Cinqué Lee much more than just Spike Lee’s brother
Cinqué Lee, despite the unique name he has, is probably someone who has a body of work more recognizable to you than his name. Lee, brother of acclaimed director Spike Lee, has worked in the film industry since the late 80’s wearing a wide variety of hats. From director to producer to actor and even wardrobe, the man has done it all.
Lee’s most notable works include co-writing the screenplay for Crooklyn and acting roles in Mystery Train and Coffee & Cigarettes, both films from director Jim Jarmusch. Lee’s most recent film is a sci-fi fantasy piece entitled Window On Your Present. The film was actually Lee’s first, being shot in the late 80’s and just released on DVD from BrinkDVD.
Recently I was fortunate enough to catch up with Cinqué to discuss his latest release as well as the film industry in general.
Chris Coffel: What was your inspiration for Window On Your Present?
Cinqué Lee: I was in a public art high school in the early ’80s, Art & Design, making B&W super 8 shorts and had been scribbling these silhouettes of characters in bombed out churches with shafts of light and a couple arguing in a graveyard. I had squatted a couple of times with my skate punk friends and did see stuff like that. The funny thing is I knew I had these clothes,my deceased mothers clothes, I was putting in these sketches. My Mom’s fur coat, 1940’s leather pilot hat and googles and stuff…. I was also, and still am, into decaying abandoned buildings and back then there were tons of them that were beautiful. I didn’t know at the time that my sketches were my conceptual design for Window On Your Present.
This character and also one of my teachers turned me on to Roman Polanski’s B&W short films and some other silent films. So I really started obsessing over B&W and my sister’s boyfriend turned me on to Andrei Tarkovsky and his films flipped me the fuck out.
CC: Was the style and look of the film something that was done based on the budget, or was that your initial vision?
CL: I was already strung out on B&W and maintaining my fix by shooting B&W super8 shorts with the same style and look before I had to up it a notch to 16mm.
CC: The movie was shot in the 80’s but was just recently released, was there a specific reason for this? And if it were shot today, would it have been done differently?
CL: The movie took forever to make because I would change what I wanted or didn’t know what I wanted so I would put it away and come back to it years later here and years there. Having all the time I had to finish, I got what I wanted and so know I wouldn’t change anything.
CC: You’ve worked on many different aspects of the filmmaking process from composer to producer to director to actor and so on, is there a different mindset you have to get in for each one or do you just prepare the same way? Do you have a preference?
CL: Acting is the most difficult for me and that’s the only thing that feels like I have to separate my brain from what ever I’m doing. It’s like something triggers in my head like ‘oh crap, I gotta get in front of the camera now? I don’t want to go there, please don’t make me.’ So yeah acting has it’s own mindset. I can’t just switch over to as easily. As a matter of fact, I don’t feel anything sort of switch at all when I have to wear different hats. It’s that damned acting.
CC: Are there any specific filmmakers that have been a big influence on not only Window On Your Present but your career in general?
CL: Andrei Tarkovsky is the guy who rules my world when it comes to any influence as far as filmmakers go. But I also get inspired by music too. The Cocteau Twins are my favorite band.
CC: As somone that’s worked in the industry for a while now, you’ve seen lots of changes in filmmaking. The biggest change over the years seems to be the shift from using traditional film to the use of digital. Have you worked with digital at all and if so do you prefer one versus the other?
CL: I have worked with digital and it’s a pain in my ass. I worked on my brother’s film recently and I operated two cameras. A Canon 5D and a super 8 camera. Any time I had to use the Canon I dreaded it but when the Super 8 was called on I was like ‘I got this!’ I don’t like cards but I do love shooting on mini dv tape. I feel safer with tape, too many buttons and options on the Canon 5D for me. Hell I still cut on the old old version of iMovie. I just wanna pick up a camera and shoot.
CC: Any current projects you’re working on that you’d like plugged?
CL: I’m not a pluggy kind of person but I will say that I’m all over the place as usual. Been chiseling away on a graphic novel for years and also trying to bust out a whacked out kids show.
CC: And lastly, who is the better director, Spike Lee or Jim Jarmusch? 🙂
CL: Ha! That’s a good one.
To purchase Lee’s newest film, Window On Your Present, click here.
Visit Cinqué Lee’s IMDB page.