Moriarty Interview Spike Lee

Really good piece here:

Moriarty: I just loved that, right from the beginning, it felt like you were giving back. Like you were putting the hand out to other filmmakers and saying alright, look, here’s what I had to go through. And DO THE RIGHT THING especially, with the turnarounds, and with how that film almost didn’t happen, and sort of the struggles, it really, to me, crystallized that if it’s worth doing, and if you believe in a project, then keep butting your head against the wall.

Spike Lee: Well that’s part of… I’ve been teaching as a professor at NYU for the last eleven years, the last four or five, I can’t remember exactly, I’m also the artistic director of the non-grata film school, this is where I went to school, where I finished back in 1982, and I try to instill into my students that they have to get up and go, they have to have gumption. They cannot just sit around and think that it’s gonna happen if they don’t make it happen. You have to get off your ass, roll up your sleeves, and make it happen. When I went to Morehouse they always had this speech the first day. [Laughs] They said “Look to your left, and look to your right. There’s a good chance one of those two people will not be there next year when you come back.” Well it’s the same thing in film school, and you have to feel passionate about what you are doing. And you also have to have a thick skin. If you’re a person who can’t take criticism, or is gonna slit your wrists when you get a bad review, then you should try something else. And not everyone is always gonna like what you’re gonna do, but you just gotta strap it up and get out there for the next one. Just try and get the next one. You did one. Alright, you’ve got that under your belt. Now try to do another one. And then the trick is, if you can, try not to repeat yourself, and keep learning and exploring as you go on this journey. Just try to get better as a filmmaker.

That was one of the most important things I learned when I was in film school. I read an interview about Akira Kurosawa. At the time he’d just done RAN, so he was probably 85, something like that. And the person interviewing him said “Mister Kurosawa, a master such as yourself, is there anything that you don’t know about cinema?” And Kurosawa – I’m paraphrasing here, but he said “There is still a universe which I do not know about cinema.” So when someone like Kurosawa says that after making many masterpieces, being one of the master filmmakers of all-time, if he says when he’s 85 years old that there’s still a universe he’s yet to learn, then… me reading that in film school, that was like an atomic bomb went off. It was like “Oh shit… if HE says that, then what do I gotta learn?!” So I mean, just understand that you’ve got to keep learning, got to keep growing.

Moriarty: I love the fact that you have shot for television with things like SUCKER FREE CITY, or you know, some of the documentary work that you’ve done, and I love that you’ve embraced hi-def at times, like you said you used Super 16 and 35 on this film, you shot documentary, you’ve shot narrative, you’ve shot giant films, you’ve shot small films… it really seems to me if you’re not flexible like that, you’re not going to survive the next 15 years of filmmaking, because things are changing so dramatically. I read an interview where Spielberg allegedly said, “I can’t make a film for less than $50 million anymore.” I just don’t believe that. I think he could if he wanted to.

Spike Lee: [Laughs] Well, if he doesn’t have to, why should he?

Moriarty: “Oh, I wish I could just go shoot something for $100,000 with three friends, and just do it.” I think that’s a mindset where you COULD do that if you really felt like it. And film is so... you know, with SUCKER FREE CITY, for example: yes it was a TV project, but these days, does that matter? Doesn’t it all just end up as cable and DVD fodder anyway? Does the first distribution point really define what your film is anymore?

Spike Lee: Well, I did SUCKER FREE CITY because we really wanted that to be a pilot for a show. You know, they didn’t want to do it and that’s their choice, so it was just released as a film. But I think you were right about that first statement: if you don’t adapt, no matter where you are, no matter what you’re doing, you’re gonna perish, especially in the volatile times we live in. You know I woke up this morning, I turn on the news, and 25,000 people are out of work at Lehman. Just like that. People are coming out of there with all the stuff from their office in a paper box, many people had their life savings wrapped up in 401s and Lehman’s stock… wiped out entirely. It is volatile. If I had been rigid… I mean from the very beginning, we shot SHE’S GOTTA HAVE IT in 12 days, two six-day weeks, for $175,000. Now I could have said ‘You know what? I’m gonna need a million dollars to shoot this.’ I think the original budget was half a million, but then I got religion [Laughs], and it became apparent to me that if I was gonna do this, it was gonna be for that amount. And we had to make do; we adapted. So that budget became $175,000. That’s just the way it’s been since the beginning, and you’ve got to adapt.



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