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

Photo of Jai Tiggett By Jai Tiggett | Shadow and Act July 24, 2013 at 4:49PM

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.
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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. 

  



This article is related to: Spike Lee


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