Spike Lee Says He Financed "Red Hook Summer" Himself + Has No Distributor Yet + Plot Spoiler & More...

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by Tambay A. Obenson
January 13, 2012 8:40 PM
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Some bits and pieces of info worth sharing that I came across while reading THIS New York Times Sundance 2012 profile - specifically about veteran filmmakers like Spike Lee and Stephen Frears debuting their films at the festival, competiting with filmmakers much younger for eyeballs and distributors; putting them in a position that they don't often find themselves in.

First, as already noted, no, Red Hook Summer doesn't have a distributor, and Spike is hoping to walk away with one while there; interesting, because he'd previously announced that the film would be released this summer, 2012; when he made that announcement, I figured he already was in bed with a distributor, and they'd locked in a date. Doesn't look like it; or maybe there was a deal at the time, but it fell through; or maybe Spike was just playing hype man for his film, even though he may not have been certain that it would be released summer 2012; or maybe he planned on releasing it this summer by any means necessary, with or without a distributor. 

Lots of "maybes" there :)

Well, let's keep our fingers crossed then that its trip to Sundance is a fruitful one.

Second, I didn't know that Spike funded the film with his own money! I don't believe that's been public info up until this point. I never wondered how he got it funded, so I suppose I never thought to dig and find out. But as he told the New York Times, explaining why he had to fund the film himself, “It had been too long since I’d done a film, and I couldn’t wait on Hollywood anymore... Too many meetings, too many false starts, too many stuck projects.” 

Although he won't say exactly how much he spent on it.

He also added, “It’s going to be easy for people to say, ‘Spike can’t get a big-budget film like “Inside Man,” so he has to come back on a shoestring.’ That’s not really the case. I never took this movie to studios, and I wanted complete freedom to make the movie I wanted to make.

And I'm glad he took the risk and went for it; otherwise, we probably won't be talking about Spike's new joint right now.

Third, the script for Red Hook Summer was written by both Spike and and James McBride, who penned the script for Miracle at St. Anna; to be frank, that makes me a bit nervous, given how Miracle turned out. But we'll see.

Fourth (and here's the potential SPOILER for those who prefer surprises when they watch a film; you've been warned), Spike has kept the film well-under wraps. Very few people have actually seen it; and, according to the NY Times piece, those who have seen the film say that "the story line takes an abrupt turn midway that will shock audiences."

What that is, Spike's not telling of course.

END POTENTIAL SPOILER.

By the way, this will be a good time to share its official synopsis: 

When his mom deposits him at the Red Hook housing project in Brooklyn to spend the summer with the grandfather he’s never met, young Flik may as well have landed on Mars. Fresh from his cushy life in Atlanta, he’s bored and friendless, and his strict grandfather, Enoch, a firebrand preacher, is bent on getting him to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior. Only Chazz, the feisty girl from church, provides a diversion from the drudgery. As hot summer simmers and Sunday mornings brim with Enoch’s operatic sermons, things turn anything but dull as people’s conflicting agendas collide. Playfully ironic, heightened, yet grounded, Spike Lee’s bold new movie returns him to his roots, where lovable, larger-than-life characters form the tinderbox of a tight-knit community. A story about the coexistence of altruism and corruption, Red Hook Summer toys with expectations, seducing us with the promise of moral and spiritual transcendence. Spike is back in the ’hood.

Fifth, it's over 2 hours long, clocking in at 135 minutes, according to the Sundance program; no surprise there, because Spike rarely makes a sub-2 hour movie.

And finally, when asked how it feels to be heading to Sundance to "play with the youngsters," Spike said, “I’m nervous; it’s my money on the line... At the same time, it’s true to say that the difficulty in the film business today dictated that I finance this film myself. The reality is that in this environment very few directors get to make movies that aren’t sequels, or 3-D or have Transformers flying through the air.

So there ya have it folks! If you didn't know, now you know.

