Alex Winter, from Bill and Ted to blockchain
Alex Winter's blockchain documentary not only features crypto—it was funded by it
Image via SingularDTV
Industrious spoke with Alex Winter for issue 4, on the occasion of the release of his documentary, “Trust Machine.” As he returns to the screen today with “Bill and Ted Face the Music,” we’re republishing our interview here.
Alex Winter first made a name for himself in the 1980s as an actor in films like “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and “The Lost Boys.” But in the last few years, Winter has developed a reputation as a director of in-depth documentaries about technology, with films such as 2012’s “Downloaded” about Napster, and 2015’s “Deep Web” about the Silk Road.
Now he’s set his sights on blockchain in “Trust Machine,” which was produced and distributed by blockchain entertainment studio SingularDTV together with Winter’s Trouper Productions and Geoff Clark’s Futurism Studios. In this interview with Industrious, Winter discussed the film and this moment of “exploration and innovation” in the technology’s history.
There seems to be a lot of public awareness about bitcoin but less about blockchain. Why did you want to make a movie about blockchain specifically?
I was interested in focusing on blockchain because it allows a broader examination of the people and the issues in this arena. Bitcoin is important and fascinating but limited to a discussion about cryptocurrency. I wanted to focus on the space beyond just a single cryptocurrency.
How, if at all, did your own thinking on blockchain change in the course of making this film?
It didn’t really change, as I’ve been studying emerging technologies for a long time. But I wasn’t aware of certain actors using blockchain-based technologies, and the details of how they planned to use them, such as UNICEF looking to use a distributed ledger to help track refugees, and things like the Brooklyn Micro Grid. I was inspired by the passion and ingenuity of these organizations.
For the film, you met with a variety of people using the same underlying technology for a wide range of initiatives. Can you describe some of those initiatives and what they say to you about blockchain’s potential?
We covered a very broad swath of people, as that was part of the aim of the film—to illustrate this kind of land rush to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems with these technologies. And, of course, they won’t all succeed, but the effort is intense, and that’s very interesting terrain for a film. So we explore companies helping track and feed refugees, energy companies looking to solve solar energy and climate issues, artists who want to protect their rights and deal more directly and equitably with their audience, finance companies that want to create cryptocurrency exchanges much like the stock exchange, and companies keen on solving the huge problem of identity and privacy in the Digital Age. We also explore some of the colorful scammers and speculators.
Blockchain is a fast-moving space. What do you think organizations should consider as they move to explore and perhaps adopt this technology?
These are the early days of the Information Age. We are on shaky ground and no one knows what will stick and what won’t. I’m not an expert but an observer, though I think it’s pretty clear that the word “blockchain” is only a kind of catch-all for the idea and potential of a distributed ledger.
A lot is going to change in the next few years. Whatever happens with blockchain and the actors in this space, the future will not look like the present at all. So patience and prudence are required. This is a moment of exploration and innovation, not a moment of completion.
“Trust Machine” is the first blockchain-funded and distributed documentary, and the film covers Mycelia, Imogen Heap’s blockchain project for artists and music rights. What do you think media and entertainment professionals, in particular, should take away from this film?
A lot of good has come from the digital revolution: accessibility, self-distribution, convenience. But while the previous system crumbled, what rose in its place is less equitable for artists and has yet to solve the old, byzantine system of copyright and payment structures. A distributed ledger could be the beginning of radically simplifying these old systems and creating a more efficient and more equitable system for the Information Age.