While Spike Lee’s adaptation of the revenge thriller “Oldboy” made a paltry $2 million during its Thanksgiving release, one person who’s faring decidedly worse is artist Juan Luis Garcia.
Last week, when the film was making its debut in theaters across the U.S., Garcia released an open letter to Lee, claiming that the ad agency in charge of the “Oldboy” marketing campaign commissioned, then failed to pay for his work which was ultimately used in the promotion of the film.
When the ad agency chose Garcia’s work to lead the campaign for the medium-budget feature for FilmDistrict, Garcia says they low-balled him when the discussion of compensation arose: “I tried to negotiate but they refused. I make the same amount of money in a single day as a photo assistant as what they offered, and I had worked on these almost exclusively for two months.”
Without having finalized any kind of agreement, the ad agency went ahead and used art very similar to Garcia’s in the rollout to the film’s release.
Garcia hoped that the letter would reach Lee, who was promoting Garcia’s work through social networks.
The story’s about a week old now, but the newest wrinkle is Spike Lee weighing in via Twitter. Fans were reblogging Garcia’s letter since its release and beginning to reach out to Lee for some kind of response or reparation for Garcia’s cause.
To which Lee replied on November 27th: “I Never Heard Of This Guy Juan Luis Garcia, If He Has A Beef It’s Not With Me. I Did Not Hire Him ,Do Not Know Him. Cheap Trick Writing To Me. YO.”
Before you start piling on to Lee for what’s clearly a prickly, frustrated response, he’s kind of right and Garcia’s airing of grievances – while legitimate – has inadvertently painted a target on a filmmaker, deflecting blame away from the offending ad agency.
Without directly naming the ad agency that Garcia says pilfered his work, the artist has now made the narrative one where an independent artist was screwed by an iconoclastic, sometimes controversial filmmaker. Now one could argue that given the information Garcia’s put out there, Lee should at least consider removing any of the offending marketing materials from his own social media, but he’s not ultimately culpable for their appropriation (even if he is materially aided in their promotion of his film).
Worse, in not naming the ad agency in his original letter (no longer available on his site), Garcia leaves other artists open to a potentially exploitative employer. Libel laws being what they are, you can imagine Garcia wanting to tread carefully by calling out the agency in question.
Speaking with THR, Garcia says that he wanted to avoid naming names because Lee would know exactly who the ad agency in question was.
It’s altogether a crapstorm with no winners at this point: the film is DOA at the box office, Lee and star Josh Brolin are looking to distance themselves from it, and unless he takes them to court, it’s unlikely Garcia will see a dime for his work for the unnamed PR agency.