Inside Man: An Interview with Director Spike Lee and Producer Brian Grazer
by Wilson Morales
Other than Woody Allen, Spike Lee is probably the only other director to come out with a film at least once a year. Whether the film is released with critical acclaim or not, Mr. Lee never fails to inject his shooting style in the film as well as have some emotional and debatable subject the audience can leave with. His last few projects, which included the TV series, Miracle’s Boys, and the film She Hate Me, weren’t promoted to a larger degree probably due to the cable channel and film distributor that released the films. But with his current project, he should have no problem with marketing. In working with uber-producer Brian Grazer, who has produced many hits (Flightplan, Cinderella Man, Friday Night Lights, and the Oscar winning film, A Beautiful Mind), Spike has put together one hell of a cast for “Inside Man”. For starters, the film reunites Mr. Lee with Denzea Washington. They had worked together on Malcom X, Mo’ Better Blues, and He Got Game. Also starring in the film are Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, Willem Dafoe, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. The story is about a police detective (Washington) trying to stop a bank robber (Owen) from committing the perfect heist. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Mr. Lee along with Mr. Grazer spoke about working together with such a stellar cast and how Mr. Lee let his veteran actors improvise on some scenes.
MR. GRAZER, WILL YOU BE LISTENING TO THE CONCERNS OF THE CATHOLIC LEAGUE AND PUTTING A DISCLAMER AT THE TOP OF THE DA VINCI CODE, MAKING CLEAR IT IS A WORK OF FICTION? AND MR LEE —
SL: I didn't make that film. You can't pin that one on me.
I'M CONFIDENT IN SAYING THAT INSIDE MAN IS VERY CLEARLY A SPIKE LEE JOINT. IT SEEMS TO ME NO OTHER FILMMAKER COULD HAVE MADE THE FILM IN THIS WAY. SO WHY DON'T WE SEE THAT NICE AND BIG ON THE POSTER?
Spike Lee: You know what? They have rules and laws about how big your name can be, so as far as the DJ is concerned that's the biggest it can be. I'm very happy with the way Universal and Imagine has billed this film and I have no problems at all.
Brian Grazer: Just to further add to Spike, Spike read this script and actually came —we were meeting on another movie, and he said, by the way, I read this script called Inside Man and I'd really be interested and wanting to direct this if that works for you. And I was completely excited about that. The point is that he approached this film as a movie that is a tremendous thriller with a red herring that I think is kind of interesting and dynamic and personified in the character of Christopher Plummer. But for the most part I think Spike wants these stars, these actors that are working with him on this film, to be at the foreground of the film as opposed to having it be a Spike Lee film. Everyone will
know and does know that Spike is a master filmmaker and he in fact directed the film. It's just that the balance of how it's advertised is something Spike wanted to be this way.
SL. It's what I wanted but also it's best choice. We have Denzel. We have
Clive Owen. We have Jodie. You have to sell that. That's a smart move.
BG. And the Da Vinci Code by the way is a literary phenomenon and it happens
to have been a book that captivated our attention and it's informed fiction.
SPIKE, WHAT ABOUT WORKING WITH LEAD ACTORS WHO HAPPEN TO HAVE BEEN DIRECTORSTHEMSELVES?
SL: That was something I've never thought about un till I've been asked about it
in these interviews. Never thought about it. You know, Denzel directed Antwone Fisher and Jodie directed Little Man Tate. These are just great actors. So it wasn't a concern at all.
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH PEOPLE OF AN ELEVATED STATUS REGARDING YOUR ELEVATED STATUS?
SL. I don't think of myself as having an elevated status. That's just not the way I think of myself. So you know, we're very happy that this year we're going to do several things . . . celebrate the 20 years of making film. But it's just not the celebration of me. It's a celebration of the body of work and the people who've been part of that over 20 years. So we're very happy . . . It's not just me, so again, it's not just me. Gordon Parks just passed. Ossie Davis. Those individuals — they made it possible for myself. . . Oscar Michaud , Melvin Van Peebles — those men enabled me . . .She's Gotta Have It opened 20 years ago, and when it opened in LA, I was in front of the theatre — you know, just being outside the theatre, and after the movie came out, this skinny kid with glasses this thick said — hello, My name is John Singleton, I'm in high school, I want to make movies like you. True story. So there's this evolution, and people making movies now were inspired by Singleton's film, Boyz n The Hood. So you gotta keep it going.
