Interview: Spike Lee Talks to S&A About His Next Film, Casting New Talent, and Why He’s Taking to Kickstarter

Interview: Spike Lee Talks to S&A About His Next Film, Casting New Talent, and Why He's Taking to Kickstarter

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. 

  

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Comments

LeonRaymond

Final word on why maybe kickstarter is free game now -here are the following set to launch kickstarter Camp

Frances Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog, Abel Ferrera now if that does not say it all. what we need again is a new grassroots online vehicle that can us real Indies raise funds for projects Kickstarter is gone for us

Foster Corder

It's strange to me that people run to give money to a film that they know nothing really about. Is being a media star the only thing that matters? Shadow and Acts gave my crowdfunding project http://igg.me/at/CWAPB "NO LOVE", nor did most mainstream African American press. But, when a African American filmmaker who doesn't need indie support ask for money, all the press blow it up? Sad ass Black folks. Maybe because my film was about dogs, and who cares? I'm just saying.

that dude

Did he mention Red Hook Summer like that is a reason to give him more money?

filmladyPocahontasheba

I just wanted to say, that Lamar Jackson, Miktal, Anonymous, Genesis, Sterling Cooper, Phil, and Micah are some very cool Character names.. that I'd love to use in one of my films.

Spike and I need to sit down and talk.. If he wants to make some money, on a great film project made written just for him and another great director to direct… starring a great A-List actor whom he's worked with before. A screenplay I am almost done writing.

Lamar Jackson

Pretty ignorant statement there Miktal. Yes, entertainment is precisiely the medium for education. You don't realize it but media has programmed you in thousands of subtle subconscious ways every day. Spike Lee's work, as is the work of thousands of other directors that tell stories Hollywood isn't interested in, is essential. If you or anyone else feels guilty it's probably because you really don't understand history and your place in it and take offense to Spike's observations.

Oh, and as for him losing his audience and not being able to get investors? It's because of racists and people who don't think they're racist because they view it in broad strokes like the KluKlux Klan and skinheads, but it's far subtler than most people imagine. At this point you will now howl that I'm playing he race card.

Well,

Explain to me how George Lucas,practically a god in the film industry couldn't get anyone to invest in his all-black WWII fighter pilot movie Red Tails?

George Lucas.

I could tell you that Hollywood feels threatened by strong black male leads (god forbid they get the blonde haired, blue-eyed symbolism of ultimate beauty) but your education-through-entertainment programming will have you saying that I'm exaggerating, looking for things and being a reverse racist.

miktal

The fact that Spike cant raise the money himself, has nothing to do with the current financially situation in Hollywood, I think even he realises that even suggesting this is a little cheeky. It`s more to do with the fact that his films have a very limited audience, an audience that has been carefully etched away by Spike and his outspoken self. No investor in their right mind would look at his box office takings over the last 25 years and seriously consider him a viable investment, even at $1.25m apparently.
Spike obviously has some very good points to make about social climates and racial bias, and the misrepresentation of black history, but at the end of the day, the entertainment industry is NOT the forum to constantly air it. Everyone kinda knows what to expect when they pick up a Spike Lee Joint, which is a two hour finger waging, guilt tripping, how come you didn't know this about you own people, sit up at the back, are you listening lecture. That is not how I want to be entertained and certainly not something I`d pay for.

Anonymous

So where can actors who want to work with Spike, and don't have representation, sign up for an audition?

genesis

what an arrogant man, come back down to earth please

Sterling Cooper

I'm not contributing. With the exception of "Do The Right Thing" (and perhaps certain elements of "Clockers"), every film in his so-called "Brooklyn Chronicles" was sub-par. It's so great that he's helped out some actors and Cousin Malcolm. But honestly, this "mystery pitch for a mystery movie" is exactly how he bamboozled us with "She Hate Me" and "Red Hook Summer". Well, at least he's making a living.

Phil

Good interview. Not sure if I will give anything though. I've donated to 4 or 5 kickstarter campaigns and not one has made it through the pipeline yet. Come to think of it, I have yet to receive any of the swag that I was supposed to get at my donation level. The kickstarter business model needs to change. It should adopt more of an investment approach. The community kicks in for a piece of the back end residuals or the promise that the residuals will go to a 501(c)3.

Micah

I find this interview much more compelling than his kick starter pitch. Not that there was anything wrong with that pitch. I appreciate how much he's tried to help other black filmmakers. What I really like is how he emphasized the need to make an EFFORT to support independent black film. I was speaking with an AA woman recently who said she loved black film but in the same breath proceeded to tell me about her counterfeit DVD business. Of course my heart sunk. Granted that is a little off topic but it does remind me of how important it is to go out and support these films if we really want them to keep being made. I wonder if old school film societies or clubs would help in that regard. In any case I believe I'll be contributing to this film.

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