Columbia alums create one of the first NFT feature films

By Anna Busalacchi, Managing Editor

Columbia alum Lucas Lona is set to star in one of the first ever feature-length NFT films, “He Who Lives in Hidden Lakes.” Zachary Clingenpeel

“He Who Lives in Hidden Lakes,” a mystery feature film about a “hidden man” who lives in the woods, is experimental in every aspect, including its distribution.

The film is making history by being among the first one of one NFT films, meaning there is only one copy being sold as a non-fungible token.

An NFT is a digital unit of data that represents objects such as graphic art, videos, music and films, among other digital pieces. An NFT is purchased and sold using cryptocurrency and is non-interchangeable, making them unique.

“Having a one of one NFT establishes scarcity, so what we’re trying to do with this project is position our film as not only a movie to be distributed far and wide, but also a unique, non-fungible artwork,” said Zach Lona, director and co-producer of “He Who Lives in Hidden Lakes.”

Lona studied fine arts at Columbia for two years before transferring to finish his undergraduate degree at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He said he has known about NFTs for a while and has been involved in the crypto community since 2017, but there was not an obvious film use for NFTs until February 2021, when he and co-producer Anthony Gibson realized the opportunity to “pioneer a new distribution model for filmmaking” in the cryptocurrency market.

“I think what we have here is not going to be right for every film, but it is going to be right for independent, low-budget, director-driven films,” Lona said.

Lona said once the NFT is sold, the film can be more widely distributed for streaming purposes. He said the owner of the “He Who Lives in Hidden Lakes” NFT will receive 50% of the film’s streaming revenue, which provides an incentive for them to be involved in the film promotion process.

In addition to a percentage of the film’s revenue, the winner of the auction for the “He Who Lives in Hidden Lakes” NFT will also receive a physical token, which is special because most NFT’s are entirely digital. The owner can scan the token with their phone and have access to the film, trailers and a poster signed by the main cast and crew.

Lona said the film is inspired by his interest in memes as an artistic medium, embodying his frustration with the “alienated condition we find ourselves in the modern and postmodern eras.”

“The theme of the film is how members of a community come together to form shared myth that is distributed between them, kind of like decentralized narratives,” Lona said. “Each character in the movie has a different idea of what the hidden man is and often it drives them to the brink of obsession and insanity, so it explores what happens when you’re overtaken by a meme.”

Lona said the process of distributing the film as an NFT on the blockchain is called “minting,” which allows the seller to mint their NFT to however many editions they want to exist. Lona chose the NFT to be purchased through the cryptocurrency Ethereum, because he said it has the most longevity of the cryptocurrencies.

Lucas Lona, a 2019 Columbia alum in the Cinema and Television Arts program and brother of director Zach Lona, played the principal role of rookie cop Garret Walden as his first acting role in a feature film.

Lucas Lona said selling the film as an NFT creates an intimate experience between the filmmakers and the buyers that is largely disconnected from the current climate of Hollywood and the big names in the film industry.

The brothers said the majority of the film was shot in 10 consecutive days in June 2019 in a forest preserve in Bolingbrook, Illinois, their hometown, with some additional footage in the Andersonville neighborhood. Lucas Lona said the crew included 10 people, and there were about 20 people total on set including members of the cast.

The NFT auction for “He Who Lives in Hidden Lakes” went live April 14 and ended May 14. Lona said the film team is currently in negotiations with private collectors who are interested, and they are working on setting up the movie premiere for “He Who Lives in Hidden Lakes” in Los Angeles.

“NFT’s and the crypto space are going to explode even more than they have in the next 10 years,” Lucas Lona said. “I think it is truly the future of really everything that you could possibly think of, so it feels good to get in early.”