Few can dispute that Spike Lee is a film legend. I remember living in Atlanta in the mid 80s and hearing this HUGE buzz about She’s Gotta Have it especially around the Atlanta University center where Spike was once a student.
I had never seen such anticipation for a movie from the black community and the movie was a huge hit and the beginning of a lucrative career in the film industry for Lee that has lasted almost 30 years.
Without a doubt, Lee has learned some hard lessons along the way, most of which he takes in stride these days with a positive outlook that allows him to exercise all of his options before giving up. When you talk to Spike you realize immediately that he has an edge, one that lets you know he’s about business and absolutely demands respect and nothing less.
I can appreciate that. It’s evident that as Spike has gotten older, he takes his time before answering questions and he is very aware of the possible impact of his answers. We talk about that and more during this interview.
KEVIN ROSS: Congratulations on the campaign… I see that you are getting closer and closer to your goal.
SPIKE LEE: Thanks, we knew from the very beginning this would be a marathon and not a sprint. So we’re moving steady and we’re moving forward and hope to be where we want to be.
KR: Explain why this whole campaign is so important to you with Kickstarter?
SL: Well it’s importing because we can use crowdfunding to get the stuff they want to do as artists, inventors, producers, filmmakers etc. You can use crowdfunding principles to go directly to people to support you.
KR: The interview that you did on Bloomberg TV the other day with Trish Regan is the second biggest story on my site this week (besides George Duke’s death).
I saw on your Twitter account where people are constantly using the link from Radio Facts for your followers to see the video which would explain why the story is so huge.
I had planned on donating but after seeing the exchange between you and Trish and her disrespect, I donated on the spot. it seems that she may have actually (unknowingly) helped you.
SL: Yeah you could definitely say that….
KR: .. after I saw the interview I immediately responded and gave some money. Did you find other people did that?
SL: Yes, see Bloomberg whoever the producers were and that lady they had an agenda. They figured they would have me up there and ambush me and discredit me but it blew up in their faces and backfired.
That same day I got Tweets from people who said ‘I don’t like you, I don’t like your films and I don’t like the Knicks BUT I don’t like what that lady did to you, I’m making a pledge.” Bloomberg made me sympathetic. That’s powerful
KR: People really said that?
SL: Yes I have the pledges to back it up.
KR: The film is about Blood? You say it’s “sexy” and I know that you are very secretive about your movies before they come out…
SL: I think trailers can often disclose everything and I felt for this film to work you can’t know everything about the movie. When you think about Alfred Hitchcock the show always left you wanting more. These days it’s just the opposite. They spend 400 million to make it and give everything away in the trailer. We’re taking a different approach.
This is not a Hollywood film. I’m not hating on Hollywood but we’re coming at if from an independent vision and mindset.
KR: Do you ever watch some of the web series that the amateurs are putting together on Youtube and other sites?
SL: I mean, I watch a lot of that sir. First and foremost, I teach film. I’m a professor at NYU Film School where I graduated and I’ve been teaching for the past 15 years. That’s all I do is watch films.
KR: I know a couple of people who have taken your classes and I’ve been told that you are easily accessible. You have office hours and everything. One young lady told me you even came on the set to help her with her first movie. I would think you probably learn a lot from your students as well?
SL: Oh yeah that’s how I learned about Kickstarter, from my students. My students were using Kickstarter to get funding for their projects. My teaching assistant Mr. Julius Pryor IV told me about Veronica Mars, Zack Braff and other movies funded by Kickstarter. When I heard about it I had to do some investigation.
KR: Well Kickstarter must be happy with the publicity?SP: Well, they’ve had major publicity but this is probably the most backlash. Where getting the most heat. The co-founders let me know it was not going ot be an easy ride because there are some people who think the site is for up and comers but we don’t see it that way. So we are not seeing anything that we didn’t expect.
KR: I’ve noticed over the years you still do a lot of your own marketing… why is that?
SL: I gotta get the word out. It started with the first film She’s Gotta Have it. When you don’t have the studios spending millions of dollars on full-page ads or radio or TV, you have to use alternative means. One of the slogans of 40 Acres and a Mule is By Any Means Necessary.
