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Interview

How Good Actors Inspire Filmmakers Like Spike Lee to Bring Their A-Game

How Good Actors Inspire Filmmakers Like Spike Lee to Bring Their A-Game
Photo Source: David Lee/Netflix

As director of photography, Daniel Patterson helped storied filmmaker Spike Lee recreate his 1986 feature “She’s Gotta Have It” for Netflix. The 10-episode modern-day adaptation depicts Brooklynite Nola Darling’s (DeWanda Wise) life through sex, art, and social activism. He tells Backstage about working with actors like Wise and the importance of passion.  

This series served as a reunion for Patterson and Lee.
“I got involved because I love the original film—and I love collaborating with the man [Lee]. When we did the feature film ‘Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,’ I had an amazing time shooting that film, and thoroughly looked forward to doing something long-form [with him] again.”

As an actor, ask your cinematographer questions.
“I want [actors] to have as much freedom as possible. Many actors are aspiring producers, writers, and directors themselves, so they ask questions, and I share my knowledge. They tend to ask what lens am I on, what do I see, what are the parameters of the frame? The multiple cameras [and] simultaneous shooting [on this project] allowed for fewer takes, and I think most actors can appreciate that.”

READ: The 1 Thing Cinematographers Need From Actors

Bring your passion to the table.
“The ideal actor to work with is a smart and passionate one. DeWanda Wise is ideal because she is talented, emotionally intelligent, and passionate about her craft. When an actor is on their A-game, you want to make sure that you are on your A-game, too.”

Netflix’s adaptation expands on the original in colorful ways.
“Visually, you will see some similarities, but two big differences are the fact that we shot in color and we shot digitally. The original film was shot on black-and-white film, with one scene in color. My job as the cinematographer was challenging, because we shot with multiple cameras. Spike is adamant about making our day, as well as getting extra footage for when we undoubtedly finish early. We shot with three cameras every day, and sometimes as many as six cameras on bigger days, which required more simultaneous coverage.”

He knew Wise from their shared NYU days.
“DeWanda starred in a couple of shorts I shot. When I found out that she was the new Nola, I was super hyped. It is amazing to watch stars rise that you knew would rise. DeWanda, along with the writers, gave Nola complexities that only go deeper as the episodes go on. To be frank, she was amazing every day, and I am in awe at her ability to achieve perfection in her performances, beat by beat. My background is in theater, and that history has given me a deep admiration for actors. With multiple cameras and daily 6 a.m. call times, I was surprised at the athlete that DeWanda is. She reminded me of Serena [Williams] or [Michael] Jordan. You can tell that she did the work in prep, that she loves the work, loves the process, and that she is a star.”

Ready for the small screen? Check out Backstage’s TV audition listings!

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