Want to see a disabled character on the big screen played by a genuinely disabled actor? Want to get into NFTs? SupercripNFT is helping audiences do both by crowdfunding an original film from the filmmakers behind “Bottleshock”, “Shoot ‘Em Up” and the newly released “Coffee Wars” with gameable NFTs and a new blockchain currency. ABILITY Magazine’s George Kaplan and Chet Cooper chatted with the team behind “Supercrip”: actor Tobias Forrest, filmmakers Randall Miller and Michael Davis and “MacNerd” Steven McKeon.
George Kaplan: Can you tell us more about “Supercrip” and how everybody was attracted to the project?
Tobias Forrest: I had just moved out to LA. I had no intentions on becoming an actor or anything like that, but someone had told me about a Christopher Reeve acting scholarship that was through the Media Access Awards. I had just gotten my master’s in psychology. I had to portray an old man with Alzheimer’s for my class, and everyone said, “You should be an actor.” And I said, “What? Uh, OK.” But this opportunity landed in my lap. I went to the audition. I did the old man with Alzheimer’s. I won the audition and I got a lot of money and I decided, “Well, let me try acting.” And at the same time, Randy was doing a movie and he said, “Toby, jump in as an extra on my movie.” It was really like my first job.
Randall Miller: The movie was called “Nobel Son,” with Alan Rickman and Mary Steenburgen and a number of other actors.
Forrest: Which also gave me the incredible experience of me being with Alan Rickman and hanging out with him one-on-one for an hour just talking about acting and theater and what a profound experience to be an extra talking to this huge star on this film set. And then fast-forward, years later Randy’s doing another movie called “Coffee Wars,” which is about to come out, you’ll hear more about that in a moment, and he said, “Toby, why don’t we throw you in this role as the head judge? The wheelchair doesn’t matter, it’s not part of the character, just like in the other movie, you just happen to be a guy in a wheelchair sitting at a table.” And now I just have more lines. (laughter)
Miller: Well, it’s more than that. He’s a pivotal character in the piece. He’s the nemesis for the lead character.
Michael Davis: The movie is about, in real life they have barista competitions, like the Olympics of coffee-making.
Miller: That’s true. This happens every year.
Davis: The story is like a “Pitch Perfect” but with coffee. It’s about a barista trying to save her vegan coffee shop, she needs to win the barista competition, but they don’t want her to use her vegan milk. She has to use real milk, and she won’t. And so it has this very green thing. But anyway, Toby plays this judge who’s had this big run-in with her in the past, so he’s kind of the antagonist of the story. They have this great scene where they haven’t seen each other for years, where she had flipped out on him, and now he sees her, but he raises up his wheelchair so he goes nose-to-nose, eye-to-eye with her.
Forrest: He gets some leverage!
Miller: I have to say, the funny thing about it, we’re starting to do the PR and press and stuff, and I was talking to the press people, and I said, “You know, we really should do something with Toby’s character, with Tobias, he’s a great speaker and a PWD and he can really speak to all of that.” And the PR people were like, “Well, I don’t know if that’s right,” and I’m like, “What do you mean?” “Well, he’s not really disabled, is he?” And I’m like, “What are you talking about? He is!” He was so convincing that they didn’t believe that he wasn’t a disabled character who was actually disabled.
Miller: And that’s the issue that we’re addressing with “Supercrip”, in a way, that people—for years, the lead characters in a lot of movies would be someone who was an actor playing a disabled character in order to show what great acting talent they had.
Davis: It’s like Daniel Day-Lewis in “My Left Foot.” He is not disabled, but he has to go for the role that’ll give him the Oscar because he gets to play a disabled person.
Miller: So Toby and I, we know each other, and one day Toby drove out to our house in his van, and I was shocked, because I didn’t know that he could drive and he recently got a van, and we started spinning on this idea of, “What if Toby was an Uber driver who picks up a famous actor and through the course of the story, the two of might find out that they’re going after the same role.”
