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The L: Who was the hardest to track down?
JA: The hardest to pin down was Spike Lee, and he agreed in 1998 to do it. He was the last guy we shot. He’s got nine million things going on as well. What was really fun was seeking out the footage we stumbled onto. There was this one French documentary on Melvin in 1965. We knew we had this great foundation there but then we found the book program about Melvin’s first book. We were thunderstruck when we found that. Then a few years into the shooting Melvin has this treasure of all this stuff he worked on earlier. Then there is this one show that Melvin did called Kicking to Science where he tells his life story. And I was like Melvin were you ever going to tell me about this? There were great things in that film.
The L: Were there things in the film that make you rediscover things you’ve done?
MP: Of course. It was a lot of fun seeing old films and old projects, old ideas. I don’t tend to, even as forgetful as I am, to forget old projects. But it’s great to see them again. ‘Oh wow!’ When I did it. It’s like looking at your old high school yearbook. ‘Whoa!’
JA: One of the most gratifying moments since the film has been done, is when we showed it for the first night at the Los Angeles film festival. Mario [Van Peebles, his son] sat next to me. So I was nervous. I knew Melvin was supportive and he was down with it but [I didn’t know how Mario was going to react] the whole time he kept hitting me and tried to ask me where I found that stuff. The first thing he said at the end was where did you find this stuff? I thought those stories were lies but you corroborated it.
MP: It was like Mario was saying afterwards. He said you know dad, the movie is like Big Fish. It really happened! (laughs)
JA: In the part where we’re talking about Melvin’s Don Juan side, Megan was the one who said that this is my dad. You’re Monday night. Don’t call on Tuesday or Wednesday. They had an understanding and were comfortable with the situation and how it is.
The L: Did it stimulate new creative juices for you?
MP: Perhaps oddly enough, I never get offers. I’m starting another film now, just like if I’m doing a Broadway show or a new album or anything else. People tend to, at least the people who speak of financing anyway, tend to demand that I repeat the last success and the last style. For example, Sweet Back. It has a part 2 and a part 3. People have come to me at various times and imposed their versions of 2 and 3 and want to finance it. But it’s not where I think it should go. What’s interesting is the non-artists can only see what is or what was. When I tell them what I’m going to do they go ‘ahh!’ But if I have some person who is one they say, “jeez.” But when I say they ain’t supposed to die a natural death they go “ahh!” When I said there was a new music I wanted to invent a music called Rap they go ‘ahhh!’ I would love to have partners. I would love to have someone come and say ‘oh you’re doing something? How can we get involved?’ I was reading an article about Rauschenberg the other day and how he would pick up pieces and he would see them one way and everyone would go ‘Ahh!’ Its typical if you prepare to stay in the last current of success your can get help.