Spike Lee Teaches Independent Filmmaking
Running Time: 3:12:23 (3+ hours)
Topics discussed: Working with your D.P., writing, working with actors, music, and editing.
Love him or hate him, Spike is always interesting, and his love of cinema is contagious. Through his experience, you learn to work within your style while he also encourages your collaborative style. Spike also makes an emphasize on the importance of continuing to learn as a filmmaker. It’s okay not to know what you’re doing as long as you learn from your mistakes and get better. This is a mantra recited among all the Masterclass teachers, and it’s honestly always a good reminder.
Cinema is a real art for him, and he understands the social constructs of the medium. He understands and thinks about what the medium can do to an audience. He knows the power of it and understanding that gave me a greater understanding of his movies. People may not agree with his point of view, but you can’t deny he starts some interesting conversations.
I would group Spike Lee among guys like Martin Scorsese, Elia Kazan, and Sidney Lumet. They tell stories that are personal but comment on the parts of the human condition we’d rather ignore especially within entertainment, such as the movies. With this Masterclass, I appreciated the conversation, and it’s the first Masterclass that I watched in one sitting while pausing to take notes.
Some of the things I learned that stood out to me were understanding the language behind camera movement and actor blocking. This is a topic I love to listen to filmmakers talk about the most. Why did they choose this shot or camera move versus all the other options they had? Was it an artistic choice or time constraints? How do you adjust on the day of shooting when you’ve planned certain camera moves and shots? I like to hear filmmakers talk about how they solved their creative problems in the moment.
Spike Lee gives you a lesson on how to collaborate with your actors and crew. He breaks down this process into steps even in a conversational style. He breaks down how to work with your D.P., editor, and composer. I especially liked the conversation about working with the composer in the lesson Music is Key. He breaks down his process from bringing the composer in on the project during the pre-production phase through to the final cut phase of the film. There’s a lot about that process that never occurred to me.
My favorite classes were Speaking Truth to Power: On the Waterfront and the lesson on Editing. Both examined films from a psychological and philosophical level. One of the points Lee brought out in Editing was never to forget how a film comments on society. It’s not just important to look at films of the past and look at their editing, cinematography, acting, and directing. It’s also important to look at the art through the lens of the time that it was made and understand the message the artist is trying to state. This was Lee’s outlook on controversial movies like Birth of a Nation (1915). Birth of a Nation is not a movie that should not only be seen for all the reasons film analysis state, but it’s also essential to understand D.W. Griffith’s messaging and purpose behind releasing that film. It’s important to understand how powerful cinema still is even with a 103-year-old movie.
I can’t think of one thing I would have liked to have seen in this Masterclass. I have become accustomed to Masterclass’ format. Whenever a filmmaker would do a masterclass, I also wanted them to work with actors and the crew to get a front row seat to the process. However, that’s not always the format. I would like that to be added more to these types of classes, but it’s always a blessing to hear all the advice filmmakers like Spike Lee give their students. Ron Howard’s Masterclass on Directing does give you a front row seat to what it is like to be on set with a director like Howard. Masterclass is incorporating it more.
Is it worth the $90? Yes. It’s worth it for Spike Lee’s commentary on the power of cinema alone. No other filmmaker goes into depth the way Spike does in any additional Masterclass on the platform.