Davis: It’s a funny buddy comedy.
Miller: Yeah. So that was the beginning of the idea of the movie “Supercrip,” which addresses the idea of a disability, of people being portrayed correctly in movies. And then about a year or two later, after we did the “Coffee Wars” movie and we continued to work on “Supercrip,” Michael and I got together, we know each other from years ago film school. He’s amazing, a filmmaker and also an illustrator, and we started coming up with the idea of how to create this artwork that would flip the whole thing on its head, which is what the “Supercrip” NFTs do.
Davis: If you think about it, you have all these abled actors playing disabled people. We decided to parody it by taking a disabled actor, Toby, playing all these super-abled people to make the point. What if we flipped it around and only people like Toby go to play Superman? And then the Supercrip campaign is going to raise money to start the process of get the Supercrip movie made, which is promoting this, but also it’ll give a portion of the proceeds to different disabled organizations and also give away scholarships for disabled actors to maybe make their short film portfolio piece or acting classes and all that kind of stuff.
Forrest: Which I think is cool, because it aligns with what ABILITY Corps is doing, what abilityJOBS and abilityEntertainment are so focused on, “Let’s get people opportunities to be employed and to do the thing they want to do, to live their passion.” That’s the problem right now, the disparity, that performers with disabilities will only be considered for a job where the character has a disability. They’ll never be thrown in as just the uncle, the father, the doctor unless it says “with a disability,” “in a wheelchair,” “blind,” whatever it might be. And if it’s a major role, that’ll go to a major named actor because they want to sell the movie and to be able to get the funding for the movie. We want to eliminate that factor and say, “We can take a great named actor and put him or her in this other great role and we can filter the movie with other great actors and also other performers with disabilities in roles that aren’t disabled, that are characters with disability.” And then we have the opportunity. It’s great that it aligns with what you guys are doing.
Miller: The essence of the movie is the idea that in part of the movie Toby’s with a group of people who always get put up with roles, but essentially in the end, a major able-bodied actor will get that role. The crux of this movie, which is the real essence of this movie, is, what if a character like Toby goes up for the role against a famous actor who’s trying to prove his chops, trying to play the disabled character? If you really make that conflict strong and honest and tell both sides of it, you can see that this is something that really shouldn’t happen. In this day and age, it shouldn’t happen. You should have authenticity across the board.
Davis: You probably can show the star actor, you can see how selfish he is about wanting to get this role and his fame and the money and all that kind of stuff, and he’s willing to do anything. He kind of wants the Toby character, he wants the shadow, the Toby character, to learn how to act like a disabled person, so he’s extra-friendly to the Toby character. He uses him.
Chet Cooper: Is it completely written already?
Miller: Yeah, yeah.
Davis: It’s a great script. It’s a really fun script.
Forrest: It’s not a far cry from my real life, if you know what I’m saying, in the sense of struggling artist.
Davis: It’s basically a buddy comedy. It’s sort of like a Butch and Sundance, although a slight focus is on the Toby character and his challenges. But basically you have Toby, who really wants to launch his career as an actor, and he’s struggling, and then there’s this big superstar, and he wants to be known as a real actor, not just an action guy.
Miller: He’s had a problem where he’s done something horrible and he needs to be reinvigorated.
Davis: Now he needs to rebuild his career, so he figures if he plays this great, gigantic disability part that’s destined for an Oscar nomination, he can make his career great. In the meantime, if Toby, who’s more able to play this authentically, can get the part, he can really make his career. These two guys don’t know that they’re up for the same part, so the superstar is kind of using Toby, watching him. “How do I make my performance work? I’m going to watch Toby.”
Forrest: It’s a character study, yeah.
