For more than a week now, I’ve been trying to track down Guy Zyskind, the Israeli founder and C.E.O. of SCRT Labs. That’s the developer of the Secret Network, the NFT exchange behind the much-discussed Pulp Fiction screenplay tokens that Quentin Tarantino planned to sell for millions of dollars. I’ve got lots of questions for Zyskind now that the whole endeavor seems to be as dead as Vincent Vega in the black suit.
As I wrote back in November, Miramax hired a six-litigator team to sue Tarantino over the NFT plan, claiming that the studio, not the film’s writer-director, owned “broad rights” to offer collectible tokens based on the script. In response, Tarantino’s team argued that his original deal maintained his right to “publish” his screenplay, which now allows him to “publish” NFTs on the blockchain. If this topic makes your eyes glaze over, it shouldn’t; pretty much every Hollywood studio is trying to figure out its NFT strategy, and rights ownership is key. A lot of money is at stake.
Anyway, Secret Network went ahead with the first of seven planned Tarantino NFT sales in January, netting what it trumpeted as a $1.1 million price from an anonymous buyer for the famous Samuel L. Jackson–John Travolta “Royale with Cheese.” Zyskind put out a triumphant press release saying the sale “represents a monumental moment for our community, Quentin, and the Secret Network.” And then… the whole thing was abruptly abandoned.
Yes, four days after its monumental moment, Secret Labs indefinitely postponed future Tarantino sales, citing “extreme market volatility,” which sounded like total B.S., even though the crypto market has been on a roller coaster in recent weeks. Then on Friday, the @TarantinoNFTs Twitter account announced that it would “change directions” to a new NFT plan, and that “activity of this channel will now be 100% dedicated to this new endeavor.” So, is the Pulp Fiction plan permanently dead? Or is it being revived with a shot of adrenaline like Marcellus Wallace’s wife?
Tarantino’s rep tells me the plan is to continue the NFT sales at the appropriate time, but neither Zyskind nor his company responded to my request for an explanation of that timing. And it all sounds fishy. Demand may have been low, despite all that media attention. Or perhaps a tech problem intervened. Some of the art used to promote that first NFT turned out to be copyrighted by an illustrator, which required Secret Network to take it down, but I doubt that derailed the entire endeavor. So what’s going on?
Miramax C.E.O. Bill Block, while stopping short of declaring victory, certainly believes that his legal claim created a cloud of uncertainty that negatively impacted the auctions. After all, who wants an NFT whose ownership is disputed by a film studio that is backed by Paramount Global (formerly ViacomCBS) and a Qatari media company? Secret Network isn’t some fly-by-night operation, but it’s also not one of the major NFT exchanges, and it probably says something that neither OpenSea nor Rarible, both of which require sellers to satisfy certain terms and conditions, ended up hosting the Pulp Fiction sale.
Then there’s the veracity of that $1.1 million price for “Royale with Cheese.” The winning bidder, “AnonsNFT,” defines itself as the “1st @SecretNetwork PFP Collection,” which has caused some in that community to suggest it is either related to Secret Network or a front for Zyskind to generate an eye-popping initial price to establish a lucrative market. That’s apparently a common scheme in the NFT world. I don’t know if that’s the case, but Miramax, at least, thinks that could have happened.
A source close to Tarantino says Team QT believes the plan is to re-launch the NFTs as a lower price-point endeavor. I’m certainly not an NFT expert, but apparently there’s a debate raging in that world as to whether these tokens should be the province of the very wealthy, who can afford to shell out $1 million apiece for trophies like their very own Quentin Tarantino scene, or more populist collectibles sold in groups of, say, 5,000 or 10,000 copies, like an artist’s limited-edition prints. The Pulp Fiction NFTs may be pivoting to that latter path, whether by goal or necessity, which could explain why the @TarantinoNFTs account tweeted on Friday: “…we’ve decided to change directions so that every community member will have an opportunity to be a part of that journey.”
Given the media hubbub and the Miramax litigation, which is still pending, it would be amusing if the Pulp Fiction auction ends up looking like merely a virtual fan convention, with Zyskind allowing thousands of QT disciples to stand in line for what is essentially their own digital autograph. The account says the new plan will be announced tomorrow.