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Spike Lee: ‘Where the Money is, That’s Where Filmmakers Have to Go’

LOS CABOS, Mexico — Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee visited this year’s Los Cabos Festival where Lee received a lifetime achievement award, his “BlacKkKlansman” closing out the festivities, and Lewis Lee donned her producer hat for an impassioned roundtable on the drama series boom that has been attracting so many independent producers and filmmakers.

A key topic throughout the festival was the question of rights. For many independent producers at the festival, while the deep pockets of big-time digital platforms are certainly appealing, it’s often a struggle to retain any rights. According to Lewis Lee however, in the case of the series “She’s Gotta Have It,” that wasn’t much of an issue.

“We have the IP,” she admitted during the roundtable. “It’s been a good situation for us. Of course I’m talking about Spike Lee, I don’t know if it’s different for other people without that history.”

Spike went into deeper details in an interview with Variety, saying “It’s a blessing, I’ll tell you why. We were shopping ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ to several places, but nobody said yes. Then, two years went by and the rights reverted back to me. So when Tonya and I went to Netflix I now owned the rights. Think about that, what happens if those other people had decided to do it? The fact I owned the rights was better for me, big time.”

One major difference with the series is that now Spike is part of a writers’ room. When asked about handing his decades-old story and characters over to a new group of writers, he couldn’t have been more cool with it.

“It’s great. I wrote two episodes for the first season and one second season. I cannot write every single episode,” he said before emphasizing that the series needed a writers’ room with African American women in it.

“It was not difficult getting very good writers,” he went on, explaining the talent search to staff the room. “We have some women who were playwrights, but if you can write, you can write. And they could write”

As to what’s next? “Making more movies. I wanna do a musical one day. There are a lot of musical elements in my films. One day I wanna do a whole singing and dancing musical.”

When asked if he would ever return to another of his stories as he has with “She’s Gotta Have It,” he said there was likely only one he would consider. “Hopefully one day we are gonna do a Broadway show of my second film ‘School Daze.’”

Asked what kinds of partners and platforms he might like to work with in the future, his answer was candid. “In my career I’ve had one foot in the indie world, one in the studio world. Where the money is, that’s where filmmakers have to go. Where the money is.”

With only good things to say about his partnership with Netflix, the filmmaker did clarify that should he make a feature film with the company, he wants theatrical.

“Yeah I would ask for that,” he said, before finishing, “I would ask for a lot more too.”

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