As Tambay noted yesterday, I got a chance to talk one-on-one with director Spike Lee about his recently launched Kickstarter campaign to raise $1.25 million for his next feature film. Specifically, he’s said that he reads this site and others, is aware of both the positive and negative responses to his campaign, and wanted to address some details about his project and what it means.
We haven’t learned much about the movie’s plot so far other than it’s a psychological thriller about “people addicted to blood.” But he was reluctant to share much more than that, citing that Hollywood has ruined much of the element of surprise for audiences:
SPIKE LEE: They put everything in the trailer. Nowadays you can see a trailer and you don’t even have to see the film because you know what’s gonna happen. Also, the film you’re watching is the fourth edition of the movie anyway. So with this particular film, this subject matter, I feel that for it to work the audience should be surprised. They don’t have to know all the exact plot points. I don’t want to go to a movie where I know everything that’s gonna happen. I want there to be a sense of discovery.
He did add that, stylistically, audiences can expect to see some entirely new elements from him, as well as humor and risque subject matter:
It’ll be brand new, but you know it’s going have “the dolly shot” in there. There is going to be a sensuality in this film that we haven’t had since She’s Gotta Have It. Black, naked people. Butt naked. Hey, I’d pay $20 for that [laughs].
Is he concerned at all that not sharing much of the plot might hinder people from donating?
This is a free country. For whatever reason, somebody might say, “I’m not giving Spike a dime because I hate the mf-ing Knicks.” What am I gonna do? I can’t sit around and worry about people who aren’t gonna do it.
Rather than knowing about the film itself, he suggested that people should contribute based on what they know of him and his past work:
What did Wesley [Snipes] say in that film? “Bet on black.” If you’re going to the racetrack and you look at your card, there’s a horse that’s been around and never won. Then you see another [winning] horse. Now switch it to filmmaking and include She’s Gotta Have It, School Days, Mo Betta Blues, Jungle Fever, Malcolm X, Inside Man, 4 Little Girls, When The Levees Broke, Bamboozled, 25th Hour, Crooklyn. Old Boy’s coming out. Who are you putting your money on?
That’s why I felt it was important to include my body of work [on Kickstarter], because mf-ers be forgettin. They need to go to IMDb and look at the body of work I’ve amassed over these 30 years. People are forgettin, and I don’t mind reminding them.
As for the cast, there are no actors attached as yet, but he does have people in mind and is specifically looking to cast new and unknown talent:
There won’t be established names in it. We can’t afford it. These will be young, talented people and if God is willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll get the money. And they’re gonna blow up. [There are] people on the come up who are perfect, I feel, for the role and have an abundance of talent and just need a platform. The same way that Do The Right Thing was Rosie Perez’s and Martin Lawrence’s first film, Jungle Fever was Halle Berry’s and Queen Latifah’s first film, Clockers was Mekhi Phifer’s first film, and on and on. That’s what these roles are. They can provide a breakthrough.
And he’s planning to shoot the film locally in Brooklyn, New York:
This’ll be another chapter in my chronicles of Brooklyn, New York – She’s Gotta Have It, Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, Clockers, some of Jungle Fever, Red Hook Summer.
He’s arguably one of the best known filmmakers working, not only due to his body of work but also the attention he’s gotten in the media. As for concerns about his Kickstarter campaign due to the idea that he has, or should easily be able access $1.25 million elsewhere, he said that’s not true:
Are we talking about Hollywood access? Hollywood would not make this film. And once you take money from a studio then they try to say, “We want so-and-so in it,” and that type of stuff. I don’t want to go through that. This is a very personal film. It’s an independent film. This is a film that’s not gonna make $500 million. It’s not that type of game.
He also said it’s a misconception that his connections or influence would easily help him get this film, or any film, made:
I haven’t been able to make all the films I want to make. I worked on Jackie Robinson for 10 years. I wanted to direct James Brown, I’m not doing that. I haven’t gotten the chance to do Inside Man 2. I worked on a script with the legendary screenwriter Budd Schulberg that dealt with the relationship between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, that I promised to Budd as he was dying that I would get made. I haven’t gotten that made yet. So I’m not saying I’ve been singled out, but I haven’t had everything I wanted.
He mentioned that he has the full support of the Kickstarter founders, who obviously stand to gain from Kickstarter’s 5% fee, which amounts to a lot for any successful campaign that earns above $1 million:
One of my first questions was, “Will this have a detrimental effect on young filmmakers?” And they said absolutely not. They say in a lot of ways it brings more visibility to Kickstarter. So in no way, shape, or form is me being on Kickstarter going to detract from other young filmmakers trying to get money for their own projects. “I couldn’t make any money because Spike Lee is on Kickstarter.” That’s bulls-. That’s an excuse.
The only reason I know about it is because my students at NYU finish their films on Kickstarter. I really wasn’t checking for Kickstarter because my students were getting $10,000, $20,000. But one of my students told me about Veronica Mars and Zach Braff, and when I heard about that $5 million, that’s when I woke up. I want to do it this way. This is a new way to do it, crowdfunding, and I was amazed with the amount they raised. So what, they can do it and I can’t do it?
Does he foresee the same kind of success as Veronica Mars and Zach Braff?
If I do anything, I’m in it to win it. But we need everybody’s help. I read a lot of blogs and everybody’s complaining, but a lot of independent films come out and you don’t go see them. I know there were very good numbers, but they should have been even higher for Fruitvale. They should have been higher for Pariah. So with a lot of people, it’s just lip service. They say, “Hollywood is doing this and that,” but when an independent filmmaker is breaking his neck trying to get stuff out there, we don’t come out in the numbers that we should.
And with independent film you have to understand that it’s not gonna be at every multiplex, so you might have to drive another 20 minutes further. But you’ve got to make that investment, not just in money, but in time. You have to invest in black cinema for it to thrive.
If he doesn’t make the money he aims for on Kickstarter, what happens then?
That’s a big if. Come back to me on day 29, but right now we’re making it. And it’s going to take a community effort to get it done. I can’t do it alone.
Talking to him, you get the sense that this fundraising campaign is less about the money for him than it is about demonstrating the size of his audience and their willingness to go to bat for him:
Some people would call it an experiment, but I’m glad I’m doing this. This is happening. The days of, “If the studios don’t want to make your film, you can’t get it done” are over. And for me at this moment in time and space, I love this. Your supporters pledge money to help you make another film. That’s a genuine act of love where they have to get on the computer, pull out their credit card, and pledge a dollar figure so that you can make your next film. And I think that I have gotten enough goodwill over these three decades that we should be able to get to our goal.
It was reminiscent of the Spike Lee of the 1990s with the strong emphasis on “the community,” which he says will all benefit from his success:
If I get this film made, who’s working on it? It’s going to be young filmmakers who are helping me. I’m not going to be able to hire people who’ve been working 20, 30 years. It’s like Red Hook Summer. That was the youngest crew I’ve ever worked with. So it’s not like it’s just me alone. I’m giving young filmmakers a chance to work on a feature film. And that’s something that people keep overlooking.
Going back to the ’60s – the word is “mobilize.” I want people to understand that if I win, they win. It’s connected. If we reach our goal, it’s about all of us and how we’re going to survive in this industry that’s not set up for us to succeed. We want it to be a community funded project which we all benefit from.
And it’s five dollars [re: the smallest donation level.] You can’t go to mf-ing Starbucks for five dollars.