A large number of the directors who desire to make an indie film do so because of the freedom they are provided as a result of not having to listen to a large, commercial production studio. These directors will be in charge of the project so they can have the final say and it gives them much more creative control. However, this same freedom is not given to the directors who work with a major/minimajor. The reasoning behind this is that even though the major studio desires to produce an “indie” film they still are more concerned with widespread commercial appeal, whereas a true independent film can focus more on niche populations.
Spike Lee’s success from She’s Gotta Have It put him in a situation where he could get backing from a large studio and potentially increase his profits. However, the studio he signed with, Paramount, was not satisfied with the film they signed him to do, Do the Right Thing, due to the amount of controversial content it possessed. This is a prime example of major studios trying to produce an indie film but not being able to do so because their sole motivation is their bottom line. While Lee could have tried to go the independent route and have full creative control another studio stepped in. Since Paramount was unable to come to an agreement with Spike Lee, he ended up going to Universal who was more than willing to allow Lee to do the film how he wished.
The lack of backing from Paramount could be for an array of reasons. The main reason for the withdrawal of Paramount could simply be that they did not want to have such a controversial title tied to their brand. There was talk that it could create racial tensions, that riots could ensue upon the movie’s release, and that it could also alienate anybody that isn’t of African American descent. This list of reasons could have caused Paramount to back out and let Lee go elsewhere. As for why Universal picked up the film, it was likely for financial reasons. Universal knew that the film would be controversial but they, much like what Soderbergh did with Sex, Lies, and Videotape, likely wanted to try and use this controversy as free publicity for the film. They knew that there would be lots of news coverage for the film which would likely result in lots of ticket sales and, in the end, a large profit margin. Spike Lee always seems to push the envelope with his films because he is so outspoken when it comes to racial tensions and it was likely this reputation coupled with the controversial film that ultimately resulted in Universal picking up Do the Right Thing.