Spike Lee tells Dubai how to get ahead in the film biz at ON.DXB
Told regional creatives to "follow your passion"
LEGENDARY OSCAR-WINNING filmmaker Spike Lee led a packed audience of regional filmmakers and creatives by urging them to 'Do the Right Thing', follow their passion and keep working hard if they're intent on breaking through in the "very tough" film industry.
Speaking in a 'Power of the Media' session on the final day of ON.DXB, an initiative of Dubai Media City in collaboration with Dubai Film & TV Commission, Lee told the crowd on Saturday: "You must love what you are doing more than anything, because only a love of filmmaking will sustain you when you're trying to get something done. You have got to work hard. Lazy people are not going to work, and neither are negative people. Positive people only, otherwise they have got to go."
The acclaimed filmmaker responsible for revered movies including Malcolm X, BlackKklansman and She's Gotta Have It, is no stranger to career advice - Lee is also professor at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
"This is a very tough industry. I often hear students say something is hard and my automatic answer is: what is easy? This is an industry where we are told 'no' a lot and a lot of doors close in your face. You have to keep faith in yourself and your ability to keep going - you can't quit," said Lee.
With the topic of securing a 'big break' figuring prominently amongst the enthralled onlookers, Lee discussed a 30-year career which has unearthed a constant stream of talent, including industry luminaries ranging from actors Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, John Turturro and Queen Latifah, to behind-the-camera icons Ruth Carter, an Oscar-winning costume designer who brought the Marvel Studios kingdom of Wakanda to life in mega hit Black Panther, to long-time editor, Barry Alexander Brown.
Explaining why he routinely turns to unknown talent, Lee said: "I enjoy working with talented people, but people need to have a start. It is a tough business and it is very hard to get in. I have always been aware that I have to be on the lookout for new talent, in-front or behind the camera, and I understand that having talent is not always enough. Talent needs a stage to show their work and a platform to shine."
When asked where filmmakers should showcase their material to increase their exposure, Lee advised: "YouTube. Studios and record companies look at that stuff. That is where the talent goes now. You don't have to be in New York or Los Angeles, you just put it up on YouTube. It sounds crazy but people are discovered on the Internet again and again, it happens all the time."
While most emerging filmmakers can only dream of Lee's journey from indie breakout to Oscar glory, the film pioneer offered words of wisdom on how to deal with disappointment, citing his own early career mistakes.
"I have a bunch of disappointments. My biggest is the film that was supposed to be my first feature. It was a complete disaster, a fiasco. Laurence Fishburne and John Esposito, two great actors who I got to work with later, were going to be in it but I was na´ve and did not know what I was doing. I would not be here if it had been made, it was that horrible. I had written car chases that I was incapable of directing. It didn't get made and I thought that was the end of the world, but I found out something sprouts out of a disaster and that disappointment led into the best thing that happened to me, my first feature film in She's Gotta Have It."
Lee also weighed in on the current debate about streaming services and their impact on the film industry: "I think Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are great, especially for young filmmakers. The more places to show films the better. Take the debate about Netflix and Martin Scorsese's new film, The Irishman; Martin is a good friend and I know he went all around Hollywood and no-one would do it. He knew with Netflix he wasn't going to get a theatrical release and that was a decision he had to make. It is the same with Da 5 Bloods (Lee's upcoming production about African American Vietnam veterans). It is on Netflix because no-one wanted to do it either, so Netflix is a great place for films that no-one wants to do. Streaming has changed the game; it is not just studios now."
When asked specifically for advice on the new Saudi film industry by a female Saudi filmmaker in the audience, Lee offered his final piece of sage advice.
"People should tell their stories no matter what their background is. You know your story better than anybody and for young filmmakers it is easier - you should know yourself. Write what you know first, not to say you can't get off that in the future, but write what you know and know what you write."