In an exclusive interview with Boardroom, Spike Lee discussed his first NFT collection, which will include 3,945 hand-picked original frames from his debut film She’s Gotta Have It.
Some might say Mars Blackmon is making a comeback, but if we’re being honest, the original sneakerhead’s inspiration never left.
Spike Lee captivated audiences and took over sneaker culture when he introduced the world to Mars Blackmon in She’s Gotta Have It in the mid-80s. The film was more than a Black romantic comedy, though; it was Lee’s first feature-length film that he’s now reprising in an upcoming NFT collection.
“It’s really my children who got me hip to NFTs,” Lee told Boardroom in an exclusive interview. “When they began to tell me about it — my daughter Satchel and my son Jackson — it was very interesting to me. It didn’t take me long to think about [the fact] that I own the rights to my first film, She’s Gotta Have It.”
The rights to She’s Gotta Have It reverted back to the Brooklyn-bred director 25 years after its release, meaning Lee is free to do what he wants with the film and its likeness. This is an important distinction because some filmmakers, including Quentin Tarantino, are struggling to move into the NFT space because they don’t own the rights to their films. Miramax sued Tarantino last year after finding out the renowned filmmaker had plans to launch an NFT collection inspired by Pulp Fiction.
Lee doesn’t own the rights to any of his other studio films, but owning She’s Gotta Have It is a little extra special because he spearheaded the financing of the film’s production himself. Lee said his team raised $175,000 to create the breakout film, which he stamps as his first “A Spike Lee Joint” inductee. The film brought in over $7 million in box office sales when it hit the big screen in 1986. She’s Gotta Have It was selected in 2019 by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
So, what will Lee’s debut NFT collection entail? How many NFTs will be in the collection? What will the NFTs look like and what utilities come with them?
Lee and Eliot Greene from Habitat Labs gave Boardroom the lowdown on the upcoming NFT collection. Here’s everything we know.
About the Collection
Spike Lee is partnering with content incubator the Visible Project to launch his first NFT collection, which will include 3,945 hand-picked original frames from the film. The frames will feature Mars Blackmon and the collection will include additional art designed by Tré Seals and Adrian Franks.
Lee most definitely has more than 3,945 fans out there who are going to want to get their hands on Mars NFTs, but that’s the point. He wanted this to be something exclusive, which is why he went as far as to pick out each Mars NFT in the collection himself from the original 35 mm prints. Greene said when the team pulled the 35 mm out of cold storage, the real work on the collection began.
“I don’t want this to be a blowout thing where anyone can get it,” Lee said. “We want there to be demand.”
The Visible Project is a product of Habitat Labs and will feature “NFTs from legendary creators.” The incubator’s mission is to power the next generation of creators, so it sets a portion of sales aside to support content development and young filmmakers. Greene told Boardroom all about the utilities that come with owning an NFT in Lee’s collection.
“We worked with some really talented artists to create properties inspired by the film,” Greene said. “We have a generative algorithm that we’ve tied to this that will include some collectibility. We think of this as a way to bridge that gap between the physical film memorabilia collector into this digital space.”
A couple of days after the mint event concludes, Greene said the generative algorithm will randomly reveal and distribute the 3,945 NFTs to holders. The mint will happen on the Visible Project‘s website, and once revealed, NFTs can be re-sold on secondary marketplaces.
Lee’s NFT collection includes some rarity as well, including his personal signature in his favorite color, fuchsia. As far as favorite Mars NFTs from the collection, Lee has many, but one would be of Mars Blackmon holding his fake gold medallion that says “Mars.” Lee said they actually used brass to create the medallion because he couldn’t afford to get a big gold piece like that. Lee and Greene didn’t want to give too much away, but expect some rare one-of-one NFTs in the collection.
Each NFT grants holders membership access to the Visible Project. Here are the benefits per the incubator’s website:
- Voting rights in Visible Project greenlight decisions, which include one vote per crypto wallet.
