Spike Lee, filmmaker and ardent New York Knicks fan, had a chat with CocoaFab to talk about his latest movie Red Hook Summer (which JUST became available on DVD/Blue-Ray) and his thoughts on future projects and up and coming directors. Oh and I inadvertently got Luke James in trouble with Spike.*
As in previous films, the characters in Red Hook Summer have these epic, meaningful names—Enoch, Blessing and such. Do you have the character name first and go from there or do you develop and character and the perfect name comes later?
Ha! Yeah, you got Gator Purify, The Reverend Good Doctor Purify. It ‘s a combination of both really. Names are very important. It gets to the heart of any character.
You’ve worked with lots of powerful actors like Clarke Peters, Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. When you write a character, do you have a specific person in mind as you write?
Sometimes. It helps to have a great casting director. If you’re a casting director and you just give me names of people I already know, you’re not doing your job. It’s nice to work with big names, but you gotta get some unknowns in there too.
With Red Hook Summer, the most prominent newbies are the two child actors Jules Brown and Toni Laysaith. How did you find them?
It was really simple. Jules and Toni went to my old junior high in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. There’s a great drama program there and the teacher Edwin Robinson was a big help with picking the right kids.
You shot Red Hook Summer in 18 days. It kind of goes back to those scrappy days of being a young, hungry unknown filmmaker. Do you have a preference for going indie or working on big-budget studio movies?
Depends on the project. I just did Old Boy, that’s a studio film. The only way Red Hook Summer would come to fruition is to be independent. I go independent on a project. I’m very well equipped to do Hollywood financed projects.
In a perfect world where you have all the financing you could ever desire and complete creative control…
Where does this Shangri-La you speak of exist?
Probably just in my head, but this perfect world has dough like you’re in a rap video where it’s constantly raining money and you can do whatever you want. What is your next movie?
Well, I’m working on this: James Brown, Famous Joe Louis, Brooklyn Loves MJ and Spike Lee’s Huckleberry Finn.
Spike Lee’s Huckleberry Finn? I’m intrigued. Tell me more.
Not even just a little bit?
Bummer! Well, let’s talk about your past movies. You can talk about those. Do you have a favorite film of yours?
Nope. I love them all, faults and all.
Speaking of faults, do you read reviews of your work?
Depends on who wrote the review, but generally I do not.
I know you mentored Dee Rees who made Pariah, one of my favorite films from last year. Who are the young directors you are checking for right now?
Yes, Pariah was a great film and that’s a great question, but I can’t answer it. Every time I try to answer that, I end up missing someone. I will say though that there is a whole crew of young people who are making important contributions to filmmaking and I’m very excited about that.
That’s very diplomatic of you. Are you familiar with the singer Luke James?
I know Rick James, I don’t know Luke James.
Well, he’s a young singer out of New Orleans with a crazy falsetto. On his latest project, Whispers in the Dark, he has a song called “Mo Betta Blues” and he has a little audio clip from the movie. The part where the woman is like “You have the audacity to call me by your other woman’s name.” You know the part.
Why’d you have to tell me that? Now I have to sue this brotha. He didn’t have permission to use that clip.
Umm, well, maybe his people talked to your people and the conversation never reached you.
My people don’t work like that.
Oh gosh. Well, I was going to ask you how you feel about creatives in other fields being inspired by your work.
It’s very flattering to have your work inspire someone in any medium.
*Editorial Note: Sorry Luke!