Spike Lee: “We Were Doing Kickstarter Before There Was Kickstarter”

Slate's Culture Blog
July 29 2013 3:19 PM

Spike Lee Addresses Kickstarter Critics

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Spike Lee

Photo by ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images

It’s been a week since Spike Lee announced the Kickstarter campaign for his next film, an as-yet-untitled project about “the addiction of blood.” Not surprisingly, Lee’s fundraiser prompted some backlash from critics who questioned the ethics of someone of his stature asking fans for money. Lee didn’t sell his career-long financing struggles very strongly in his initial pitch, and so the director smartly speaks to that more directly in a new video.

Aisha Harris Aisha Harris

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.

We were doing Kickstarter before there was Kickstarter,” Lee says. “We just didn’t have the technology.” He lays out his grassroots efforts to raise money at the beginning of his career—making phone calls, visiting potential donors—emphasizing that crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter are simply a technologically advanced version of what he (and others) have been doing for years. Lee also argues that his campaign will benefit not just himself, but also independent filmmaking more generally: Because of his involvement, he says, those who had never heard of Kickstarter—particularly people of color—may now see this as a viable option for getting their own work produced.

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Lee pushes back, rightly, against the notion that his crowdfunding success will take away from less established artists who might have gotten the donation instead, calling the idea a “fallacy.” Many of the people who backed successful campaigns for the Veronica Mars movie and Zach Braff’s next feature had never been on Kickstarter before—and it’s Lee’s belief that those donors will be more likely to support other projects in the future.

These are all strong points, and should help Lee’s efforts. But it’s worth noting that, in his case, it may be too little, too late. Lee still has yet to adequately promote the actual product he plans to create with the money he is raising—and his reasons for being so mum on this front are not terribly convincing. “It’s a THRILLER,” he says. “In order for a film of this type to work the less details the better for this Film to work with the Audience, they can’t know a whole lot before they sit down in a Theatre to see it.” As of now, Lee’s film has garnered close to $360,000, with 22 days left to raise the $1.25 million he’s seeking. Not bad—but also not great, especially if we compare it to the near-instant success of the Braff and Veronica Mars projects that the director continues to invoke.

He did get 10 grand from Steven Soderbergh, who also provided a written endorsement of Lee and his project. In a short post on the Kickstarter page, Soderbergh writes admiringly of the director, citing Lee as a huge influence on him as a young filmmaker in the ’80s. “I know Spike’s films better than I know Spike (maybe the Knicks game with help with that),” he writes, citing the perk he is set to receive for his generous monetary contribution. “But we’re friendly enough for me to say I respect him as person as well as a filmmaker.” It’s a fitting tribute coming from a director like Soderbergh, whose career, spent working both within and without the confines of Hollywood, echoes Lee’s own.

For his part, Lee seems unfazed by his critics, who have been a part of his career from the beginning, as he points out. “I just roll with the punches,” he says. 

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