- Tickets to in-person and digital events, including the inaugural Visible Festival to be held in NYC in Spring 2023.
- Early access to curated capsule collections.
- Unlockable merchandise, airdrops, and brand collaborations.
- Access to private Discord channels and the on-chain portal where the community will define the direction and activities of The Visible Project.
Mars NFTs will be Ethereum-based. Lee’s inaugural NFT collection doesn’t have a release date or set prices yet, but Greene said the team is watching the market to fine-tune those details. The best ways to get updates on the project are by following Lee on Twitter, or on the Visible Project’s social channels.
36 Years in the Making
Lee and Greene started cooking up this NFT collection in November 2021, but it wouldn’t be possible without the iconic film. Lee said this project fits into the legacy of his writing and creating, and naturally, NFTs fit the next step in his progress.
“It was fun going back and looking at my very first film and picking the scenes that Mars was in,” Lee said. “I try not to think about stuff I’ve done in the past. My mindset be like, onward and upward, but I had no hesitation going back to [my] first film and that’s the one that put me on the map.”
Brooklyn-inspired streetwear and Jordans are a large part of Mars Blackmon’s persona, but Lee said Michael Jordan didn’t even know who he was when the feature film hit the big screen. That quickly changed when Lee teamed up with Nike and MJ to produce commercials for Jordan’s iconic sneaker brand, including a promo for the original release of the Air Jordan 4s in 1989.
Around All-Star Weekend three years ago, Lee said he finally mustered up the courage to ask MJ why he picked him back in the day to lead the charge on his Jordan commercials.
“He could have easily picked some big-time director; people who are giants in that industry, and he chose me,” Lee said. “So I said Mike, why did you choose me? He said, ‘muthafucka you wearing my shoes!’ I’m here to say, I’m honored Michael Jordan called me a muthafucka.”
Greene said there’s a connotation around celebrities getting into the NFT space, though, so his team and Lee wanted to make sure they took their time to learn the ins and outs of the growing industry before jumping into it.
“There’s an appropriate thoughtfulness with how, if you’re trying to get into this space in a meaningful way, you have to take the steps to do things like audit your smart contract and build a system that reduces gas fees,” Greene explained.
Future NFT Plans
As part of launching this project, Lee will serve as chairman of the incubator. The Visible Project will open up submissions for emerging filmmakers and allow them to submit pitches to its community. All Mars NFT holders will get a chance to vote and green-light the projects they want to see come to life with support from the Visible Project. Lee will be at the helm of this process, as well as interacting with the Mars NFT community regularly on Discord.
“Spike doesn’t do things half-assed here. It’s not just up until the sale but after the sale, there will be a curation process where we need to vet the project that comes into us because we’re going to cast a wide net,” Green said. “Before we bring someone into this program, we need to make sure they can execute on the vision that they set out.”
Education is in Lee’s DNA and he understands better than anyone that not everybody can afford to go to film school. He’s been teaching at New York University’s film school for over 20 years and he’s also the artistic director for NYU’s graduate film program. Lee said he’s eager to continue reaching future filmmakers who are mastering their craft outside of the classroom, especially minority creators.
“I come from a long line of educators in my family’s history and I love teaching, so this is going to be a vehicle where I can reach out to filmmakers who just can’t afford to go to film school,” Lee said.
The Visible Project will release free content for anyone trying to learn about filmmaking from editing to film production, audio, and beyond. Lee is headstrong about being hands-on with this project.
“Spike and I have been figuring this out together, but how do you enter into Web3 if it’s not native to you or you haven’t been doing it for two years at this point?” Greene asked. “It feels like there’s this gatekeeping that’s been taking place in this space. Can we help create content that educates people? That’s something that we want to do here.”
Aside from investing in emerging film projects, the Visible Project has some ambitious plans including hosting its inaugural festival in Spring 2023 in New York City. Lee will be along for the ride, and he said we can expect to see more of him in the NFT space.
Catch Spike Lee on the main stage at VeeCon to discuss his NFT ambitions further.