Nokia Turns to Spike Lee to Help Mobilize a Revolution

Filmmaker Talks to Ad Age About Plan to Direct Cellphone Movie

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Nokia has taken the first steps to build its brand in the U.S. through an entertainment strategy by hiring Spike Lee to direct a feature film. The catch: The movie will be a collaborative effort involving hundreds of cellphone users sending in snippets under three themes starting with the concept of "birth."
Spike Lee: 'I never underestimate creativity in people.'
Spike Lee: 'I never underestimate creativity in people.' Credit: AP

Mr. Lee and his assistants will cull the submissions, offer the best for a vote and then turn them into a film which will premiere at Club Nokia in Los Angeles and online.

The Oscar-nominated director sat down with Advertising Age to talk about the "uncharted territory" of cellphone moviemaking, working as a commercial director and what Ad Age doesn't know about the recession.

Ad Age: Is mobile the future of filmmaking?

Spike Lee: It's happening already, whether people want to admit it or not. I don't think film cameras are going to go the way of the dinosaur. There's going to be a day people shoot feature films on these mobile devices, as they now call cellphones. Good ones will be in movie theaters like everything else.

Ad Age: What are your hopes for this film? Academy Award prospects?

Mr. Lee: I never underestimate creativity in people. I know there can be some big surprises, too. This would not be eligible for the Academy Awards. I don't think.

Ad Age: Practically speaking, how will you develop character, story?

Mr. Lee: Everybody knows it's going to be a loose narrative. The music is going to be the major thing that's going to tie everything together.

Ad Age: What are marketers' opportunities in mobile filmmaking?

Mr. Lee: The people who are going to take advantage of this are the people who think ahead of everybody else, the visionaries. This stuff is really uncharted territory, so who knows where these devices and technology is going to take us in the future. Also, how the public is going to utilize this new technology.

Ad Age: Do consumers want content on the phone?

Mr. Lee: You have people who just want their phone to be a phone. You have other people who want every bell, whistle on it.

Ad Age: Did this opportunity come together through your ad agency, Spike DDB?

Mr. Lee: No, no. There's Spike Lee the filmmaker, there's Spike Lee the commercial director, and also Spike DDB the ad agency. This has nothing to do with Spike DDB.

Ad Age: Will Spike Lee the filmmaker take more of a role with Nokia, such as becoming a spokesman?

Mr. Lee: I hadn't thought about it until you just mentioned it. No one has said anything so far. This is more than enough. I'm happy, very elated they asked me to do this.

Ad Age: How do you view commercial work?

Mr. Lee: For me, I don't look down upon commercial work.

Ad Age: What are the challenges of working in the commercial world?

Mr. Lee: You're there providing services and the client has a great deal of input. This is something you know going in. It's something I'm cool with also so that it's not a hindrance. I understand what's what.

Ad Age: What's your phone?

Mr. Lee: Right now, I have the Nokia N95 8 gig and it gives you the phone, there's a camera, video camera, built in Wi-Fi navigation. You get video games, internet, you could send pictures, text, e-mail, does your laundry.

Ad Age: Do you use it?

Mr. Lee: To be honest, my son is teaching me to be able to do this stuff. He's 10 years old and he's much more technologically advanced than I am. I'm from the prehistoric age of vinyl, 45s and 33s and needles and all that stuff, not from the digital generation.

Ad Age: Your agency Spike DDB is also 10 years old. How has advertising changed over the years?

Mr. Lee: I think people don't want to be dictated to. They want to have stuff that doesn't look like advertising. The trick is, how do you make ads that still get people to want to buy your product but doesn't look like advertising. So you really have to try to slip it in.

Ad Age: How is the agency business these days?

Mr. Lee: This recession is affecting everybody, and one of the first things that gets cut is the money for the African-American market. So that's something we've had to adjust. But we're doing very well. I'm still happy that I have my own agency.

Ad Age: Who specifically has cut? Most marketers have said they are continuing with established budget levels.

Mr. Lee: Well, they're not going to tell Ad Age what the real deal is. But it is happening.