Randall Miller has directed 12 movies. The most famous of those is probably “Bottle Shock,” the 2008 indie starring Alan Rickman and Chris Pine that gained cult popularity in the wine world for its dramatization of the “Judgment of Paris”—the famed 1976 occasion on which California wines defeated their French counterparts in a blind taste test.
The most infamous is certainly “Midnight Rider,” an unfinished biopic Miller directed about the singer Gregg Allman. In 2014, on the first day of filming, Miller and his crew were shooting without a permit on an active railroad bridge in southern Georgia when a freight train came through at full speed.
The train injured several crew and cast members and killed Sarah Jones, a 27-year old camera assistant. Miller later pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing; he spent one year in jail for those charges, making him the first filmmaker to ever serve time for a film-related death.
Miller is currently finishing out his 10-year probation, a condition of which is that he is barred from directing any film—though that directive was tested in 2019, when Miller directed a movie in Serbia about the World Barista Championship and was thereafter reprimanded by a Georgia judge. (Miller stated he had misunderstood the terms of his probation and was not sent back to jail.)
The director is not, however, banned from pursuing creative projects that don’t put him in charge of others’ safety. That’s perhaps one piece of the answer as to why he’s now endeavoring to make a crypto-funded reboot of “Bottle Shock” that will set the film’s original audio track to an (almost) shot-for-shot animated recreation of the film’s cast and sets, with singalongs to “famous songs from the ‘70s and ‘80s” now peppered in throughout.
Miller, to be clear, is not directing “Bottle Shock: The Animated Film.” Michael Davis, the filmmaker and animator, is; Miller is producing the project, and leading the charge in attempting to get the film funded via decentralized methods.
“As an independent filmmaker, it’s a startup every single time you make a movie,” Miller told Decrypt’s SCENE. “There’s all kinds of roadblocks, and if an artist can make a movie they want to make, and fund it with an audience of people who are excited about it, that’s really exciting. That could be revolutionary… if this can work.”
Miller and his production company, Unclaimed Freight—which he runs with his wife and creative partner Jody Savin—have joined forces with Funded, a crypto fundraising platform that lets people buy equity stakes in projects via NFTs. Miller plans to allow holders of “Bottle Shock” NFTs to share in the animated film’s profits, commensurate with the size of their investments.
While other film and television projects have attempted to raise production budgets with NFTs, those endeavors have started to garner negative attention from regulators.
Last week, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued an enforcement action against “Stoner Cats,” an NFT-backed web series co-created by the actress Mila Kunis. Key to that action was the SEC’s view that the project’s creators implied that “Stoner Cats” NFTs could be considered investments that would rise in value if the show succeeded—making those NFTs, in the SEC’s eyes, illegally unregistered securities.
Miller said he found the news last week concerning, but largely irrelevant to him. At the same time, though, the filmmaker was fairly unambiguous when describing how his project understands its relationship to “Bottle Shock” NFT holders.
“We’re treating them as if they were investors, whether we can technically call them investors or not,” Miller said. “But they are investors.”
“Bottle Shock: The Animated Film” is currently seeking to raise $1.5 million worth of Ethereum for a production budget that will pay out the film’s creators, including Miller and his wife, as well as the film’s original actors, for reuse of their voices—though musical numbers will be recorded by a new cast.
Not all of those actors will be able to see their performances recontextualized. Rickman, who starred in “Bottle Shock” and is perhaps best known for portraying Severus Snape in the “Harry Potter” film franchise, passed away in 2016. Rickman starred in three films made by Miller and his wife; the filmmakers see “Bottle Shock: The Animated Film” as an opportunity to engage with the actor’s unique talents once again.
“We miss Alan so much,” Miller said. “And now we get to have Alan again, in a way. Although if his character sings, which we’re planning, it’ll be a different person singing.”
Miller is confident the film will earn back its proposed $1.5 million budget, and then some, by selling to a streamer like Amazon or Hulu. If the streamers don’t bite, then he’ll take the film on the festival circuit, as he and his wife did in 2008 with the original “Bottle Shock”—and then try to sell the film to a streamer off positive press and momentum.
“I think it’s going to be a much easier sale [this time around],” Miller said. “Because people will be curious. They’ll be like, ‘What, what is that? What is that version of the “Bottle Shock” movie? I’m curious!’”
Funded operates on an “all or nothing” crowdfunding model, meaning that all projects on the platform must meet their fundraising goals within 30 days. If they don’t, all raised funds are automatically reimbursed to backers, in an effort to protect them.
“Bottle Shock: The Animated Musical” opened its fundraising window on Tuesday; at writing, the project has raised 0.036 ETH, or roughly $57.