CONSIDERING THE LEGACY OF BLACK FILMMAKERS, WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THE CURRENT BLACK FILMS THAT ARE OUT THERE NOW, LIKE TYLER PERRY'S MOVIES, SOUL PLANE AND THINGS LIKE THAT?
SL. Well, I don't know if we can lump Tyler's films together with Soul Plane (laughter). I have mad love for Tyler. His films have become a force. I mean, he got it made. When he was trying to get that made, people were telling him, black people go to church, they don't go to movies, that kind of stuff, he didn't take that — let it stop the man — he's been a box-office king, so hopefully people would use him as an example, that if you have a vision and are driven, no matter who you are, Black, White, Latino, Asian, you get your stuff done.
DENZEL TALKED ABOUT HOW YOU WOULD TURN ON THE CAMERA AND JUST LET HIM GO. JUST HOW FAR DO YOU LET PEOPLE GO AND DO YOU DO THAT — IS THAT YOUR STYLE, TO LET PEOPLE GO— DO YOU GIVE THEM FOUR FIVE SIX TAKES TO DO WHAT THEY WANT TO DO, AND THEN DO YOU PULL THEM IN, OR WHAT IS YOUR STYLE OF DIRECTING?
SL. Good question. A lot of my directing we do in the rehearsal process, so —I mean we don't want to start discussing character and motivation and stuff like that on that on the set, so we do a lot of stuff beforehand in rehearsal. And Denzel's a wonderful actor. He's one of the greatest actors ever. And definitely working today. And so you have to understand there's a reason why that is. So I'm not just going to be interrupting him every other time — Denzel, do this, do this, do this. And also, this is the fourth time we've worked together. Mo Better, Malcolm X, He Got Game and now Inside Man, so we're very comfortable with working with each other.
SPIKE . . . SOMEONE SUGGESTED YOU AND DENZEL ARE THIS GENERATION'S DE NIRO AND SCORSESE.
SL. How many did they do together? Let's count them. Mean streets, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, Casino — they're more. What Denzel and I have said, we hope that if you look at the timetable, it's a minute since He Got Game — look the next film can't be as long — we don't know what it's gonna be, but we only want to work together — soon. To be number five. (he laughs)
READ IN THE PRODUCTION NOTES THAT THE BANK YOU FILMED THE MOVIE IN WAS THE LAST SITE YOU WERE ABLE TO SECURE. I’M CURIOUS IN KNOWING WHY THAT WAS. AND ALSO WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE FOR YOU IN MAKING THIS MOVIE?
SL. The reason why the bank was the last location we found was because we had not found something that was too our liking where they would give us everything we wanted. That bank was a godsend. It was like having a back lot right in the middle of Wall Street. We didn't have to pay for extras or nothing because we just set up a barricade and they were in the movie and it worked. The hardest thing I would say was keeping the many threads of the different stories going and trying to have it all come together at the end. So we'd do stuff like that . . . but the hard part comes with the editing process, where you have to — where you think a scene goes here and you have to move it to the front or
the back and turn it around — an example would be the interrogation scenes. All those interrogation scenes and of all the scenes in the film, those ones are mostly improv. But even saying that, we still had to go with the placement of those interrogation scenes. Sometimes we had and it was too abrupt and start-stop, narrative flow dead. So we had to really finesse that.
MR GRAZER, WOULD LIKE TO PLAY DEVIL'S ADVOCATE . . . WE LOOK AT THE POSTER —WE SEE DENZEL, CLIVE OWEN, AND JODIE FOSTER — IT'S ALMOST A GIVEN — AN EASY SELL — ONE OF THE TOP NEW YORK FILMMAKERS — IN THE OTHER SENSE YOU HAVE CLIVE OWEN WITH HIS FACE COVERED FOR MOST OF THE MOVIE AND JODIE FOSTER PLAYING A RATHER UNLIKABLE CHARACTER. DID YOU SEE IT AS TAKING A CHANCE
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