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91st Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

SPEECH BY: Charlie Wachtel & David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott & Spike Lee


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NOTE:  Two separate interviews were held, the first with Spike Lee and, later, with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott.

(Spike Lee)  This is my sixth glass.  And you know why. 

Q. I want to say the Academy did the right thing by giving you this award. 
A. Thank you very much.

Q. So I actually recently interviewed Ron Stallworth and he said that he couldn't imagine anyone else helming this film.  And so I want to ask, what would you say to Ron now that you have this award for writing this film?
A. Well, first of all, he lived that life.  He infiltrated the Klan.  He talked to David Duke on the phone.  He was David Duke's bodyguard, and he lived to write a book to tell about it.  Next. 

Q. You've mentioned DO THE RIGHT THING in your speech and with your accessories today, so does this make up for DO THE RIGHT THING not winning the Oscar for you right now? 
A. I'm a snake pit.  I mean, every time somebody is driving somebody, I lose.  But they changed the seating arrangement.  But in '89 I didn't get nominated, so this one we did.  For Best Picture. 

Q. I just wanted to ask you, we saw a little bit of a reaction to the GREEN BOOK win.  Can you give us your thoughts on that Best Picture win? 
A. Let me take another sip.  Next question.  Oh, wait a minute.  What reaction did you see?  What did I do? 

Q. A little bit of maybe a little [inaudible] reaction. 
A. No.  I thought I was courtside at the Garden.  The ref made a bad call.  The world's most famous arena, Madison Square Garden.  Knicks are coming back next year.

Q. You've been a critic of the Academy for some years.  How do you feel about the progression of black filmmakers after this year?
A. Here's the thing.  Without April Green (sic)    April Reign, excuse me, without April Reign, #OscarsSoWhite, and the former president of the Academy Award of Motion Picture Sciences, Cheryl Boone Isaacs, I wouldn't be here tonight.  They opened up the Academy to make the Academy look more like America.  It's more diverse.  So that's why three black women, if I'm counting correctly, won Oscars.  That would not have happened without OscarsSoWhite and Cheryl Boone Isaacs.  Facts.  As my brother Jay Z says, facts.

Q. That reaction we saw of you and Samuel L. Jackson, walk us thorough that just a little bit.  Talk about that moment. 
A. Well, first of all, Samuel Jackson and I went to the same college.  We went to Morehouse College, so I've known Sam from way, way, way back.  These were my school SCHOOL DAZE.  We were very close, our families, and for him, my brother Samuel Jackson, to open up the envelope and say my name, it was a great thing.  And did I jump up on him? 

Q. You did.  Yes, you did. 
A. Let me take another sip.  That was a genuine, genuine reaction.  And my co writers all    look, it's not just for me, the people in front of the camera and behind the camera, and I was just    here's the thing though.  I had two speeches.  Now, I'm going to call this "I'm keeping it 100."  That means I'm keeping it real, for those that don't live in Brooklyn, New York, 100.  Had two speeches; one with a list of the people I was going to thank and the other one was what you heard me say.  So I said to myself, "Self, your black ass may not be up here again, so let me go with the speech."  And I did not get to thank    read the one with the thanks.  So I apologize for the people I didn't get a chance to thank. 

Q. So a lot of us have been with you since DO THE RIGHT THING, MALCOLM X, yay, it feels good today. 
A. I'm back in the day.

Q. He's back in the day.  But I have a different kind of question.  You mentioned David Duke, the whole thing.  Do you think he's watched the movie?  And if he has or if he hasn't, what's your message to him? 
A. No.  David Duke told Ron Stallworth he saw the film.

Q. What do you have to say to him?
A. (Press Room Monitor)  We're going to go back to 250 and then 255.
A. (Spike Lee)  Thank you.

Q. I'm in this room because of Cheryl Boone Isaacs, FYI.  So I was interviewing Robi Reed, and she helped me compose this question.  She told me that she was part of your A team, and she told me    it was a really beautiful interview    what it was like in the early days.  And so the question is:  Spike, what keeps you motivated after all this work?
A. Well, I'm one of the blessed people in the world who gets to make a living doing what they love.  It's simple.  Most people who go to their grave have worked a job they hated.  That's it. 

Q. First of all, I'm born and raised in Minnesota and I love your Prince outfit tonight. 
A. It's homage.

Q. Obviously, a lot was said about DO THE RIGHT THING in '89.  How have you changed, do you think, as a filmmaker?  If you made that film today, how might it be different or   
A. I do not answer hypothetical questions.  The film was made when it was made, but the thing is, the film, I wrote that in '88 and in '88 I was talking about gentrification, '88 I was talking about global warming and that stuff.  June 30th this year will be the 30th anniversary of DO THE RIGHT THING, and all the stuff we talked in that film is still relevant today.

