A Decentralised Road Out of Hollywood’s Development Hell

A road out of Hollywood's Development Hell.

The traditional Studio distribution system thrives on isolating story-tellers from the audiences they create for. The key to unlocking value inherent within growing global audiences is connecting creatives directly to them.  Doing so may disrupt everything.  A growing number of media entrepreneurs and investors are already turning that key.

In the glitzy, high-stakes world of Hollywood, a shadowy realm lurks behind the red carpets and dazzling premieres—a place insiders call “development hell.” Here, amidst the palm trees and studio lots, the entertainment industry’s brightest minds navigate a treacherous journey fraught with creative ambition, financial risk, and the ever-elusive quest to bring stories to life.

The laws of this realm reach far beyond Los Angeles County in California, extending through the UK and into every nation in which anyone willing to imagine a story for film or television may reside.  Those laws are enforced by an army of Studio execs promising distribution agreements that come with both a heavy price and an ever-moving set of conditions.   

Development hell is a term that invokes both fear and fascination among creatives and investors alike. It refers to the arduous, often counter-intuitive phase in the creation of film and television content during which a story is converted to script and developed into a viable commercial project, complete with management team, production budget and schedule.

Think of it as the labyrinthine R&D arm of showbiz. 

“It can take many months, or even years, to build a commercially acceptable film project.” Producer Colin Vaines told the Media C-Suite. Mr. Vaines has built a successful career as a producer working with the best talent Hollywood has to offer to develop new films and television dramas. 

“As creatives, we can apply decades of experience to the art of story-telling that, in our hearts, we know audiences will enjoy.  There are countless stories that cross my desk that I know would pull laughs and tears from audiences. Stories that haven’t been told a dozen times already. That is what a great film is expected to do.”  Says Vaines. “Years of work can be rejected by executives for any reason, or no reason at all.”

Colin Vaines.
Producer Colin Vaines. Image credit: Julien Lienard/Getty.

As a result, the time and money spent on development is considered the highest risk, and is increasingly pursued “on spec” by even the most celebrated writers and producers. Traditionally, writers and producers spend countless hours refining screenplays, attracting talent and seeking out distribution executives or commissioning agents willing to wager their jobs on the success of a new film or television project.  Most projects never see the light of day, much less a green light for production. 

The decision can pose existential risk to all concerned, but is often necessary to unlock finance for production.  That risk has shaped the evolution of Hollywood’s content output over the past several decades. Similarity to films and television shows that have demonstrated previous financial success has become the threshold criteria for approval of anything new for distribution, streaming or broadcast.

Novelty is strictly anathema. 

Rarely, if ever, do Hollywood writers or producers consult the intended audience for the stories they develop. 

“In reality, the audience that writers and independent producers develop content for is made up of Studio executives and commissioning agents, not the viewing public.”  Vaines says.  “The criteria can be elusive at best, but nearly always centres on what has already been seen.”

The result is sequel after sequel, season after season and a deluge of derivative stories with similar voices and familiar faces funnelled onto cinema, television, tablet and smartphone screens everywhere.

Why? The answer lies in the Studio distribution systems that are designed to separate creatives from their audience. In this grand theatre of uncertainty, gatekeepers stand as self-proclaimed patrons and protectors. They hold the keys to funding, distribution, and the coveted limelight. Their intentions, however well-meaning or profit-driven, can either elevate a project to the stars or bury it forever.

This precarious disconnect between visionaries and viewers introduces a cocktail of risks to the future of Hollywood as the world’s story-telling hub.

The Audience as Force Multiplier

Although many may argue that the traditional Studio system allows for quality entertainment to rise out of a vast quantity of stories in development, few argue that it is perfect.  Nor is it sufficient to meet growing demand for more entertainment content telling new stories to diverse global audiences.

Others have diverged from tradition in favour of more audience engagement with creatives and what they are delivering.  Artistically, this may offer considerably more diversity in story, voice and perspective to be given opportunity for production.  Commercially, it offers something both investors and producers are keen to embrace:  a way of de-risking content development.

