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Askin' Spike for Work

Spike Lee left the Apple Store SoHo last night with at least three new spec scripts, two DVDs, and two books that would make great films. Welcome to Meet the Filmmakers, a starry series presented by Apple and indieWIRE.


Spike Lee left the Apple Store SoHo last night with at least three new spec scripts, two documentary DVDs, two books that would make great films, and a promotional film poster. The legendary filmmaker was there to kick off this year’s Meet the Filmmakers series, but a half-dozen fans seized the opportunity to share with Lee not just their adulation, but also their loglines. “People here have a lot of ideas about what your next movie should be,” joked moderator David Schwartz (chief curator of the Museum of the Moving Image) during the Q&A. “I know you’re here trying to get your grind on,” Lee said empathetically after another audience question turned into a pitch, “but this is not a job fair.” Laughter and applause from the capacity crowd indicated that they too were interested in talking about other things, like Lee’s two new Festival films, Passing Strange and the world premiere Kobe Doin’ Work.

Schwartz launched into the discussion of the ESPN-produced sports documentary by asking Lee when he thought the Knicks would be back in the playoffs. “We’ve got a Black president,” Lee said. “Anything’s possible.”

We were treated to a lengthy clip from the film—bright and dynamic, with crisp lensing and sharp sound—and some insight into its making. The idea, Spike said, came after he caught a documentary about French soccer superstar Zinédine Zidane at Cannes. Spike immediately thought of Kobe and knew that with the right resources, he could turn the routine, “unimaginative” filming of a basketball game into a truly visceral, insightful experience for the audience. That meant thirty cameras capturing all the action (including Spike with a handheld at the Lakers’ bench), a live mic on Kobe, and voice-over commentary that takes you inside his head. And all of that came with a lot of pressure. “If he gets two technicals and gets thrown out of the game,” Spike said, “we don’t have a film. I told him, ‘You can’t get into foul trouble.’”

For Passing Strange, Lee’s film of the rock ’n’ roll stage musical about a young African American man who journeys from South Central Los Angeles to Europe to “find himself,” he had a little more flexibility. His crew filmed the show four times—the last three live performances before its Broadway run ended for good, and a final time without an audience, allowing the cameras to get on stage and up close with the powerful, hot-blooded performers. “When a play shuts down, that’s it, there’s not really a living document—just people’s memories,” Lee said. “But people thought this was too good.” Three rousing clips full of dynamic camerawork and thundering, stick-in-your head tunes confirmed that.

Despite the occasional veer into Let’s Make a Deal territory, the audience Q&A brought some interesting moments. An older woman introduced herself and told Lee her family had worked on many of his films. “I appreciate that you gave people of color a place in all your movies,” she said. Comments from a man left wheelchair-bound after he was accidentally shot by his cousin (he’s now making a documentary about his experiences) drew a charged response from the famously opinionated filmmaker: “We have to do something about guns in this country," he said. "We live in the most violent country in the history of civilization. People are shooting each other left and right over dumb shit.”

Later, when asked if a film like his iconic Do the Right Thing could be made today in the now-gentrified areas of Brooklyn where Lee grew up, the filmmaker called on Mayor Bloomberg to do something about housing affordability in New York City. “You have to have $10 million to live here,” he said. “I always want to know where the people move to that leave.”

Plenty of aspiring actors and filmmakers solicited the master’s advice, but he humbly admitted he didn’t even feel confident as a director while making his first two features, She’s Gotta Have It and School Daze. “Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas… there’s not one thing any of us can tell you that’s going to be abracadabra, presto, and you’re a director.” He did stress the benefit of writing your own work, remembering the great advice an old English teacher gave him: “If you can write, no matter what you want to do, you’ll be so far ahead down the line.”

And, of course, even those who weren’t angling to get Spike to turn their life story into his next film were curious about what was coming down Spike’s pike. Inside Man 2, his first-ever sequel, will be set in a timely world where people are losing their jobs and their homes. He also wants to film the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, he said. One audience member quipped, “Have you ever thought of ‘Obama Doin’ Work'?”

The Meet the Filmmakers series, presented by Apple and indieWIRE, continues Friday with conversations throughout the day with Natalie Portman, Dan Fogler (Hysterical Psycho), and Lee Daniels (Precious). The event continues through May 1 with appearances by Eric Bana, Gael García Bernal, Diego Luna, and others.

Passing Strange premieres on Saturday, May 2, at 7:00 pm. Another screening follows on Sunday, May 3.

Kobe Doin' Work premieres Saturday, April 23, at 9:00 pm, with more screenings to follow.

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