Q. So how has this film changed society?  Because a lot of people did not realize that the Klan was still around.  They didn't know when this film came out.  They sort of know now after last week and the week before, but how has this changed society?
A. Well, that's a hard question for me to answer, but I do know that the coda of this film where we saw homegrown red, white and blue terrorism.  Heather Heyer, her murder was a American terrorist act.  When that car drove down that crowded street in Charleston (sic), Virginia, and the President of the United States did not refute, did not denounce the Klan, the alt right, and neo Nazis.  And this film, whether we won Best Picture or not, this film    this film will stand the test of time being on the right side of history.  Thank you. 

NOTE:  The following is the subsequent interview with Charlie Wachtel, David Rabinowitz and Kevin Willmott.

Q. People are talking a lot about Spike's reaction after the GREEN BOOK loss.  What's your thoughts about    about what happened tonight as far as the BLACKKKLANSMAN losing to GREEN BOOK, and also because of the different lens that both films were told through?
A. (Kevin Willmott)  Well, you know, we    I don't think any of us have had a chance to really talk to Spike, and, you know, I don't think    I can't speak for Spike, but I will just say this, that I don't think his reaction is about GREEN BOOK so much    but what was the    say    say    what was the last part of your question again? 

Q. My question was I was saying both films are told in different lenses.  People have made a comparison that BLACKKKLANSMAN is obviously told from the point of view of a black protagonist, and, obviously, GREEN BOOK is a different type of film, and it has been the type of film that has gotten accolades before, so   
A. (Kevin Willmott)  Sure.  Well, you know, we    all I can really speak about is our film, and we are just glad to be here.  We are, you know, glad we won, you know.  And, you know, it's a real breakthrough that any film about race gets to win anything.  When I first started in the industry, it was really bad; and we have come a long way since then.  And tonight is a huge step forward I think in many different ways.  And it's still frustrating at times, but it's great to see progress being made. 

Q. Congratulations. 
A. (Kevin Willmott)  Thank you.

Q. I wanted to know, adapting a script seems easy for people who have never done it before.  They say, okay, you just take the old stuff, and you somehow adjust it, and then a new thing is there.  But where was the main ingredient that made you think, okay, this is going to be a movie worth seeing and not just a copy of the old?  Like, there are so many adapted versions or remakes, but what was your major ingredient? 
A. (Charlie Wachtel)  I think there    just at the time we started adapting this in 2015, there weren't a lot of films about the African American experience; and, you know, we knew that there was a market for such a film, and we started from there; and, you know, we knew that this was going to be an entertaining film, you know, for all demographics. 

Q. Hi.  Congratulations.  Great job.  So, unfortunately, the writer's always in the dark.  Being a writer is a tough job.  So can you tell us what was the hardest part for you in writing and adapting the screenplay?  What challenges did you face? 
A. (Kevin Willmott)  Sure.  I think one of the big challenges was    you know, was making something that is kind of unbelievable believable; you know?  That the fact that it is a true story, and, yet, it's kind of unbelievable really that he could pull this off.  That took a little bit of work.  And as well, the third act of the film, really, you know, the ending of the film, the real Ron Stallworth did too good of a job as a policeman.  And the plan was to blow up a gay nightclub, and we changed it to a    the black student union in the film.  And so we tried to stay within the spirit of the real events that happened, but we had to create a whole new really climax to the film to really pay off the film.  Because Ron was such a good policeman, they shut the Klan guys down; and so the fact that they shut them down was kind of a problem for us as filmmakers, because, you know, there was really nothing    nothing happened at the end.  So we had to    so we tried to stay within the spirit of what really did happen, the fact that they were going to blow up a gay nightclub; and, you know, we added the elements of Harry Belafonte coming in and talking about lynching.  We wanted to show how the Klan    what the Klan does, not just that they    you know, they are domestic homegrown terrorists, but that this is what they do; and so we used the example of Waco, the lynching at Waco, Texas, as an example of that and had Harry Belafonte be a witness to that lynching, his character be a witness to that lynching.  And so that gave us kind of what was at stake at the end of the film a little bit more, and then we were able to kind of tie all the endings up to give it a real climax. 

Q. Congratulations to you all. 
A. (Kevin Willmott)  Thank you. 

Q. Let's go back.  When did you first hear about Ron Stallworth's story, and what was your reaction when you first read it?
A. (Kevin Willmott)  Well, David and Charlie were the first guys that really   
A. (David Rabinowitz)  Yeah.  Charlie found the memoir by Ron Stallworth.  We both read it; and we thought, this should be a movie.  Why isn't this a movie?  And we just we took the step of contacting the publisher.  The book wasn't in bookstores, and we got in contact with Ron, and we basically got permission from Ron to adapt it into a script, and we worked with Ron to write the early drafts.  And we sent him every draft, and we got notes on every single draft; and then we went from there.  We ended up getting it to a    a producer by the name Shaun Redick that Charlie knew, and Shaun was in early preproduction on GET OUT; and he gave it to Jordan Peele, and Jordan became our producer; and then GET OUT happened; and then Jordan brought it to Spike Lee, and Spike Lee brought Kevin on. 

Q. Thank you so much, gentlemen.  Congratulations.



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