Not long ago, Kevin B. Lee stopped by CCNY’s Shepard Hall to talk to film and video students about his desktop documentary Transformers: The Premake. A youtube hit of this past summer with 36,000 views. The video manipulates 355 other videos of Michael Bay’s blockbuster and turns them into an examination of social media, reality and Hollywood big budget filmmaking.
Fresh from the annual 2014 Independent Filmmaker Project Conference, Lee works as a critic and filmmaker who makes videos about filmmaking. His documentaries, posted on his Vimeo Fandora site, shed light on how movies work. “These days everyone is a filmmaker, more or less,” says Lee. “Everyone has the capacity, resources and technologies to make movie images, to document the lives around them and their own lives, and to distribute them through all sorts of media, youtube, facebook, etc.”
Lee’s filmmaking style mixes the old and the new. Technology has opened the door to DIY filmmaking, though Lee believes there’s a downside. “When you get to that level of fixation and obsession with the gear, then it’s no longer of really you making the movie; it’s the gear making the movie,” says Lee. “You basically use the gear as a substitute for your own creativity because you haven’t figure out how to solve the problem of how to make an image works.”
Promoting films has also changed and has moved beyond film festivals. Instead, says Lee, films go viral when they stimulate an engaging conversation. “You set it up in a way that it becomes relevant and interesting to people, a very compelling video,” says Lee. “This is how you turn your video into a cultural phenomenon that becomes fascinating.”
Lee, who pursued visual and critical studies at The Art Institute of Chicago, previously made a documentary about Chinatown after September 11, Take a Look: NYC Chinatown Post 9/11, and Sikh Americans, Dastaar: Defending Sikh Identity. He also taught English in China after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in English literature and Asian studies from Williams College. “Right now, I’m pursuing a teaching degree,” says Lee with humor. “I think that’s what I’m meant to be. I’m not gonna be a Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay.”
Lee left students with these last words: “Don’t worry about copyright, just copy it right!”