Miller: It’s funny, but it also has something important at the bottom of it, which is also what the NFT thing is. It’s like, there’s something funny about it, there’s something colorful and funny about it, but there’s a real essence to it. I think that if you make it entertaining and inviting and it’s a fun movie, people will gravitate towards it. They don’t feel like they’re being force-fed some sort of concept. They think it’s part of what they want to learn about and they enjoy the experience, and then they go, “Yeah, sure, it should be that way.” And then things start to change. That’s my thinking, at least.
Kaplan: You told us more about the plot. How did you land on NFTs to fund the film and the charitable aspect as well?
Steven McKeon: That’s probably due to me. I haven’t done much talking here. I’m a technical nerd, I guess you would put it, not to go for the nerd stuff here. I’ve been in IT and software for 25 years. I’ve run multiple software development companies. We make blockchain products. I’ve been in this space for nine years. I have a quarter million followers on Twitter, I’m well-known in this space, and I really like what this technology is. Recently in the news you hear all these different things, but the technology itself is sound. There are just always actors who try to take advantage of others, and it happens occasionally. The technology is revolutionary, and it will change the world. I just like building in this space.
Randall got introduced to me by a marketing company months ago. They didn’t really take good care of him. He ran into a development team that took advantage of him. I said, “Listen, I’ll take good care of you.” I cleaned it up. I tried to make sure I was taking good care of him as a friend. He’s a really likable guy, and I like what the cause is. My mom’s also disabled. The books would also say I’m partially disabled, too, because I have ADHD, I’ve been clinically diagnosed with that, and I’m a little bit on the spectrum. But I think I’ve made it further than other people would in this position. I’m always trying to help people who have been marginalized a little bit by our society. It’s really important to me. I think it’s trying to put a bright light on an area that a lot of people don’t want to talk about, but sometimes you have to have that uncomfortable conversation to make change.
Facilitating the technical aspects of it was challenging. I don’t know how much you know about NFTs or what that even stands for: nonfungible token. It’s an entity on the blockchain. There are some technical challenges. This isn’t just one picture. These are animated pictures. We had to generate and create our own code to make all this work in a fashion that’ll still be efficient enough to look good on your web page or your phone, but it’ll still be high enough quality for the movie buffs here who want 4K videos for everything.
Davis: I gave him the original artwork in 4K.
McKeon: Oh, I love the quality, it’s just nobody can download it. (laughter)
Davis: When you get the Lames Bond in his wheelchair, it’s not just an image, you get the machine guns firing out that Aston Martin, he’s got a smoke screen, so all these tokens are animated.
McKeon: They’re like little mini-movies.
Davis: They’re not just images.
McKeon: There was no software out there that would generate them the way we needed it for this, so we had to make it ourselves. It’s a unique way of generating these things. It’s a unique art. There’s nothing out in the NFT space that’s even remotely close to what this is. I think it’s also a hybrid between creatives and technical people for the first time. This is another medium to get stuff out there to help support the movie and the cause. That’s how I see the ecosystem. We’re also creating a token besides the NFT collection. A token is financial. It’s actually like bitcoin and you can trade it. So we’re already in the process of creating that.
Miller: And the idea on that is, we’ll create a portion of that that as people buy and sell the token, there’s a bit of money that’s then used not only for this film but for future films that have people in front of and behind the scenes.
McKeon: We take 5% of any transaction that ever happens. If you buy, sell, or trade this token, it’s goes into this wallet. We’ll be using that as a reserve for causes. Besides the selling of the NFTs, we’re also creating a money system to support the NFTs and also there will be a game that you can race in, kind of like a Supercrip derby.
Kaplan: I’m curious about this video game, this racing derby.
Davis: It’s a side-scrolling Mario Kart.
McKeon: Exactly, that’s the best way to put it. You are good at pitching, Mike. It’s a two-dimensional thing. They tried to make this three-dimensional, but I think the way he did it is better. They’re racing across each other with little things, you’ll have to jump over rocks and like that, and they can fall. We basically want to gamify the experience of using NFTs in a game that they can earn some tokens from. And just by having that going on, we’re automatically helping the cause.
