Spike Lee, famed director of movies such as Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X, now has the funds to create a new film, thanks to Kickstarter. Lee raised over $1.4 million from 6,421 backers by his Wednesday afternoon deadline, exceeding his $1.25 million goal.
Though Lee raised the funds within 30 days, the Kickstarter campaign had its fair share of controversy. First, potential donators questioned why such a famous and acclaimed director (with courtside seats to every Knicks game) needed crowdsourced funding in the first place. Lee responded that he has always been an Indie filmmaker who scraped together funds for projects that movie studios wouldn’t touch, citing Red Hook Summer and Malcolm X as examples.
“The truth is I’ve been doing KICKSTARTER before there was KICKSTARTER, there was no Internet. Social Media was writing letters, making phone calls, beating the bushes,” Lee wrote on his Kickstarter page. He even auctioned off one of those precious courtside seats and the opportunity to sit with him at Madison Square Garden for a night to help fund this new film.
Then people began to question what this film was actually about. The Kickstarter campaign describes it as a movie chronicling “human beings who are addicted to Blood. Funny, Sexy and Bloody. A new kind of love story (and not a remake of ‘Blacula’).” So a film about people who are obsessed with blood…but not vampires.
Understandably, those who visited his Kickstarter page were rather confused by this description. When pushed to give more details, Lee defended his decision to keep the plot a secret: “It’s a THRILLER. 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. Yeah I know, I’m asking for BACKERS for a film they don’t know a lot about. My answer to that is TRUST ME. I hope you have seen some things over the past 3 decades making FILMS that can earn your TRUST.”
Finally came the controversy over Lee’s “Essential Film” list. In order to draw publicity for the campaign, Lee released a list of what he called “the greatest films ever made” that he hands out every year on the first day of his film class. (Lee has spent the last 15 years as a professor at the New York University Graduate Film School.) Unfortunately for any women who may have taken Lee’s course, no films directed by women made the 87 title-long list. Apparently, not a single woman had made an “essential film” in the history of cinema.
Lee responded to criticism by revising the list and adding seven films directed by women. (“Thank you for that coat pulling,” he wrote.) His female additions included Love and Anarchy (Lina Wertmuller), The Piano (Jane Campion), and The Hurt Locker, for which Kathryn Bigelow won the first Oscar awarded to a female director (beating out her ex-husband James Cameron). Despite Lee’s best efforts, Indiewire points out that films directed by women only make up 6.4% of Lee’s list (compared to the 9% of films directed by women in the industry total).
Nonetheless, as of this afternoon Lee has joined the ranks of successful Kickstarter-funded directors. Lee said that successful campaigns by Zach Braff and the Veronica Mars movie inspired him to start his own online effort, though he didn’t achieve the fundraising success of either of those projects. Braff raised $3.1 million this spring for a Garden State sequel, exceeding his goal of $2 million. And the Veronica Mars movie project raised $5.7 million, surpassing its $2 million goal.
Whether crowdfunded films can find mainstream success has yet to be proven. While Sean and Andrea Fine’s partially-crowdfunded film Inocente won an Oscar for best short-subject documentary this year, the 40-minute movie had a limited theatrical release. More recently, The Canyons by Paul Shrader—who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull—raised over $159,000 online. While Shrader was one of the first big-time Hollywood names to fund and now release a film using Kickstarter, the movie, which stars Lindsay Lohan, has been panned by critics. Here’s hoping this “newest hottest” Spike Lee joint fares better with critics and film lovers alike.