Not unsurprisingly, insiders tired of convention began re-connecting film acquisition to audiences as a way of offering more to under-served demographics with increasing spending power.  Starting off as a new distribution company in 2012, A24 Studios was formed by industry veterans John Hodges, Daniel Katz and David Fenkel.  Initially targeting cinephiles and fans of art-house film, A24 hit the motherload when they began targeting the then emerging Gen-Z demographic. 

The way they did it was A24’s Golden Goose.  Direct engagement with audiences soon became the hallmark of A24’s business model.  The team at A24 studios encouraged audiences to accumulate a vested interest in an upcoming film by creating shareable content and interactive experiences.  Guerrilla marketing campaigns and social media interaction focused on each upcoming title and soon merged into the intentional cultivation of a movie-loving community embracing A24 itself. 

A24 Studios and its Founders.
The Founders of A24 Studios, David Fenkel (left) Daniel Katz (centre) & John Hodges (right).

It didn’t take long before A24 evolved into an independent studio, producing its own content to augment films they might acquire and distribute.  With a dedicated and growing fan-base devoted to A24 films, deliberation on which films to focus on can take real-world audience feedback into consideration.  From a business model perspective, this likely provides critical guidance on which low- to mid-budget productions can attract audience members to the cinema and how wide a theatrical release needs to be for profitability.  In turn, cinema owners receive commercial intelligence and direct consumer engagement, building a feedback loop augmenting financial returns at the box office. 

The model has resulted in a collection of commercial hits for A24 that more than make up for critical gems and cult classics that may underperform initially, but which build further audience engagement.  In fact, A24 swept the 2023 Oscars with Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Whale, films that would likely not have been made by a larger, traditional Studio in Hollywood.  By embracing audiences, A24 delivered on 18 of their 49 Oscar nominations last year, making it the first company ever to win the six top awards in a single evening: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress.

Traditional Studio execs have only the data from previously released films to go on. This offers a very narrow data set of past performance from which to risk capital on future investments.  Something every financial regulator today warns investors to avoid.  This means that the only way for traditional Studio execs to manage risk is to look at established franchises and familiar talent that has already built a fan base, then offer more of the same.

A24’s innovative use of early web-enabled marketing, social media and community building around new stories and talent offers the means to adjust risk in their favour when in comes time to commit tens of millions to a new film for their portfolio.  The ability to both qualify and quantify a fan base offers insight into distribution potential and commercial viability for new, untold stories and emerging talent. The result is that A24 satisfies a growing need within global audiences for something new.

Anything new. 

The next evolutionary step took little time to emerge. 

Decentralised Development

In 2018, American Zoetrope, the production company established by Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas in 1969, established a new company to promote under-represented film-makers who struggled to find a voice within the traditional Studio distribution system.

Decentralized Pictures Foundation, Inc. was converted to a non-profit organisation in 2019 and re-launched to embrace both a new generation of film-makers and a new method of financing the development and production of entertainment content.  Co-founded by Roman Coppola, entertainment and technophile Leo Matchett and American Zoetrope executive Michael Musante, the venture immediately embraced the democratic, decentralised ethos inherent within the crypto-enhanced blockchain community.  A governing board of directors with extensive industry connections, including Sofia and Gia Coppola, helps shepherd a growing community though well-established industry networks and connections.

Decentralized Pictures and its Founders.
The Founders of Decentralized Pictures, Michael Musante (left), Roman Coppola (centre) and Leo Matchett (right).

Members of the Decentralized Pictures’ community include an army of fans and industry professionals with a vested interest in the next generation of film-makers.  Community members can actively review treatments, pitch material and scripts, and interact with creatives, before voting against carefully chosen criteria to advance projects through development and, eventually, into production and distribution.

