After spending time at Warner Bros. Entertainment, Disney and Dreamworks, they hit on the idea of giving viewers a voice in content production. That was the trigger that led them to strike out on their own seven years ago. The result was Toonstar, a web3 animation studio.
Toonstar’s latest project is an animated NFT series called “The Gimmicks,” an unapologetically raunchy Latina telenovela about washed-up wrestlers -- think “South Park meets the WWE,” say the two founders. Season 2 premiered on Friday. It is being produced in partnership with Sixth Wall, the digital arm of Orchard Farm Productions, owned by Hollywood A-lister Mila Kunis. Actor Mark Consuelos is joining the second season as an executive producer and voice talent.
Five top takeaways (edited for clarity):
Hollywood needs web3:
Luisa Huang: Traditional Hollywood "is built to address a certain type of distribution," she observes. But if you look at how people are consuming content nowadays, and as those preferences continue to evolve, "it's going to be very, very difficult" for big studios to adapt.
Why: "Legacy studios are built to take something that is already big and already has a fan base, and amplify it and make it bigger. But if you’re talking about nurturing the underrepresented, and nurturing new voices, it’s very difficult (to achieve) in a system like that.”
John Attanasio: Part of the problem, he says, "is the 'hits-driven' business model" in Hollywood, which reduces in some ways originality. You’re looking at prequels, sequels, reboots, some sort of existing IP — these are the things that are getting made now because that derisks the project." Web3, he asserts, "could be a solution, especially on the funding side."
One obstacle, he says, is the lack of regulatory clarity in the United States, specifically from the SEC, as it regards how, and under what circumstances, web3 funding can be used to support Hollywood-style projects. That will eventually get sorted out, he predicts: "There are already some projects that have gone down that path, that are using web3 and blockchain to fund some projects.”
Crypto as a driver of distribution:
Attanasio: “I think you’re going to see, over the next 3-5 years, people trying to figure out distribution in web3. Could the next Netflix, the next Hulu, the next YouTube be created in web3? The question is, how do you take a project that’s got 5,000 or 10,000 super fans, and expand that out, get more eyeballs on it, and from there build the world and characters, and path it to a franchise?”
“If the approach from a big studio is going to be, hey, I’m taking existing IP, and I’m going to slap a web3 label on it, our opinion is that it’s not going to work. The folks in the community ... are very savvy. Our belief is you have to do it in a very organic, native, true way to the (web3) community.”
How they balance audience input vs. content creation:
Huang: There is this story to tell, a journey the characters are taking within the construct of any plot, she notes. "How do you balance that with allowing the community to lean in … without blowing up" the plot and storyline? "The analogy (offered by executive producer Dave Wright) was: Everyone who lives in LA has their route, their way of getting to LAX. Some use side streets. Some take a shortcut from the freeway. That’s really a great way to think about participatory storytelling: The writers and the creators and the storytellers know that there’s a certain journey that we’re looking to take you through. But there are a lot of different ways to take that journey. It’s like, ‘Hey, you want to take a side street? Let’s take a side street.’”
How Toonstar plans to monetize web3 content:
Huang: "If you talk to any content maker and broach the subject of monetization, it (all depends on) the layers they're activating. It's really no different in web3. You have this content that you've created, and there's licensing revenue streams you'd try to get. You'd try to do merchandising, you'd try to do any type of ad-driven type of model. All of those particular business models are still very much in place (in web3)."
At the end of the day, she says, "we believe that web3 is going to be part of (the solution) to bringing content into the ecosystem" of Hollywood.
Why Toonstar gave away NFTs related to “The Gimmicks:"
Attanasio: “Entertainment, hopefully, will be one of the things that will take web3 mainstream, and will help drive mass adoption. But we've got a ways to go to get (there)," so let's remove as many barriers as we can in the meantime. That thinking, he says, "basically filtered into everything we did."
Huang: “We really believe that in order to build IP and build story and franchise, you have to appeal to more than the very, very average Degen collectors, and that requires a willingness to attract people who have not been in the space."
She explains: We "have a product that’s completely new. You’re asking people to download a wallet; you’re asking people to learn how to get on chain, asking people to learn what a DIC (decentralized inclusive community) punch is. There are a lot of hurdles and a lot of learning to do... It just felt like it was a lot to ask," which is why Toonstar gave away free NFTs -- to make it easier for people to participate.
Sums Huang: "We’re in it for the long haul. We’re not here to just say we’re launching a project, we’re going to launch a collection, and we want it to moon and that's it."
Watch the replay here.