I'll be at Sundance and definitely plan on seeing Red Hook Summer during my trip; of course, I'll share my thoughts on it afterward!

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10 Comments

  • Donella | January 18, 2012 6:58 PMReply

    **"It had been too long since I’d done a film, and I couldn’t wait on Hollywood anymore... Too many meetings, too many false starts, too many stuck projects.”** Good for Spike. Hopefully, as time draws closer to release, more people will have Red Hook Summer on the radar.

  • Joe Doughrity | January 17, 2012 12:04 PMReply

    Great interview. Spike Lee is a man and artist of great integrity. And he believes in helping and mentoring the next generation unlike a lot of so-called Black filmmakers out there. I can't wait to see his new film!

  • Melissa Danielle | January 16, 2012 8:02 PMReply

    I don't know the industry, but can someone please tell me why there are no black-owned distribution companies?

    We can write, produce, cast, direct, act, film, design, photograph, sound, transport, makeup, score and everything else, but we can't distribute.

    I'm confused.

    Please explain.

  • Joe Doughrity | January 17, 2012 12:07 PM

    Just to add to what Mr. Tate has said there has to be a desire to BUILD SOMETHING and not just get rich from us in the entertainment business. Robert Redford NEVER made $20 mil a movie yet he built Sundance Institute out in the middle of nowhere and created a foundation to nurture filmmakers. I don't see any of our big stars doing anything similar and it saddens me.

  • GREG TATE | January 17, 2012 11:40 AM

    Melissa, all the craft aspects of film you mention can pretty much be had on the cheap by begging favors from your fellow film professional and non-professionl friends--especially if you're a cunning, industrious, cajoling, and engaging filmmaker. National theatrical distribution for cinema however-- especially for someone with Spike's resume,and not a first time indie director-- is a major corporate enterprise which requires a company endowed enough to produce several hundred copies of your film, take out expensive ads for radio, tv, the 'netand in newspapers,create posters, hirea PR company to handle press and media etc. This is also, most importantly, a company which also has a deal, clout, and a history of relationship with the big multiplex chains. This almost insures your film will be among the ones the theatre owners book for their screens that season. So when you hear about low-budget films being bought at a festival like Sundance by studios for so many millions, a large portion of that money is going towards the promotion and distribution of that film. You may have noted that a film such as Pariah, which cost less than $500,000 to produce was bought by Focus Features in a seven figure deal. That disparity gives some sense of the cost of distribution versus production. The bottom line answer to your question would be ''What person of African descent do you know who has access to seven figures to gamble on one film with no big stars?''-- let alone the dozen or so others Focus produced and released in 2011? Also take into account that we're not talking anybody's personal money. We're talking bank loan and investment capital that's provided to those studios each year to gamble on films. So that RE the capitalization and investments necessary for professional film distribution its like asking, "Why aren't there more Blackfolk who build,own and run casinos in Vegas?'' This is my amateur film business buff understanding of the game anyway. Be happy to hear from and be corrected by any folk with more professional experience and wisdom.

  • Sergio | January 13, 2012 9:40 PMReply

    Didn't read the spoiler I'll wait for the film and I believe that he also self funded Bamboozled himself as well

  • Neziah | January 13, 2012 10:26 PM

    It wasn't really a spoiler.

  • Cynthia | January 13, 2012 9:17 PMReply

    You can have those big-ass, same-old-game blockbuster films...THIS is what I'm ready to see! Thanks for digging in that BiG pocket Spike and not waiting on Hollyweird.

  • LandLocked | January 14, 2012 11:57 AM

    I agree with Cynthia. However, that third point, about the script for Red Hook Summer being co-written by James McBride, "who penned the script for Miracle at St. Anna," makes me a bit nervous, too -- because that joint sucked. Nonetheless, I still look forward to enjoying this film. Hopefully, Spike will be back in true form.

  • Neziah | January 13, 2012 10:27 PM

    Amen.

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