Decentralized Pictures’ use of blockchain technology provides a transparent and efficient process for voting with a native cryptocurrency on projects that will advance through development toward funding and professional partnerships.  A reputation system weighs the opinions of voters with track records of success in the industry higher than those without.  Reputation can be boosted by establishing a blockchain recorded pattern of voting on projects that prove successful later on.

Leo Matchett, co-founder and chief executive at Decentralized Pictures told the Media C-Suite that the technology now exists to make decentralised decision-making more manageable, fair and transparent.

“It certainly enables diverse perspectives and creativity.” Says Matchett. “It also, potentially, engages audiences and allows for real-time feedback and a sense of community inclusiveness.”

“All said, I think it is a great new frontier.”

A number companies are now firmly embedded in this new Web3 territory and driving deeper into it.

Audiences outside the United State are used to a much wider variety of entertainment content and adapt across language, genre and format quickly. This flexibility is offering a wider variety of creatives to experiment with content creation in ways traditional screenwriters and producers cannot.  Web and app-based access to content, from YouTube to TikTok, can consume as much or more viewing time for some demographics than streaming or television. New, edgier creatives often find that short-film formats offer lower barriers to entry or that serials offer greater opportunity for characters to fully emerge.  Formats other than fully-fledged feature films and commercial television shows are becoming more and more common.

Audiences are increasingly keen to explore it all.

Global, immediate and always-on connectivity has transformed audiences from a simple source of revenues for traditional distributors, broadcasters and streamers and into a transformative resource for both creatives and a new generation of media executives.  The use of blockchain technologies to engage audiences in the content development process now allows for the commercial transaction itself to flow both ways.

MyCo.io (they prefer it in all lower case – myco.io) is a content platform that rewards viewers as much as it does creatives.  Once fully signed on as a registered member of the MyCo community, anyone can earn native currency based on the time they spend watching content on the platform.  Viewers are able to build value from their viewing habits and simultaneously support the creatives they enjoy watching most.

The data generated from viewing habits and demographics fuels further insight into the risk proposition for new content development. Creatives can tap into this data to inform their own content choices, but the MyCo.io platform has a more ambitious objective.

“Much of my career has been spent in content finance and production. The demand for more content, particularly quality film and television, is overwhelming.”  MyCo.io co-Founder Phil McKenzie tells the Media C-Suite. “No one wants TikTok videos to replace feature films and television series.”

“But a whole new ecosystem is developing outside the Hollywood Studios built on a wider, more diverse community of entertainment fans and creatives that are experimenting with new technologies and techniques for experiencing the stories they want told.” 

myco.io's co-Founder, Phil McKenzie.
Co-Founder of myco.io, Phil McKenzie.

The key for MyCo.io and other Web3 pioneers is to allow emerging creatives to grow into their art and practice their story-telling while giving audiences the variety and novelty that they crave, and deserve.

The MyCo platform, and others like it, are offering a path forward for every type of entertainment experience, from musical performances to spectator sports to cultural events and exposure to the people and places that make up consumer audiences globally.

“Don’t worry.”  Says McKenzie.  “Feature films and television series will not disappear at all, quite the opposite.  Audiences want more of them, higher quality and greater variety.  That takes risk capital.”

“By tapping into the interactions between creatives and audiences and reducing it to data, producers and investors can make better, more informed decisions about risk, particularly at the development stage.  But, more importantly, they can make better content with the audience at the heart of it.”

MyCo.io is adapting its blockchain strategy to include an investment fund capitalised from transactions using its native currency.  It may offer outside investors a chance to participate in the future.  That fund is intended to finance both development and production of MyCo Originals that can be enjoyed by its Community and be distributed to wider audiences.

“It’s already happening.” Reports McKenzie. “Hollywood has the stature to move slowly, and it will always have a prominent role in this industry.  The rest of us have to move at the speed of light.

“Using the technology we now have we are creating a new system with the two most important stakeholders – the audience and creator – at the heart of it.”

The road away from Hollywood’s development hell may turn out to be a well-paved information superhighway.

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