How a Bernie Sanders-Spike Lee Cover Photo Comes Together: Secret Service and a Nail-Biting Schedule

Evan Mann
Sanders (left) and Lee were photographed on March 31 in New York.

On set for the New York issue, the director loved seeing one of his trademark Brooklyn bicycle hats (a special one made for the Democratic presidential candidate that read "Sanders" didn't fit) as crowds gathered upon seeing Sanders’ motorcade.

This story first appeared in the April 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

For its sixth annual New York issue, THR brought together director Spike Lee and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on March 31 for a fascinating conversation between two native Brooklynites. To capture these iconoclasts for the cover, photographer Wesley Mann approached his subjects as he would have any other: "I didn't want to psych myself out." Mann had only a few precious minutes to capture the shot at NoHo's Neo Studios — a nail-biting window that required a great deal of preparation. "Ultimately, I had just a handful of frames to try and create something that one hopes is iconic or stands out," explains Mann.

THR deputy editorial director Alison Brower describes the atmosphere ahead of Sanders' arrival as "anticipatory but still relaxed," with Lee (who calls the Democratic candidate "Brooklyn Bernie") studiously reviewing his interview notes. A "focused readiness" took over when the Sanders motorcade arrived — but, says Brower, "once Bernie walked in the door, his menschy vibe disarmed us all. I'm not sure anyone called him 'senator' more than once. It was all 'Bernie.'"

Sargent and Mann during a break.

The inspiration behind the photo came from Lee's Nike commercials from the 1980s and 1990s featuring the director's bespectacled "Mars Blackmon" character. "Spike was so excited when he saw the Brooklyn hat on set," says Mann of Mars' trademark baseball cap. (Another one, printed up to read "SANDERS" along the brim, didn't fit the senator's head.) Of course, security was much tighter on this set than for the typical cover shoot. "I had never really experienced working with the Secret Service before," says THR photo editor-at-large Jenny Sargent. Adds Brower, "You're really supposed to avoid using the word 'shoot' around Secret Service, so we had to keep correcting ourselves: 'I mean — photograph!' " Things wrapped in time to get Sanders to a Bronx rally, where about 18,500 showed up to "feel the Bern." But the candidate wasn't able to make a quick getaway without garnering attention from crowds who'd caught sight of his motorcade outside the studio.