Growing up immersed in the film industry, Julie Pacino has always known that film was what she wanted to do. Enamored by the atmosphere of being on set from an early age, she wanted to recreate those feelings of inhabiting alternate realities through her work.
To be sure, she has spent years defining and refining the artistic vision that shines through her powerful imagery. Yet, despite the award-winning work she has produced, she has still had to deal with the frustrations that so many filmmakers do when working within the mainstream film industry.
That all changed when Julie discovered the possibility of taking a different route – funding her projects and building community, through NFTs.
“The industry is full of gatekeepers. I needed a change, and NFTs posed a perfect opportunity for that.”
Quotes are condensed and edited for clarity.
Photography is at the heart of Julie Pacino’s NFT journey
Aside from film, photography has been another passion of Julie’s throughout her life. In fact, she had maintained a practice of photographing all the rehearsals of the many short films she made, in part to acclimate her performers to the presence of the camera.
At one point, photography also became a powerful tool in her personal life.
“As I was really coming into my own as a queer woman, portrait photography started becoming a real way for me to express and get comfortable with my sexuality. So photography really started becoming a therapeutic thing for me over the past couple of years.”
The more she shared her photography with friends and online via Instagram, the more she was able to develop her natural eye for capturing emotion. Eventually, brands started to notice, reaching out to her to do product shoots. That’s when Julie started to pursue photography in a professional capacity.
How a conversation about Justin Aversano and NFTs led to Pacino’s first NFT collection
Photography was a welcome path for Julie as she continued to work on film projects. Indeed, regularly booking photoshoots became a valuable income stream that still catered to her creativity. As she notes, “Making a film takes years and you have to keep the lights on in some way.”
But it was a fateful conversation around February 2021, that shifted the next part of her journey. It was at that time that a friend reached out to ask if Julie had plans for the now vast trove of photographs she had taken. And if she’d ever heard of NFTs.
“When he first told me about it, I think I reacted the way that most people react. I kind of couldn’t wrap my head around why someone would want to spend money on a JPEG.”
But Pacino stayed open, and her friend introduced her to the work of Justin Aversano. In fact, the photographer’s Twin Flames NFT collection debuted around that time. Over the next couple of months, Julie started to get a handle on the rapidly emerging NFT space.
“He had to explain it to me a few different times – what the blockchain is and what it means for artists. I started becoming a believer, absorbing and learning in a very slow burn type of way. And then in August, he helped me get set up with my genesis drop, I Live Here Now, which was 100 photos.”
After her genesis drop, the artist’s NFT experience quickly went from “0-60”
“I Live Here Now” was a series of photos Pacino took at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, California. To her amazement, the 100-piece collection sold out in less than 30 minutes. With that said, what really inspired her about the drop, was the reaction she got from the community that formed around the collection.
“I was getting messages from the collectors, and they were telling me what my photos meant to them and their interpretations. It was just unlike any experience I’ve ever had. That for me is why I make art – as a means to connect with other people. And the immediacy that NFTs offer in that regard was so shocking and exciting to me.”
Without a doubt, experiencing that oft-referenced spirit of community that permeates NFT culture was an attractive proposition for Julie. As it turns out, the admiration between her and the community was mutual.
To that end, TIME Magazine contacted her shortly after the drop, to let her know that she was one of the artists selected for its first TIMEPieces NFT collection.
“It was kind of a 0-60 thing. When I was in the learning process, it was very slow-burning. And then once I did my drop, and it sold out like that, I was like, This is it. I found it.”
And as Pacino started to see early success with her foray into NFTs, the NFT project that would become the basis of her feature film began to take shape.
Pacino’s creativity flows freely between photography and film
Of course, it didn’t take I Live Here Now selling out and leading to other opportunities for Julie’s wheels to start turning on further possibilities. On the contrary, the story for a film in the same world as the photography collection came organically from the process.
“When I got those photos developed, I was like, Oh, my God, there’s a real story here. And [lead actress, Fern Cozine] and I started crafting the concept of this character. And I wrote the script in like three months – it just flowed out of me.”
Thus, the idea for Keepers of the Inn started to take form. After all, Julie had already experienced the advantages of NFT collections, from both a fundraising and a community-forming perspective.
In essence, Keepers of the Inn is a continuation of the story that Julie has been crafting. First through the NFT photography collection, and then with her screenplay for I Live Here Now. In this way, she gets to express her art in a way that is truly authentic for her.
In her artistic process, photography and film work seamlessly in tandem. A natural position for the two artforms she loves, so much so that she prefers the title of, visual artist, over labeling herself as either a filmmaker or a photographer.
“It’s just so cool because the whole thing started as photos. The photos inspired the screenplay, and then the screenplay inspired Keepers of the Inn. And now the Keepers of the Inn photos are going to inspire the next draft of the script that we’ll shoot and make.”
Julie Pacino believes NFTs can open doors for filmmakers
All in all, there’s a larger movement that Julie is championing by approaching her film this way. To be sure, she acknowledges certain privileges that have come from her iconic father’s on-screen legacy. Even so, she still shares the experiences of so many other filmmakers when it comes to pitching their work.
“Obviously, with my last name, there were a lot of doors that were opened, in terms of being able to meet with certain people. But even then I was being told that my vision was not of a certain formula that would work.”
What’s more, it is partly because of that awareness, that recognizes the importance of proving the viability of NFTs as a funding model for other independent filmmakers.
“I’ve still been gatekept and told that [my art] doesn’t work because it doesn’t adhere to a formula or some outdated set of rules.
And so, if I’m getting told that, imagine all of the people who don’t have a famous last name, who also have art that is important to them and could impact other people. They’re not even getting the chance to pitch it.”
On the potential of NFTs to amplify underrepresented voices
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, Pacino hopes to help increase the representation of female and queer voices. She’s always looking for more ways to onboard those artists into the NFT space. And of course, she’s increasing that representation directly through the work she is doing right now.
“I’m in that statistic,” she says of the disappointing fact that only around 5% of NFT creators that have made sales are female-identifying. “I know how good it feels. And so my intention is to spread that feeling to as many other female-identifying artists as possible.”
She acts on this by using funds from NFT sales to buy art from women who haven’t yet made sales. She also takes care to make herself available to anybody who wants to reach out to her. And, unlike the gatekeepers of the film industry, she keeps her door wide open, so to speak.
“If anyone needs help with anything, if I can’t help directly, I’ll help guide them to the person that can.
I’m not gonna stop until the tides are turned. In this Web3 reality and then ultimately in real life. There just needs to be equality and I’m dedicated to making that happen.”