Two weeks ago, Spike Lee took to Twitter to tease an upcoming announcement. Considering the "Do the Right Thing" and "Red Hook Summer" filmmaker's lengthy career, many assumed retirement was in the future. Those fans underestimated the 56-year-old Lee's drive.
Today, Lee unleashed his next project: an unnamed feature film that would come to fruition with the financial support of his fans. After the impressive Kickstarter campaigns for Rob Thomas' "Veronica Mars" adaptation (a $2 million goal closing at $5.7 million) and Zach Braff's "Garden State" follow-up "Wish I Was Here" (a $2 million goal closing at $3.1 million), Lee says he knew this was the route he had to go for true independence. In a video on the Kickstarter site, the director cordially requests $1,250,000 from people who trust him to deliver.
"My first feature film was 'She's Got to Have It.' We shot it in the summer of 1985. 12 days, two six days weeks, for $175,000. Now that can't work. That's why I'm appealing to you."
Surprisingly, Lee gives few details as to what his next film will be about. The focus is squarely on the big picture of independent cinema, the perfect world scenario that allowed Lee to direct films like "School Daze," "Mo' Better Blues," "Jungle Fever," and "Crooklyn." Lee acknowledges that those days are in the past — though, how did "Red Hook Summer" happen? — and puts the fate of his next picture in the hands of moviegoers. Like Alien in "Spring Breakers," Lee walks us down his filmography and says "look at my shit!" (or in his words, "This is a motherfucking body of work right here!") If we want more unbridled Lee, funding his Kickstarter is the only way it will happen.
The move evolves auteurship into brand identity. Director's names have always been a selling point to draw large crowds to movies — Christopher Nolan and Michael Bay have established themselves as blockbuster voices who we follow blindly because they promise action. Lee's self-acknowledgement of his own brand takes it to a different level. The Kickstarter campaign is not about the movie that will result from patronage. It's all an effort to create a new "Spike Lee joint." That turn of phrase has always been Lee's claim of auteur status. The Kickstarter is a ballsy test of his legacy's fortification.
The Kickstarter page does provide a hint of details. A murky log line reads, "Human beings who are addicted to blood. Funny, sexy, and bloody (and it's not "Blacula")…" while Lee elaborates in the video that the movie will have "lots of sex." All signs point to a vampire movie, a genre worn thin by Hollywood and now being embraced by independent visionaries (see: Jim Jarmusch's "Only Lovers Left Alive"). It's surprising that Lee, who is readying his remake of "Oldboy" for release this Fall, would find difficulty in securing the money necessary for him to shoot a genre-tinged indie when his personal brand does have some weight to it. Nonetheless, it's up to his fans to blindly provide the cash for the feature, with perks like signed DVDs, a ticket to the premiere, a walk-on extra role in the film, an associate producer credit, and a pair of Nikes autographed by Lee (value: $750).
Unlike Braff, who leveraged every ounce of love for "Garden State" left on the planet to hit his goal, Lee commands respect with his body of work. He is the man who brought us "Do the Right Thing" and he has bemoaned the horrors of financing in the past. The question is whether Lee's own ideas of himself, his awareness of critical writings that have painted him as an auteur, becomes a road block for creativity. With his Kickstarter, he's not selling us a story, but what it means to be Spike Lee, filmmaker in 2013. Kickstarter might be the only way for audiences to bring a picture with the soul of "She's Got to Have It" to life. But one wonders if that version of Spike Lee is around to make it.