 culture plays an important part in the film, whilst crypto plays an important role in the plot. I push for an indication of what that could look like on screen, but Miguel remains coy. “I don't want to reveal too much.”
“Web3 allows those with niche interests to self-organise and see the stories that they want to come to life.”
— straybits, the primary contributor to Miguel Faus' ‘Calladita’
As well as the NFTs, which are visually represented by film stills, backers of Calladita were entitled to an appealing assortment of utility and access: video Q&As with the cast and crew, invites to the set, and even access to the wrap cast and crew party were included. Surprisingly, however, those perks were not fully used up. “Web3 has been great for decentralisation, and most of our holders appreciate the utility, but they don’t care about it as much as they do about the film being made.” Is that the real utility? To get films made? To invest in a cultural shift and collect a piece of history? As the Calladita roadmap says, ‘You buy a JPEG, and we make a movie.’
“I hope filmmakers can greenlight themselves with the power of JPEGs.”
— Miguel Faus
As film3 matures, the question is how this will evolve — will utility become more critical as investors and fans join, not for cultural and philosophical reasons, but for access to the stars and the reading room? “Imagine you’re making a gangster movie. Today, you have to find degens who are into gangster movies. I’m certain there are some, but the pool from which you can find gangster film enthusiasts is small. In five years, when everyone has a wallet, every gangster film nut out there is a potential buyer of the NFTs for your film.”
The Calladita roadmap is very simple. There are no promises of a metaverse game or merchandise, no mention of DeFi or staking. But simplicity is no substitute for substance, and straybits is clear about how significant Calladita is as a benchmark. “Web3 paves the way to not only finance the filmmaking process, but also to have an input and be a part of its future and success as well.”
There will, for example, be a Calladita DAO. Once the film has premiered, 50% of the profits from the film will go to the DAO, where ‘holders participate in the governance of the DAO, expressing their preferences about matters related to the DAO treasury.’
In a vacuum, that is interesting. Even more so when you remember who will be in the DAO — CryptoPunks, Apes, and Nouns: all of whom are early adopters. But more importantly, they share a vision and philosophy of the creator economy, of decentralisation, of removing the gatekeepers and putting artistic control back in the hands of the storytellers and filmmakers.
With the Calladita DAO, they can practise what they preach. They invested in Calladita to get a movie made. Will they continue down this road and use the DAO to build atop that single success? “It will depend on how the movie performs. It will be up to them.” Will there be a decentralised movie studio built from one of the first films funded by NFTs? Will the Calladita DAO will make that gangster film? Now that would be a story.