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August 18, 2012.
Lee makes a film, it’s almost always an event. That's been
the case virtually from the moment he emerged as a hot young indie filmmaker
breaking both the color barrier by dealing with subject matter most
mainstream directors neither touched or had a feel for. His 1986 film
Gotta To Have It detailed a Brooklyn based urban
life experience that quickly found an audience that had been well served
still plumbing his Brooklyn world for story ideas and films – the latest
Hook Summer –
a film that made its debut at the 2012
Festival. Lee again draws on his roots this time as a
middle-class boy from
and tells the tale of a kid from this Southern city who spends a summer with
his deeply religious grandfather in the housing projects of
has his worldview changed as he discovers unexpected and painful things
about the people he knows during that summer.
truly an indie film – paid for, produced and directed by Lee with a mix of
unknowns and established actors working for the love of this film and
Q&A is culled from a roundtable held at Spike Lee's Brooklyn headquarters,
the Four Acres and a Mule
Filmworks production office, earlier this month.
Your bright young stars – Jules Brown as Flik Royale and Toni Lysaith as
Chazz Morningstar – are amazing.
A lot of
the credit has to go to their drama teacher, Mr. Ed Robertson, who’s at
Ronald Edmonds [Learning Center]. I went to that same junior high school,
but it had a different name then. When I went there it was 297.
Over the year you’ve worked with kids. What do you get from working with
teach me patience.
Its important that young kids do a lot with their education.
important. I’m a teacher myself, I’ve been teaching film at NYU for the last
15 years. I’m artistic director at the graduate film school too. I come from
a long line of educators in my family; my parents, my grandparents.
Education has always been a key thing in my family.
You had to go outside of the studio system to make this movie.
weren’t going to make this film. I knew that,
the co-writer] knew it. The whole thing when James and I sat down I said I’m
going to finance it. We were wasting our time.
How empowering is it to make your own film?
all, this isn’t something that has never been done before. It’s been done.
There are certain projects that hopefully you have the means and way to get
it done. But a lot of people have misconstrued that this film is a
declaration that I don’t do studio films anymore and that’s not the case at
all. I’ve always done both and I will continue to go back and forth.
Some of your NYU students were the crew.
of the crew were my students at NYU.
How was that different from working with a studio crew – was it more
We had a
very small crew and there was a lot of learning on the set. I knew that
going in. These were not professionals, they were students. But how could I
teach NYU and do a film, and not include my students?
You even credited them.
worked hard and they got paid for their hard work. It would just be a total
antithesis of education if I was an artistic director and teacher at NYU and
made a film without my students. We’ve done that on big films, they were
interns. But on this film they were doing sound, assistant camera, they
weren’t just interns, they were working.
Was the filmmaking process as free-flowing as the look of the film?
Everything in the film is important. We’ve been doing this for a while, so
everything has been well thought out. It’s not haphazard. James McBride, we
worked long and hard on the script together.
Was there a narrative leap in going from film to digital?
How does Brooklyn influence you as a storyteller?
has changed and I’ve been very fortunate to revisit it. It all started with
Gotta Have It. That was 1986 and that was Fort Greene,
some downtown by the Brooklyn Bridge, but mostly Fort Greene. Do the
Right Thing, that was 1989 in Bed-Stuy. Crooklyn was Bed-Stuy.
He Got Game was Coney Island. Half of Jungle Fever was Brooklyn.
Bensonhurst, Harlem and now Red Hook.
lot of stories left in Brooklyn.
You were born in Atlanta, but raised in Brooklyn. How much of this film is
from your past? How much of it is truthful.
truthful. I was born in Atlanta and a lot of my summers were spent in
Atlanta. I went to Morehouse. If you lived in New York… in my generation you
lived up north. When school ended, your parents sent your ass down south.
“We need a break, get your ass down south, they’ll spoil you.” My summers
were spent between Alabama and Atlanta. I remember one summer we went to
Atlanta and we had Michael Jackson afros and people in Atlanta looked at us
like we were Martians. Back then we would take the train and as soon as my
grandfather dumped us off the train he’d march us off to the barbershop and
people would come from all around looking in the windows “Who are these
black kids?” The barber was cruel, he’d shave us with a Mohawk first and we
were crying and crying. It was a cruel, cruel thing.
Were you spoiled by your grandparents when you were down there?
They do what any grandparents do. We would spend the whole summer there and
when it was time to go back they’d take us to get clothes for school.
Did you find it hard to portray this younger generation?
son is 14, my daughter is 17.
How have things changed since
She’s Gotta Have It in 1986?
no sexting or texting or Facebook, Skype or all that. There was none of
Do you impose what you learned from your own kids?
my kids are like them and like kids in any other generation. They’re savvy
when it comes to technology. They turn on the TV for me, the DVD, I have to
get them to download stuff for me. It’s not second nature to me.
Inside Man the only film you wanted to make a sequel to?
doing Oldboy [a remake of
the shocking Korean film by Park Chan-wook] now, but for films I’ve done,
that’s the only one.
Will you do more films from other cultures like
What do you keep in your version?
tell you that.
What else is coming up?
Mike Tyson on Broadway, which I directed. And we’ve got this new documentary
coming up called
which is about the making of
Bad album. August 31 will
be the anniversary. Da Brick [a potential HBO series] didn’t get
What can we expect from the Mike Tyson project?
You gotta go see it. What are you waiting for? He’s great.
Are you and your wife doing another children’s book?
been very busy, so we haven’t been able to do one. This is my first time on
Broadway. I want to do Broadway again.
Do you plan on doing a musical?
TO SEE WHAT SPIKE LEE HAD TO SAY TO US ABOUT HURRICANE
KATRINA IN 2006!
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