‘Boxing’ with Spike Lee
LOS ANGELES – “Pacquiao or Mayweather?”
Spike Lee was asking me who I thought would win in case the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. showdown finally happens. The filmmaker is for Floyd. Without hesitation, I replied “Pacquiao!” With my answer, Spike asked that we pose like boxing adversaries for a photographer.
In this recent interview with the outspoken filmmaker at LA’s Four Seasons Hotel, I brought up Matthew Libatique, the Oscar-nominated Filipino-American cinematographer who collaborated with him on “Inside Man,” “Miracle at St. Anna” and “She Hate Me.” In my interview piece on Matthew in my book, “My Filipino Connection: The Philippines in Hollywood,” the lensman credited Spike and cinematographer Ernest Dickerson for inspiring him.
“Matty Libatique is one of the best cinematographers working today,” Spike declared about the Fil-Am who earned an Oscar nod and won critics awards for Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” and whose credits include the recent “Ruby Sparks,” “Cowboys & Aliens,” and the two “Iron Man” movies.
Spike added about Matthew, “I hope to work with him again. Every time I have a film, he’s booked. I really want him to shoot ‘Oldboy,’ but he’s doing ‘Noah’ with Aronofsky. He’s a great cinematographer.”
“Oldboy” is Spike’s remake of the 2003 Korean movie directed by Chan-wook Park. He’s in preproduction for his version, which will star Josh Brolin, Samuel Jackson, Elizabeth Olsen and Sharlto Copley.
Spike assured fans of Chan-wook’s revenge drama that he will “pay great respect to the original. But, we’re not doing one of those shot-for-shot remakes.” He was referring to Gus Van Sant’s take of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” “Oh, that was crazy,” he quipped. “That was insane.”
“We have our own take,” said the often-controversial director who recently directed Mike Tyson’s first Broadway one-man show, “Undisputed Truth.” “You have to do that because we’re shooting here in America. So, it’s different cultures.”
In the coming Toronto International Film Festival, Spike is unveiling “Bad 25,” his documentary celebrating the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s album, “Bad.”
“It’s a two-hour feature-length documentary,” Spike said. “The ‘Bad’ album followed ‘Thriller,’ which today is still the biggest-selling album of all time. I did this documentary in conjunction with Sony Records, Epic Records and the Michael Jackson estate. I had full access to Michael’s vault. So, we use material in this documentary that the world has never seen. Ever.” That reportedly includes footage shot by Michael himself.
“With this documentary, we’re going to see all the work it took to make this album,” Spike promised. “And the people who collaborated with Michael—
Quincy Jones, engineer Bruce Swedien, and all the other great engineers and musicians. Then, we also interviewed people who were kids then and how that album affected their lives—Mariah Carey, Kanye West, Questlove, Justin Bieber. I’m very happy about the documentary.”
Spike disclosed that he is in negotiations on whether “Bad 25” will debut in America on cable or network television.
The Atlanta-born, Brooklyn-raised director shared that he and Michael “weren’t best friends” but he had an affinity with the late singer. “I grew up at the same time with him,” he pointed out. “I was born in 1957. He was born in 1958.
While he had financial backing for “Bad 25,” Spike dipped into his own pocket to make his indie drama, “Red Hook Summer.” The latest of his film series set in Brooklyn, “Red Hook” explores the ties between a teenager and a church.
“I knew from the beginning that this is not a film that the studios are going to make,” he admitted. “I’m not trying to slam the studios. Some things they do; some things they don’t. This is a story I wanted to tell, so I financed it myself.”
Proudly citing that “Red Hook” was made under a million dollars, Spike said, “A third of my crew are my students at NYU (New York University). We shot it in 18 days. We shot ‘Inside Man’ in 38 days. It doesn’t make sense to be on a movie set for 18 hours. We had 12-hour days. At 6 or 7 o’clock in the morning, we’re shooting.
“If you come to the set and the whole cast and crew are looking at you like you’re an idiot while you’re trying to figure out the shot, you should have known about that shot before you showed up on the set! You have to know what you’re doing.”
Among the directors he admires is Christopher Nolan. “What he does is great,” he remarked. One of the newer filmmakers he respects is Steve McQueen, who directed “Shame.” “I think he’s a great filmmaker,” Spike commented. “Steve just finished his film, ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Brad Pitt and Michael Fassbender.”
Going back to NYU, he was asked about one of his earlier films, “The Answer.” He said, “It’s a 20-minute film about a black screenwriter who was hired to write and direct a big Hollywood remake of ‘The Birth of a Nation.’ This was my second year film at NYU Graduate Film School.” With a laugh, he stressed, “No one has ever seen it, and no one will! I have the only copy.”
E-mail email@example.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
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