Davis: When people buy these NFTs, they’re buying first of the artwork, but then the artwork is sort of a membership or gives you access to other things. One of the things would be the game. They call it a utility. You’re not just buying the artwork, the token gives you benefits. And Randy and I originally got into NFTs because we had seen that there was this animated series called “Stoner Cats” that Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher crowdfunded by selling NFT tokens of their stoned druggy cats that are the funny characters, and they raised the money to make this animated series without having to run around and raise financing. They raised it through basically selling these tokens. Their utility was, “Hey, you’ll be able to see the series early. When we do series two, we’ll let you in, maybe get your advice, you can help us with story lines. You’ll have access to maybe Zoom calls with Mila and Ashton.” And they bought the token that gave them membership and access to other stuff. We’re taking that model and applying it to “Supercrip.”
Miller: And we’ve added all these different thresholds. We’ve added all different kinds of things. There are giveaways for people who support us. There are different portions where we do ten thousand or twenty thousand to charity, fifty thousand to a group of people to be a scholarship.
Davis: When a certain number of NFTs sells, when we hit that mark, it triggers these giving benchmarks.
Miller: The idea is that we make it very interactive for the community, basically.
Davis: Going back to the game and the tokens, each one of these characters, whether it’s the Iron Lung Man or Lames Bond, they’ll have different powers. But just like in a Pokémon card, they have different powers in different arenas. We’ll be having different powers on our tokens, our characters. In the racing game, some of those advantages are disadvantages. Another way you could look at some of the—not every NFT token has this, but our does.
Each one of these pieces of NFT artwork is original. Steve had to create a software that would build these animated tokens, but it would swap out different qualities to make each one of the tokens completely unique.
McKeon: We had to make all the code to make all this happen. Just to give you an idea, to process this 5,000-unit NFT collection is about six days’ worth of processing power on the most powerful computer you can imagine.
Davis: To make 5,000 tokens, it took six days to render them all out.
Miller: And the other thing you should know is, all the faces are all based off of Toby. It’s his face on all of the tokens.
Davis: And his wheelchair was supposed to be slightly modeled up. It’s his wheelchair.
Miller: And the other thing we talked about, I talked to Toby and Michael about this, if this NFT is successful, as we hope it will be, is to do an animated series that has all of these characters in it and then all of the actors who are the voices, of course, Toby will get to play multiple characters, don’t worry, Toby, but they should all be voices of disabled actors. Why not? They should all be.
Forrest: The point is that this seed can grow in a number of different directions and also benefit the disabled community in a lot of ways. Even for the idea of nonprofits, being able to take this model and be able to do that, to raise funding in the future, and also for job incentives and opportunities and things like these guys are talking about. It’s just, there’s a wide variety of options and opportunities. And also individualizing NFTs in the future for other people. Maybe they want a version of their own personalized one, and that’s something we can do, who knows? But it’s great to know that we have this amazing team.
Cooper: You’re doing artwork, animation, and handing it over to Steven for him to make it move and animate it online?
Miller: No, there’s more than that. First Michael and I came up with the idea to do different ones, and then he made each of the individual characters with a blank-slate background, but each one of them is an animated character, moving. And then we created all the backgrounds. So there’s, like, 10 to 12 backgrounds, meaning what you see behind them, and then there are various frames, and there are various details. For example, Lames Bond.
Davis: A Gandroll the White might have a pipe and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes we have a different magic wand, a sword. And then when you mix and match that, that’s when you get multiple originals, because each one has a different combination of elements. And rather than us compositing five thousand different animated pieces of artwork, which is a lot of work, he created a software program that would create all the variations, automated.
Miller: And it’s randomized for the blockchain. Meaning we’re not saying we’re going to get the most special one. The computer is randomly creating the power level and the different combinations so that we can’t control it, because that’s also part of the whole ecosystem of the blockchain and Ethereum, that you can see all the transactions and you can see everything openly. It’s supposed to be inclusive, although people like this problem with FTX and other things that have happened have given it a bad name. But the idea of the technology is that it’s completely open. You can see all the transactions, you can see everyone’s wallet address, so you know this person’s getting the money or that person’s getting the money. It’s all open. The idea was that similarly the artwork itself would be completely compiled randomly in a computer.
