The producers of an upcoming film about the founding of gaming company Atari are looking to a cryptocurrency sale to lock down the movie’s financing. Variety reports that media company Vision Tree plans to sell “Bushnell tokens” — named after Atari founder Nolan Bushnell — as part of an initial coin offering, with hopes that it can raise as much as $40 million of the film’s budget through the sale. Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way is also producing the film.
In addition to earning a share of the movie’s profits, anyone who buys a Bushnell coin will also get to provide input on the movie’s trailer and cast, according to the report. “We wanted to enable Atari fans and gamers to co-own the project and the experience,” producer J.D. Seraphine said in a statement to Variety. It’s not clear exactly how this would work, or how much influence investors would have.
The project is described as a Social Network-esque look at the founding of the gaming company, as seen through the lens of Bushnell’s life. However, the film comes at an unpleasant moment. Last month, organizers of the 18th annual Game Developers Choice Awards rescinded their plans to give Bushnell GDC’s Pioneer Award, after stories of sexist and inappropriate behavior during Atari’s early days began to surface online. Stories included Bushnell attempting to hold board meetings in a hot tub, and generally fostering a frat house-like environment at work. A film that refused to acknowledge these alleged aspects of Atari’s early corporate culture would be problematic unto itself. The fact that this particular project is trying to fund itself based on Bushnell’s name despite the recent controversies is perhaps even more unwise.
If Bushnell’s past isn’t enough to turn you off of the project, the token scheme might do the trick. Although cryptocurrency has seen a surge in popularity in recent months, with companies like Kodak launching their own coins and seeing stock market success, crowdfunding a movie in this particular way is a largely untested premise. Recently, the SEC has been halting a number of ICOs, which are very lightly regulated and susceptible to fraud.