How many people can say they lived in the same house with, received guidance from, and got hands on
experience being on-set with one of the most influential filmmakers of our day, Mr. Spike Lee?
We were fortunate enough to grab a few moments out of Malcolm’s busy schedule to give I Am Entertainment
readers a tour through the mind of a major film director.
IAE: So, tell us…how did you get your start in the film business?
MDL: It was Spike (Lee), who really gave me the entryway there. When he was in film school he lived with my
family, so I got to see his growth up close. In the summer of 1987, before my senior year in high school, Spike
gave me a job as a production assistant on the set of School Days. Pretty much every summer after that, I got
to work for him (Spike Lee). I also took a semester off from my studies at Georgetown University, to work on the
feature film ‘Malcom X.’ On that set I worked in multiple departments, such as Casting, set production, as well as
post production. But my biggest boost was when I go to be his assistant on ‘Clockers,’ in summer of 1994. I got
to be by his side while he was shooting, so I was working with the director of photography, the actors, etc.
During that time I was already in film school and had done a couple of shorts, but it expanded my understanding
of how he (Spike) worked, which was a very eye opening experience.
IAE: That’s really great because a lot of people don’t get to have that hands on experience. So, how
has working with Spike Lee helped you develop into a director?
MDL: Well, Spike was somebody that really revolutionized the film and TV industry in a big way. Many of the
African-Americans we see today in the entertainment industry are there, in some way, because of what Spike
did in the business. Just trace Spike’s history. Even people who haven’t worked for him, have benefited from
him being in the business and being the one who kicked down the door. Not to say that Spike gave everyone
their start, but he was really vocal and demanding that Hollywood change its policies and ways. So for me
personally, it was a certainly a tremendous gift for me to have worked under him and learned the artistry of
IAE: I’ve read a few articles where some of the new directors with big credits have said that “film
school is a waste of time, don’t go to film school.” For those aspiring directors reading this
interview, how important is film school?
MDL: It depends on the individual. For me, starting out, I needed the structure that film school offered. Not to
mention, the degree that you get out of it, because if things don’t work out you can always teach and make
connections that way. It just depends on the person though. I will say that nowadays, the access to film
equipment and distribution is greater now than when I was coming up. With the internet and YouTube, you can
post so many things like that, and shoot things digitally in a much cheaper fashion than it was when I was
IAE: Kind of like ‘Paranormal Activity’ where the budget was like $15,000 and it was a mega hit at the
MDL: Yea! It grossed over $100Million in the US alone. While those are rare occasions, it just goes to show that
if you have the wherewithal to do it, then it’s possible. Studying film does not have to be done in film school, but
again, for some the structured environment could be beneficial because you get to work in various capacities
on a set. For example, one week you got to be producer, the next you got to be AD, then boom mic operator,
and so forth. So film school is a good thing if you work better in a structured situation.
IAE: Having directed, and even written on, such films as Soul Men, Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins,
and one of my personal favorites, The Best Man; how do you choose which film projects you want to
direct and which actors should play the lead roles?
MDL: It depends on the project. Really, when I read a script, if it elicits what it’s supposed to elicit by moving me
in one way or another then I may take interest in getting involved. I like things that have complexity, intelligence,
but funny. Not that everything has to be funny, but that has been the trend so far. There’s a process that goes
into attaching actors to certain roles. Sometimes I have people in mind, and other times I have no idea. That’s
why you bring people in to meet with them and audition. There are also some instances where I want someone
for a role, but they aren’t available or someone else comes in and auditions and you go “That’s it! They are the
person for this role!” So it just depends on the circumstances.
IAE: You were the last film director to have the pleasure of working with the late Mr. Bernie Mac,
and the late, Mr. Isaac Hayes, together on the set of Soul Men. How does it feel to be able to have
worked with such legendary men before their untimely passing?
MDL: Well they were both masters at their crafts, and both gentlemen. They really had a long history of
musicianship and comedy, and I was honored to have them be a part of a film that I made. It’s a shame that the
world will not get a chance to see more of Bernie Mac, because he was only scratching the surface of what he
could do as an actor. But Hollywood is very much driven by “youth marketing,” the 18-35 market for R-rated
comedies. So when you have one like ‘Soul Men,’ which featured two lead actors in their 50s, there is a need
for people over 35 to go see it. I think sometimes the release date plays a big part in the success of a film, and
unfortunately, the week the movie came out (in theaters) was the same week that Barack Obama got elected,
so people were maybe distracted by that? I don’t know, but I really would like for people to go and get the DVD
and see the movie because it really was a fun project.
IAE: You’re slated to direct a film about the Kansas City Monarchs Negro League baseball team.
Since I’m from KC, can you tell me a little bit about this particular film project?
MDL: ‘Brushback’ is a script about a modern day baseball player who gets knocked in the head and wakes up
in the Negro League. It’s a great script, but we’re still working the kinks out of it. My hope is that we can get
everything rolling on it and get it out there because it could be a really fun project.
IAE: What’s the toughest part of your job as a film director?
MDL: It’s all tough, every step of the process. From developing and writing the script, to actors who will both
embody the roles and also get a studio to agree to cast them, to financing, to marketing a movie; it’s tough all
the way around. With ‘Brushback,’ for instance, it’s a film that will require a cast of African-American actors.
Unfortunately, there are not a whole lot of African-American actors who can command a large audience on a
consistent basis, and that is largely what drives the studios’ decisions to make a movie. Unless of course it has
a huge concept, like ‘Transformers,’ many studios are reluctant to take interest in a predominantly African-
American cast. So you’re reliant upon singers, rappers, or comedians who are crossover stars, who may not
even fit your vision for the film. So you have to either adjust the script or shoehorn them in, or just not even
make the project. Every once in awhile you’ll have that lightening in a bottle situation like the movie ‘Precious,’
where people like Oprah and Tyler Perry endorsing it and the buzz behind it builds to the point that studios can’
t ignore it. Like ‘Juno’ even, where word of mouth helped it grow. It had a $10Million budget, but ended up
making $140Million plus. But it’s all very difficult. From raising the money, to developing the right story, to
casting, to making it, and then marketing and distributing the movie; it’s all very challenging.
IAE: If you could change anything about the film industry, what would it be and why?
MDL: I wish fewer movies were made, so that movies can have a chance to be seen and build an audience.
There’s too much pressure on opening weekend for 90% of the movies out there, because it’s all about the first
dollar gross. I just wish there wasn’t so much pressure on opening weekend, so that the filmmakers and people
who have spent a great deal of time over the past year, or three years, developing, shooting, and developing a
project can come away with a real opportunity for people to see the movie. But the idea of that day is gone!
Your movie has to be extremely special and the distributors have to care a great deal about your movie in order
for it to see life beyond opening weekend. It would take a seismic cultural shift for that to happen. I mean, last
year there were over 400 movies that came out, and it’s impossible to see that many movies in a year. Even if it
were 100 movies less, you would still need one full 24 hour day, at least, to watch all those movies. Between
family, work, school, internet, video games, and all that kinda stuff, it’s hard to take out three hours to find a
babysitter, drive to the movie, and then sit through the whole film uninterrupted. So, I just wish there were fewer
|Malcolm D. Lee - Film Director/Screenwriter
This filmmaker has proven his worth from the director’s chair and has no plans
of stopping anytime soon
Copyright © 2009-2011 I Am Entertainment Magazine, a publication of NFluential Holdings, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
|I Am Entertainment Magazine
|Want to purchase the PDF or
3-D format of this issue?
CLICK HERE to make your