Spike Lee

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Spike Lee’s book about the filming of “She’s Gotta Have It” was a premier for me.  When I saw the film I became a fan of the film.  I had some stylistic issues that I disagreed with, but Mr. Lee’s bravado in film-making turned me on, and I really wanted to know how he did that.  This book set the stage for me in creating my own film.  What interested me was the journal in making the movie.  I even created a short journal while making my film even though I really never had the time to sit down and write about my day.  It was only in the evening where I was tired, and drained from the day’s shoot that I could write anything.  Low budget film-making is fast and furious, so there is little time to reflect.  I will in the future try and put some of those notes up here, but as for now I just want to go over the people and movies that inspired me.  Spike Lee’s film “She’s Gotta Have It” was one of those films.

The film was made for $175,000, but the book really shines a light on what Mr. Lee did to start filming his film.  A lot of people took deferments, and Lee’s back was against a wall.  Shoot or wait, and if you know anything about film-making waiting can be the kiss of death for any project.  lee worked like a dog to get the script up to snuff, and he pulled money from a couple of places, but here’s the real secret.  Lee shot the film with about 30K, and he continued to raise more of it while he was shooting.  The book opened my eyes on what you could do with very little.  Spike Lee’s innovative film-making style made the film what it is.  The book is a revelation at how independent film is made.  It’s a hustle plain and simple, and reading it made me think twice about shooting my own film.  But what the book does is show how you can do it.  I learned to hustle and I put a lot of money of my own into the film.   I cut corners in personal and made my film a simpler movie.

Seeing how Lee struggled was an eye opener.  The book is a good primer in the nuts and bolts of film-making.  Lee describes how he had $6,100 from friends and acquaintances.  It was a struggle, and he shot while pulling more an more money in.   Even the lab threatened to sell his negative if Lee didn’t come up with $1,000.  Citing all these examples shows that film-making isn’t for the faint at heart.  You need to believe, and you need to be driven.  It’s a great book on how Spike overcomes all hurtles, and it shows that you need to be flexible.  Sometime things do not turn out the way you want to, so you roll with the punches.  Lee knew once he started he had to finish.  Shot in 11 days also shows his pace, and how well he planned the film.

I made sure I broke down my script, and created a shot list.  What I really am amazed at is how Lee pulled it all together while still shooting the film.  It said to me that one person can do it if he or she really wanted to.

The book is inspiring and a good practical guide in making films.  Shooting a film when you don’t have the whole budget in the bank is risky, but it can be done.  You also need to surround yourself with a supportive cast and crew.  I looked for people who were hungry and creative.  Somehow it all gelled.  I used some students from my alma mater (Brooklyn College) to crew the film, and they really helped me.  I really recommend reading the book, and seeing the film.  I am in no way as talented as Mr Lee, but he does show that you can make your own film if you have the desire and will to do so.  He has always been a favorite of mine, and through this book and watching his film you can see how to actually make a film  yourself.  He had a whole lot more money, but my point is that he didn’t when he started production.  In Mr. Lee’s journal he lays it all out.  Scraping together money to pay the lab, or pay for insurance, while owing back salaries, and loans.  Film-making isn’t for the faint at heart, and Spike Lee shows you how he did it all.  His original film is on Netflix so it’s available to see his labor of love.

What I came away with is that “you could make a low budget film under 30K”.  But that only gets you past production if your shooting film at a ratio of 3 or 4 to one.  I paid my crew and actors because I needed them for a certain time and their time was valuable.  Much more then I was paying them, but I had to have money also for lodging, and food.  I wanted them comfortable, and they saw that.  The actors gave me their all because I was giving them my all.  That’s the key.  Treat people decently and you’ll find some phenomenal talent out there.

It in a way it’s even easier for someone to do a film today then it was back in the pre-historic time of analogue.  No need for film stock.  Just shoot digital.  You’ll cut your expenses in half.  Do the editing on your laptop, and try to get it seen.  Festivals, the Internet, and even four walling your digital epic in a theaters  even.  But do yourself a favor.  Have money left over after the production.  Even though you can build your web site, post your video you’ll still need to get it out there, and that costs.  I soon ran out of money with festivals, and stopped after not getting the results I wanted.  I got an offer or two but it wasn’t worth me giving up my rights to the film.   After all it was my baby.  I didn’t want to abandon it and loose everything I put into it.   The next two events that happened that propelled me into doing my film was reading “A rebel without a Crew“, and the distribution of Kevin Smith’s film “Clerks” . Two things that rocked my world and put me on the road to making my own film.  More to come folks.  I hope this is helpful, and I wish you well in your creative endeavors.