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the movies, mr. lee and me

does this man need your money?
so i've posted a whole series of comparisons to people who are also writers, or active in fields where i
like to play. normally, the point of this is for me to give myself a pat on the back and reassure myself that i am better than newt gingrich, dick cheney or rob ford. and i believe that. but i can't start this post that way, because i can't just come out and say "i am better than spike lee". because i don't actually believe that, certainly not in the way i believe i'm better than those other doorknobs.

but i do have something i want to say to spike lee and it does come from a rather self-righteous part of my brain. i might not believe i'm better, but in this one particular instance, i think i have a legitimate argument.

for those of you who might not know [and that's probably a majority who don't follow film like it's a religion], spike lee has turned to kickstarter, the online fundraising site, to raise money for his next film. on the surface, it's an interesting proposition: avoid the controlling hands of big studios by going directly to the people for the funds. make the film that you want to make and then worry about getting distribution, which probably won't be difficult, since lee has the name to draw interest from distributors. increasingly, i think that filmmakers are going to be able to turn to these sorts of avenues in order to be able to make films that are outside the big-money visual field of the studio system. and i think that this is how new filmmakers will break into the public imagination- by making films on their own terms that will resonate with people desperate to see something different than what they get from the local multiplex.

but let's do a reality check here: spike lee describes himself [see link above] as a "hybrid", making studio pictures and indie pictures and i agree with him. the thing is, rather than asking the moviegoing public to put up $1.25 million for his new project, why not just pony up some of the cash he's gotten from his other ventures to fund it himself? fine, if he wants to ask other successful filmmakers like stephen sodebergh, who donated $10 000 to the project, that's one thing, but why do his fans owe him their money? this is a man who is a multi-millionaire in his own right, who has garnered big hollywood salaries for projects such as the american remake of "oldboy" and who is more than capable of finding financing on his own. yes, there are filmgoers [me included] who would love to see him return to his indie roots and do something that comes 100% from his heart. but why does he need us to pay for it?

john cassavettes routinely took money that he made from acting in big-budget pictures to fund his directorial passion projects. he mortgaged his house and begged from friends [including actor peter falk] to make "a woman under the influence". lee has multiple houses he could mortgage [in higher rent areas than cassavettes'] and, evidently, lots of friends he could ask. why is he asking us to pay?

i do have a bit of a personal gripe here. as you've likely read on the blog recently, i do have some filmmaking experience. dom and i really wanted to make a movie and so we did. and we didn't get studio backing, nor did we ask for kickstarter money. because it was our thing. we wanted to do it our way and that meant that we should be putting up our own money to do it. it was important to us to be able to make the film that we wanted [and we did]. that meant that we had to be willing to pay the bills ourselves [and we did]. we put every available cent into the production because it was really important to us to be able to do things our way and because we desperately wanted to see the project through. there were real risks involved and real sacrifices. that's what being passionate about something does to you.

i believe that spike lee was at one point passionate about film. his early films are still breathtaking and "do the right thing" is a film that i really believe changed my life and my perspective on race and race relations.

but what he's doing now isn't going back to his roots. it's cynically exploiting people who remember that his name on a film used to mean something, that it wasn't just a hollow exercise in branding.

as a fan, i'm insulted that lee seems to think that he is owed funding. as a filmmaker, i'm offended that, despite his success, he wants to play like there's no difference between what he's doing and the work of someone who is skipping a few meals a week to save up for the camera to make their first feature.

lee has a lot to say- much of it very true- about the subject of race. but perhaps he needs to think a little more about the issues of financial inequality, which are increasingly defining what people can and can't do, what dreams they can have and what legacy they will be able to offer. turning to crowd sourced funding may be trendy, but having a heavyweight like him involved is also going to distract attention and dollars from the people who legitimately need it. lee can get funding for his new project without turning to kickstarter. it's time he did the right thing.

you can buy a copy of our film conversion here.

you can give money to spike lee's kickstarter program here.

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