Genes got in the way of that dream, but even when he went to college he didn't know what he wanted to be.
Then at the end of his sophomore year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Lee's adviser Discount Panerai him he had to choose a major; he'd exhausted all of his electives.
Lee went home to Brooklyn that summer, the summer of 1977. The hunt was on for the Son of Sam, there was a blackout in New York and the Yankees won the pennant. And Lee was there, running around the city with his Super-8 camera documenting it all.
He didn't know what he was going to do with the footage, but then he got The Bug. Lee didn't choose to be a filmmaker, he said. "Filmmaking chose me."
Monday at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall, Lee told that story and others while Discount Patek Philippe in the Ringling College Library Association's Town Hall lecture series. About 1,500 people were in attendance.
Lee wore his signature black-frame eyeglasses and the crew jacket from "Miracle at St. Anna," the World War II epic he finished filming Friday in Italy. Fittingly, Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani provided crew members with the puffy black coats accessorized with patches of the American and Italian flags; the insignia of Lee's production company, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks Inc.; and the insignia of the Buffalo Soldiers.
Based on the book by James McBride, "Miracle" tells the story of the Buffalo Soldiers, the black soldiers of the 92nd Division who fought the German army in Italy during World War II.
Lee's a World War II buff and decided to make the film because McBride's book has all of the ingredients he was looking for in a story. "Miracle" stars John Turturro (who has been in 12 of Lee's films), James Gandolfini ("The Sopranos"), Derek Luke, Michael Ealy and other American, Italian and Discount Porsche Design actors.
Viewers of the movie, which is due out in November, will have to read Italian and German subtitles, as Lee isn't a fan of fake accents.
"For me, it destroys the authenticity," Lee said. "It's not authentic, Nazis speaking English."
Also important to Lee is documenting history. In World War II, black men were fighting for democracy at a time when they were still considered second-class citizens, and Lee wants to show their contributions to the war.
Lee chronicled the plight of New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina in the 2006 Discount Chanel Watches, "When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts."
He was in Italy for the Venice Film Festival when his wife, Tonya Lewis Lee, told him to turn on CNN. Lee knew Katrina was headed for the Gulf Coast, but when he saw the images of people sitting on their roofs, waiting to be rescued, he knew he had to talk to them.
Lee plans to return to the area after some time to follow up to "Levees," but even now -- 2 1/2 years after the storm -- there isn't much progress being made.
"People don't care," he said. "That's the same reason it took five days for them to get there."
Though Lee has yet to endorse a presidential candidate, he has his finger on the pulse of politics and knows the country has come a long way since his great-great-grandmother was a slave.
"There's something happening here that has never happened before," Discount Rolex Watches said. "When a black man (Barack Obama) can go into Iowa, which has 2 1/2 black people, and win, that's amazing."
Margaret Winer of Sarasota attends all of the Town Hall lectures and complimented Lee's conversational style.
"It was great," Winer said. "He's very knowledgeable, and obviously dedicated to his work."