When famed film director Spike Lee launched a Kickstarter project for “The Newest Hottest Spike Lee Joint” this past summer, we rolled our eyes. Another celebrity using the crowdfunding method despite the fact that he’s, you know, a celebrity, who likely has the means to raise funds elsewhere. But when Spike Lee hires unpaid interns for administrative labor and steals a designer’s work — well, then we feel compelled to say something.
Yesterday evening, photographer and designer Juan Luis Garcia posted an open letter to Spike Lee on his website. In it, Garcia details his experience designing posters for Lee’s new film, Oldboy. Garcia says he was approached by an ad agency:
They wanted me to design some comps to present to you. They told me the budget was small and that they could only pay me peanuts for the comps but if you and the studio liked any of them I would then be compensated fairly through the licensing buyout fee.
You can already see where this is going. The agency was a nightmare to work with. They showed Garcia’s posters to Lee and he loved them, but the agency, in turn, offered Garcia “an insultingly low” amount for licensing. So he turned them down, and they in turn insulted and threatened him. They never paid him the money that had been agreed upon for the initial designs. And then, as if things weren’t bad enough, Spike Lee and his production company, 40 Acres and a Mule, took some of Garcia’s poster designs, released them as final, and slapped their own copyright on them.
Garcia gives Lee the benefit of the doubt, telling him that some of the posters are stolen and expressing a “sinking feeling that you are as much of a victim in this as I am.” The designer writes under the assumption that the agency did the stealing, not Lee himself. That may very well be the case — the filmmaker undoubtedly has people who handle pesky details like rights for him. The question is what, if anything, Lee will do to rectify the situation. People have been posting Garcia’s letter on 40 Acres and a Mule’s Facebook page, and it’s been tweeted at Lee countless times. There’s no way he can’t know what’s going on.
At the same time, minimal digging on the 40 Acres website has led us to two postings for unpaid internships. Both of them sound a whole lot like jobs (even though the website says “We are currently not hiring”). If this is Lee’s track record — taking money from his fans, refusing to use it (or any other money) to pay the people who work for him — we’re not holding our breath for Garcia. But if Spike Lee is out there, reading the blogs, being inundated with Facebook comments and tweets, we hope he realizes that he needs to do the right thing.
UPDATE, Thursday, November 28, 11am: Spike Lee tweeted this roughly 25 minutes ago: