A Plant City movie to make history by becoming first released on a blockchain

Posted May 13, 2018 6:06 p.m. EDT

When making his latest feature film, director and producer Jeremy Culver went old school in this digital age, shooting No Postage Necessary on 35-millimeter.

But when it came to distributing the movie to the masses, Culver went new school. So new school he'll be the first to do it.

No Postage Necessary, which was made in Plant City, will make movie history on July 10 by receiving worldwide distribution through a blockchain. It's a decentralized online system that can help ward off piracy and illegal sharing.

"At its best, I believe blockchain has the potential to change society and inspire new ways of looking at the world," said Culver, 42, who splits time among Plant City, New York and Los Angeles.

It's appropriate, considering the dramedy is about a convicted computer hacker who, while stealing mail in search of cash, falls in love with a war widow after reading letters to her late husband, all while the FBI investigates a Bitcoin robbery in Plant City.

It's the result of accidental perfect timing, said Plant City native Charleene Closshey, 37, who stars alongside George Blagden, is the film's co-producer and score composer and is Culver's fiancee.

The filmmakers did not set out to use blockchain.

"Life knows better than we do," Closshey said. "When we started filming in August 2016, the technology didn't exist. Once postproduction was done, it did."

There are multiple blockchain networks, some public, some private. Blockchain decentralizes records by storing each transaction within blocks on the same ledger that exists and is updated in real time on each computer that willingly becomes part of a network. With one ledger existing in so many places simultaneously, corrupting or hacking records is more difficult.

Blockchain can be used for financial transactions by using a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, for record keeping, sharing research and, when No Postage Necessary is released, movie distribution.

According to Culver, the distribution will work like this:

No Postage Necessary will not be available for download. Rather, it will stream online via a new blockchain app called Vevue. Viewers pay with Vevue crytpocurrency. The movie's investors immediately have their cut deposited into their digital wallet, providing full accounting transparency in what can be a shady industry. If a viewer wants to re-watch the movie, the streaming price is cut in half each time.

A blockchain release also makes piracy less likely, Culver said.

"A lot of times piracy results because people in foreign countries don't have access to the film except through pirated means," Culver said. "Blockchain increases access."

In the future -- perhaps nearer than further -- each stream will receive an invisible code, providing a "fingerprint" to trace if someone, for instance, films the computer in the same way bootleggers do movie screens. That way, if the movie is pirated, the code can be traced back to the bootlegger.

"We'll just keep adding layers and deterrents," Culver said.

The movie will also receive a traditional release. It premieres at the Tampa Theatre on June 28 and moves to 11 markets on July 6. Still, the theatrical audience will be exposed to blockchain. In exchange for uploading a review of the movie on Vevue, they will receive cryptocurrency to buy future films this way.

Is the public ready to adopt this way of watching movies?

"I think in 10 years this will be ubiquitous," said Tyler Martinolich, the interim film commissioner for Hillsborough County. "Does it catch on right now? I don't know."

Martinolich's Film Tampa Bay office provided the movie the county's production incentive that gives back 10 percent on local expenditures. No Postage Necessary spent around $250,000 in the county.

"They are breaking new ground and it's thrilling to think a new distribution method is coming out of Plant City, of all places," he said.

For Philadelphia native Culver, Plant City was the locale he had in mind when penning No Postage Necessary with his sister, Morgen Culver.

"Everyone thinks computer hackers live in these big towers in the city," Culver said. "The reality is a lot of them live in small towns, so the film represents that."

The 35-millimeter film "brought the texture of small-town America to the forefront," he said, "making the story more plausible, more accessible."

That marriage of the old school and the new school, said co-producer Closshey, is what impresses her most about this project.

"I think it was brilliant of Jeremy to bring these two worlds together," she said. "That was his vision from day one and he was able to do it."

Contact Paul Guzzo at Follow @PGuzzoTimes.