Bentonville entrepreneur working to boost Northwest Arkansas’ creative economy

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 2,141 views 

The Society of the Hourglass is an entertainment brand committed to inclusivity, curiosity, and creativity.

Bentonville entrepreneur Joe Payne is joining the fast-growing market for NFTs with an over-arching goal to further the message that Northwest Arkansas is an attractive region for film and television production.

Payne is part of the founding team behind the interactive media company The Society of the Hourglass. Among the projects they are involved with are building a web3 media brand and working on an animated series. They have also launched an NFT collection and are working on an illustrated seek-and-find book.

NFTs (short for Non-Fungible Tokens) are records of ownership representing digital and real-world objects like membership access, art, music, in-game items and videos. Evidence of ownership is stored on a blockchain (Ethereum, in the case of Society of the Hourglass), a publicly digital database.

“The core of what we are trying to do is not the NFT,” Payne said in a recent interview. “That is simply the means we are using to bring the brand to market.”

Payne has been part of the region’s creative tech community for years. He helped launch the print and design agency Moxy Ox in Tontitown in 2009, then joined Bentonville software firm RevUnit in 2015 as creative director and eventually was appointed COO. He left the company in March 2021.

“I took some time off to realign and rediscover things that get me excited and passionate about,” he said. “I had been tangentially aware of NFTs and done a bit of crypto buying back in 2017. I found NFTs at the right time. It’s so full of opportunity if you capitalize on it and have the right attitude and approach. The rest of the group I started the Society with felt the same way, and we are making a go of it.”

Joe Payne

One of the Society’s partners is Josh Stanley, head of Bentonville-based Cartwheel Startup Studio. In December, Cartwheel announced a partnership with Los Angeles-based production studio Jumpcut Media to pitch and executive produce an animated series based on the Society NFTs.

Payne said the Society’s narrative universe — built around historical figures leveraging the secrets of time travel to bring about significant societal advancements, famous historical events and more — will be entertaining and educational.

Ownership of Society NFTs will give each owner a role to play within the creative process. Community members will also vote on writer pitches for the animated series to decide who is hired.

“We’re talking to an incredibly high caliber of writing talent regarding our animated series,” Payne said. “Jumpcut has already met with more than 40 writers as part of the screening process. Emmy Award-winning writers and others whose past projects include things like ‘DuckTales,’ ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ ‘Green Lantern: The Animated Series,’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.’”

To support the animated series, Payne said the Society team is seeking grant funding to try and bring the necessary jobs to create and produce the pilot to Northwest Arkansas. Initially, that would create 25 to 30 jobs.

“We’re working to have a fairly comprehensive draft of the [grant] proposal ready to circulate and begin pitching by the end of this month [June],” Payne said. “We’re evaluating several potential financial partners and potential funding sources that we think will be excited about the economic value proposition for Northwest Arkansas.”

“Part of the reason we are starting with The Society of the Hourglass here is that animation jobs in the industry tend to be longer than live-action shoots, which are typically gig-based. By establishing a long pipeline of work, ideally, we can make a significant dent in the infrastructure gap that exists in production. We start with our [animated series], then they have what they need for another production and then another, then it starts from there.”