I mean we don’t have TV ads so we (click “Next” to see the rest of the story)can’t sit around we have to get out and make due with what we have.
That’s how we got everything. We had nothing when we came here. We would slam on a tin tub, play a one-screen guitar, whatever it was. We found 9 million ways to eat a pig from the rooter to the tooter. That’s who we are as a people. Make due with that you got.
KR: When you started did you think that you would get that kind of support? It must have frustrated you when you say you didn’t…
SL: There are many frustrations in life in general. You take a pause, you might curse and throw a rock or something but you gotta keep going.
KR: You’ve never been a person who played Hollywood politics…
SL: (interrupts laughing) …. and a lot of people say… to my detriment. They would say, ‘if you would shut up a minute, you wouldn’t be at Kickstarter” (laughs)
KR: Do you ever regret some of the things that you have said or do you think it’s important that you speak up?
SL: Look, I’m glad you asked that question… I’m a grown-ass man. I know there are many times that there would be repercussions… but so be it.
KR: There are certain things in the black community that we don’t like to discuss. I saw Red Hook Summer. I was wondering what the response was from the black community. ESPECIALLY the black church community…
SL: Well, nobody said it was a lie. Just like nobody said what we dealt with in School Daze was a lie. They may not like it but it’s not a lie.
KR: I know that you have had your opinions about Tyler Perry and that he responded “Spike Lee can go to Hell.” I have noticed that after you said what you said Tyler challenged himself and made more diverse movies. I’m not sure if there was a connection. Have you had any conversations with him?
SL: There is no beef between us, we support each other. We are absolutely cool. We know that we have different audiences.
KR: What do you respect most about him?
SL: He’s a great businessman. He built that model from the stage and took it to film. It’s the great American success story.
KR: What do you think of Lee Daniels?
SL: Lee’s doin’ his thing and I wish him much success with The Butler…
KR: What did you think of Precious?
SL: Lee’s doin’ his thing and I wish him much success with The Butler…(both laugh)
KR: She’s Gotta Have it is such a great film. I know the 30th anniversary is coming up in a few years. Are you planning on doing anything big?
SL: Well before that, we have the 25th anniversary of Do the Right Thing next year. We’re gonna have some parties and events to celebrate. It’s a monumental film. it’s even more monumental than your favorite She’s Gotta Have it.
KR: Are there any young filmmakers that you think will do well over the next few years?
SL: Oh yeah that brother Ryan Coogler who did Fruitville Station.. He did his thing.
KR: I haven’t seen that yet.SL: What are you waiting on…
KR: No time, not a lot I want to see
SL: Support the young brother go check it out.
KR: I will this week.. Give me a little more detail about the campaign?
SL: We have 13 days left. Our goal is $1,250,000. Right now we have $763,000. Once we get to 1 million we’ll be in the home stretch.
KR: Will you be releasing it in limited release? How will you distribute it?
SL: We’re going to try to get a distribution deal
KR: There is a myth in Hollywood that no black film can survive without a white lead… do you think that’s true?
SL: No, because if it was Will Smith would not be the biggest star in the world.
KR: Well it seems to be a trend nonetheless, Beverly Hills Cop, Danny Glover and Mel Gibson…
SL: They’ve been doing that since Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. Denzel is now in the movie with Mark Wahlberg.
KR: Is there anybody that you have not worked with that you really want to work with?
SL: Yeah, Sean Penn
SL: Yeah, he’s a great actor. You don’t like Sean Penn?
KR: I have to admit, I have not seen a lot of his work. Maybe something on Netflix here and there. Have you thought about doing a box set of all your movies?
SL: We have in the past but all of my films are not at the same studios so it would be difficult to put all of my work in a box set.
KR: Anything else you want to tell Radio Facts readers about your campaign?
SL: I need people to go to Kickstarter.com click on Spike Lee and make your pledge. Even $5.00 can help. Don’t think it would help. We would not have had two terms of an African American president if it had not been for those $5.00 donations. We need to get the number to 1 Million. (here’s the link to donate). We’re doing everything to reach our goal including pulling out the kitchen sink (laughs).