Spike Lee

25th Hour

Interviewed by Stella Papamichael

Director Spike Lee remains one of a few filmmakers who dare to bust the boundaries with films like "Do the Right Thing", "Malcolm X" and now, post 9/11 drama "25th Hour". His contribution to cinema was recently acknowledged by BAFTA, although the Oscar remains elusive...

You usually direct from your own script, so why make the exception for "25th Hour"?

Well, David Benioff is a fine young writer although I didn't know of the novel when it was first published. But Dave and I share the same agent, who sent it to me and I liked it very much. Also Mr [Edward] Norton and I have been talking about working together for a while. The stars were in alignment, so this film came together really quickly.

"25th Hour" is the first film to capture the mood of America post 9/11. It's not a feature of the book (written prior to that), so what made you decide to include it here?

We never saw it as a race to be the first 9/11 film. It didn't matter if this was the first or the hundredth film to do it; it didn't change our feeling about this. What happened on September 11th really traumatised Americans and we're still feeling the effects. New Yorkers, and Americans generally, are living in a much different world now. The threat of terrorism is an everyday occurrence, so we wanted to reflect this different world. It's that simple.

You've always been an outsider in the industry. Once again, Oscar has overlooked you...

Hey, they can always wheel me out when I'm in a wheelchair [laughs]. Seriously, here's a story: one of the reasons why this film was made is because Disney wanted a "prestige film" - something they thought could get some nominations. When an executive makes that decision, it also means the film will be put in a very crowded pre-Christmas Oscar push. If you want to do that, you have to be willing to get down and dirty with the Miramaxes of this world - with all the marketing that involves. The days when you used to just send the film out to the Academy members and take out a couple of ads in the trades are O-V-A-H - ovah!

You have to give Mr Weinstein [head of Miramax] his due, you know, he does what it takes. Just look at all the nominations Miramax has gotten. He changed the game. If you don't play like him, you're not going to be in a strong position come Oscar time.

But do you care?

Not really.

Aside from the emphasis on marketing, what discourages you most about the way Hollywood works nowadays?

If you try to say something unique with a different voice, that's become much harder. Last year Hollywood made more money that ever before, so that means we'll have more of the same; more formulaic movies, more prequels, more sequels - I'll leave "The Matrix" films out of that because I like those!

I've actually had studio executives tell me that the American people are stupid and that they'll see whatever we tell them to see. I don't think so. But then sometimes the American audience leaves me scratching my head. Look at Joe Millionaire [the American reality TV show]. That thing was a phenomenon. Or Temptation Island. But we'll blame you for American Idol [the US version of Pop Idol] - that came from over here, right?