When I was 17, I was working at the Rockford High School Television Station and interviewed Mr. McDonald. He was touring Michigan high schools with 8 portraits of living African American’s who were making an impact on society. Each subject sat for the artist who had an amazing background of supporting the African American civil rights movement. Some of the subjects were Maya Angelou, Alex Haley, and Spike Lee.
Naturally being in love with film, I ask Mr. McDonald about Spike Lee. It turned into a in depth conversation about the power of film and the messages it sends to the world. Mr. McDonald urged me to move to New York and try to work for Spike Lee. When I left the interview Mr. McDonald had given me the name and phone number to Spike Lee’s secretary at 40 Acres and Mule.
Now I was 17 years old, and scared to death to call. I had little to no credits behind be besides making a few music videos on my own and working for the TV station. I kept the piece of paper in my wallet and waiting for the courage to call.
Then my wallet was stolen. I lost the opportunity to call and see what might have been. Perhaps it was fate, perhaps it wasn’t.
After graduation I moved to Los Angeles. My Uncle Vern summed up my decision best, “In New York they stab you in the chest,” he said, “in LA they stab you in the back.”
Being a person who would rather be stabbed in the back and avoid confrontation, it was LA for me. I spent 6 years in California and left because I couldn’t be creative there. I became as formulaic and as fake as the people around me.
I often wondered what would have happened if I would have called, if I would have got a intern job with Spike Lee, if I would have moved to New York and not LA. I might have worked on Clockers or Get on the Bus. The latter film had Ossie Davis who I’m long admired and always wanted to meet.
I know that if I didn’t move to LA I wouldn’t have met my husband, I wouldn’t have the family I have now. I would not have the wonderful producing partner I have now. That has kept me from any sadness for my decision.
So when I read that Spike Lee was coming to the IU Auditorium this February for a talk, I decided this is my chance to complete the circle. Something in me really wanted to 30 seconds to talk to Spike Lee and tell him my sob story. Let him know that it was him (and many other filmmakers) is the reason why I am still making films. I knew it wouldn’t be ground breaking for him at all, I’m just another face in the crowd, but I had to do it for me. I needed to let go of that regret. Let go of the “what ifs,” to keep moving forward and not look back to the past.
I emailed the powers at be at the University and told them my story. Eventually my email reached the right person. Sherry admired my courage in asking for such a small request, she checked my website and was shocked to see that I was in fact legitimate and that my company was in fact making films. Sherry got Veronica (my producing partner) and I two VIP tickets to talk with Spike Lee and escorted us off to a private reception where we got to be face-to-face with Spike Lee.
Okay, honesty check. I was hella nervous. When Sherry said that we’d get to meet Spike Lee, I was still a bit doubtful. I thought what if Mr. Lee didn’t feel like talking after his presentation and bolted? What if he had something he nee
ded to get out of dodge for? Seeing him speak on stage was fine enough at least I felt like a VIP, which I wasn’t expecting. But there Spike was a foot away from me at a private party with free food and drinks and I was about to be introduced to the man I might have worked for.
I shook the man’s hand and burst into my sob story (without the sob). He asked me what year this was that I would have called. I told him 1994. He seem shocked at how long ago that was. I told him that I’m still making films and have been lucky enough to win a few awards. He asked what kind of films we make, I told him films about human rights and films to empower women (this is what Veronica and I are working on now.) He said, “You don’t have to be in NY or LA to make films anymore.” He urged us to keep making films.
Thinking about it now, that was probably all I needed to hear if I would have called back in 1994. “You don’t have to be in NY or LA to make films anymore.” I thought I needed to apprentice or intern for a notable production company to make it. Sure, that helps with experience and networking but at the end of the day a filmmaker makes films. I doubt I would have stayed in Michigan to make films, but the LA living would have been easier – I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.
I left thinking, “I’m Spike Lee approved to make films!” Did I need that approval – no. Did I value the approval – hell, yes. Telling the director 17 years after-the-fact his influence on me was cathartic. A weight was lifted. No longer was a it a “should-a-could-a-would-a.” What happened was meant to be and I am living just fine with that.