Davis: And Chet, you remember a year ago actually buying NFT artwork was kind of at a high, and it’s kind of gone down. One of the reasons why people were buying that artwork is, there might be a thousand of the basic image, but only one or two of them had a certain detail and that would be super-rare. And then fine art, which is sort of a weird game, why would Andy Warhol blow up and be worth a million dollars, when it’s just a weird Marilyn Monroe. People buy fine art because it can go up in value. Well, with these NFTs, the ones that were the most valuable were the ones that were rare that only had certain details. A lot of times when they had these campaigns for the artwork, these people who were art investors would try to buy gigantic swaths of them because they were hoping to get the one that was super-valuable that they could later resell. That’s where the tradition of, when you generate these NFTs, that you randomize them. It’s sort of like a gumball machine where you open it and you don’t know if you’ll get a green one or a yellow one coming out. it’s kind of like, it’s the luck of the draw.
Miller: And that’s how people buy them, too. You can’t buy a particular one. When you buy it, you don’t know which one you’ll get. We don’t know which one you’ll get.
Davis: You might get a high-powered one or a medium-powered one.
Kaplan: Oh, so it’s randomized?
Miller: They’re all completely randomized.
Cooper: You get to choose if it’s Lames Bond or not?
Miller: No, you don’t. All randomized. I can explain the rarity, too. In addition, to add to the rarity of it, there are three levels: super-powered, where there are five characters, and then—
Davis: And how many of the super-powered ones?
Miller: Ninety-nine for each one of them. So that’s 5 x 99, 495 of those. And then there’s—what’s it called?
Davis: Hero? I don’t know.
Miller: There are three different levels, super-powered, franchise, and—I can’t remember the names. The second level has 200 of each one of them.
Davis: So less rare.
Miller: And there are seven of those. And then the last level, there are 300 of each of those and there’s 12 characters. You can see that there are some that are the most rare and some that are less rare. But that doesn’t mean that you could get one of the other ones that’s in the 300 grouping that might have a higher power rating that makes it even more rare than the other ones. It’s just that there’s less likelihood that you’ll get the most rare one.
Davis: And the one reason why it’s good to randomize is, like I said, it’s like a fine art market. A lot of people collect the artwork, but then they resell them if they think they go up in value. Not that it’s a good thing. We want people to buy it for the utility and support the cause, but some people are like house flippers. They take the NFT artwork and they flip it. And oftentimes the creators buy their own NFTs to support their own project. They own their own NFTs, but they don’t want world out there that the owners are secretly getting the super-rare ones because they’ll be more valuable.
Davis: If Randy and I were to buy tokens, we don’t know whether we’ll get a rare one or a medium-rare one. We don’t control it. It’s all randomized. that’s what makes it fair. It prevents people from putting something out on the market and then holding the super-rare ones for themselves.
Miller: I said to Mac, how do we do the same thing, and I don’t mean to use this term, because I don’t know whether the term is used, the money token thing. How do we do the same random thing, where we can’t control it? He said that the way to do that is, there’s a contract. We don’t own any of the actual tokens. We have to buy tokens just like anybody else would buy them. The only thing, the thing that goes back to “Supercrip” the movie and all these ideas to help all these different charities is this five percent, and the five percent, over time, if it’s successful, can be a significant amount of money, because every time someone trades, it’s 5% that goes back.
Cooper: That’s what I wanted to get at. Don’t you want people to keep flipping them?
Miller: Yeah, they do naturally. Like when you look at the most famous one, the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC). The flipping of it is where the people who had the original idea, that’s where the money goes to. It’s a little piece, like five percent.
