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How a Life in Film Found Him: Spike Lee’s First Big Break



By Dana C. Ayres

Sometimes, the best way to achieve happiness in life is to follow where your heart leads. For controversial film director, Spike Lee, just by chance, or perhaps fate, he was led by sheer curiosity into his illustrious film directing career. He had the perfect springboard to start upon, a friend’s unused camera and the infamous and unforgettable New York City Summer of 1977.

Most of us who have attended an institution of higher learning can attest to being just a little befuddled about what major study we should embark upon. Many students choose majors that will garner them the highest income bracket. But, in a recent interview, Spike schools us about how to choose our major of study and thus, our path in life. He says, “If you want to live a happy life, find something that you love.” He found that something out of sheer boredom. Instead of getting into trouble that summer and becoming another statistic, Lee borrowed his friend’s unused camera and set out on a journey to chronicle the many happenings of the New York City summer:

1) Sam Berkowitz arrest (The Son of Sam)

2) The Great New York City blackout and subsequent “looting”

3) The intense heatwave

4) The many block parties and fire hose “poppings” that occurred to help the hot summer along for many of the poor inner city’s youth.

When he returned to Morehouse College at the end of the summer, he decided to major in Mass Communications. His professor at the time, Herb Eichelberger, encouraged him to use those tapes he made over the summer and create a documentary. The film he created was an ode to another, more famous film, The Last Tango in Paris. He named his film, “The Last Hustle in Brooklyn.” Because of his exciting summer experience and a professor and mentor who gave him an opportunity to make good on his latent talents and hard work, Spike began on his road to stardom through the creation of his infamous on-camera persona, “Mars Blackmon.”

It was through Mars Blackmon that he was introduced to the object of his immense “sneaker fetish”, Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan reluctantly took a chance on Lee when he could’ve gone with other marketing “certainties” at the time. In giving Lee a chance, Nike was able to conduct what Spike describes as “the greatest campaign in the history of advertising.” Because of Spike Lee’s commercial success, his later films would enjoy a larger, more diverse audience. Today, Spike Lee is a household name and it all started from a borrowed camera and the desire to not have a long, hot, boring summer. How does Spike’s story hit you? Can you relate to your calling in life finding you instead of “vice versa?”

Take a look at Lee’s interview. Perhaps you may draw a little inspiration from it:

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