Cooper: But once you’ve made that five percent, that’s it, unless they flip. So it seems like you should try to figure out a way to incentivize or at least say, “Here’s how it works. Flip it to your friend. Have your friend flip it to somebody else.” (laughs)
Miller: No, no. In the beginning, when we sell these NFTs, about 80%, 7% is going to fund the “Supercrip” movie. That’s what’s happening.
Cooper: Oh, after the fact.
Davis: But that’s a higher percentage of the original sales are also going to charities and scholarships, and later on, once that’s given out, then we continue to fund those scholarships through this 5%. But just to give you a background, have you guys ever heard of this NFT artist Beeple? He’s the biggest guy in the world, like Sotheby’s. One of his pieces of artwork sold for, like, sixty million dollars. The great thing about NFT artwork, unlike if you were in fine arts like Jackson Pollock, once he sells his painting, let’s say the first time he sells it for ten thousand dollars, that’s all he makes. But now MOMA buys it for twenty million, and he doesn’t get a piece of that.
In the NFT world, they build in a small percentage of every sale. Every time Beeple’s thing sells at Sotheby’s for sixty million, he gets a piece of that, a small piece of that, but it’s really significant. So over the lifetime of the artwork, when it’s traded, the artist always get a little commission on each sale. I really like how that democratizes and helps the artist participate in the growth of his artwork’s popularity.
Forrest: The point being that we want to be able to correct that wrong, we all see it, and in any other industry it would have been addressed by now. How come the person at the front desk can’t be someone with a disability? How come the CEO can’t be someone with a disability? So we’re—you know the percentages, I’m sure, Chet, that 20% of the population has a disability and less than 1% of characters with disabilities are performers with disabilities. It’s a really disappointing and disparaging number, and we want to correct that number.
Cooper: You guys have put together, the NFTs, the gaming, the power, and the movie. There’s a lot of moving parts, pun intended. Do you have an NFT with any coffee?
Miller: (laughter) No. If you look at these various characters, you can see them around me, they’re all the most famous—I won’t use their names, but they’re the most famous movies’ most famous characters. The idea is that if you just step back and say that your regular audience goes to see Marvel, to see Disney, to see these gigantic movies. If they actually looked at those movies and thought for a moment, even for a moment, even in a comedy moment, they thought, “What if this guy or woman who’s the lead character were a disabled person or had been a disabled person ten or twenty years ago in this movie, this series I’m watching?” Probably their point of view would be shifted. Just like the way I remember distinctly the moment that African American characters became much more—there would be an African American lead, an Asian lead, and you would just assume that that’s the way the world is, which you’re supposed to assume in real life, if you’re a normal person.
Miller: But they haven’t done that with disabled characters yet. My thinking is, if I can shake that up, there’s no reason why Toby shouldn’t be—and I’m not trying to disparage Peter Dinklage or anything like that, but no reason someone like Toby can’t be what Peter Dinklage is now. He’s a movie star. They put movies around him. Something was just announced on IMDB about a moving that he’s doing with somebody else that has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a little person at all. He’s this famous actor now. It feels like we should have people in wheelchairs, just like we have other things, Marlee Matlin is now a movie star, there should be a person in a wheelchair who’s a bona fide movie star. That should exist.
Davis: Yeah, many, many of them.
Forrest: I think Michael’s right, we need a lot.
Miller: That’s how we came to this idea. How do we put this out in a way that’ll make people think about it differently?
Cooper: What did you say, Toby?
Forrest: I said Michael’s right. How many white Chrises are there on “The Avengers”? It just seems crazy.
Davis: But it also can just be normal, why can’t we have a “Harry Met Sally” where one of the characters is PWD? We love Billy Kristol because he’s funny and we have empathy for him. That part doesn’t rely on him being able to walk around. All the charm in that movie is his personality and his force of character. Why can’t we have more disabled actors who are so charming or funny or great playing that part and having a great romantic comedy, and then they become a star?