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The Playlist Q&A: Spike Lee Talks 'Red Hook Summer,' Hollywood, Michael Jackson & More

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist August 9, 2012 at 3:07PM

The Republic of Brooklyn and its ongoing chronicles have taken director Spike Lee all over New York's brightest and best borough (its estimated that if Brooklyn was its own city it would be the third largest in the United States). "Do The Right Thing" took place in Bed-Stuyvesant, parts of "Jungle Fever" took place in Bensonhurst, while Harlem-centric "Mo' Better Blues" homebase was Dumbo, "Clockers" was set among the Boerum Hill projects, "He Got Game" landed in Coney Island and "She’s Gotta Have It" was centered in Fort Greene where Lee lived for many years, to name a few.
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Spike Lee Sundance Red Hook Summer
You have an ease with which you vacillate between documentaries and features. Is that conscious?
No, it's storytelling. I mean I don't let the medium trip me up, it's just telling stories.

What about working with Mike Tyson on his stage show?
I’d never done Broadway before so that's a treat, Mike's doing a phenomenal job, and I hope to go back to Broadway.

Mike Tyson, Spike Lee
But you do jump around a lot, featured, docs, TV. Your HBO pilot “Da Brick” didn’t get picked up. That's a shame because I really like John Boyega.
From “Attack the Block”? Yeah, I mean this thing is not planned out, I mean someone told me about Mike Tyson doing his one man show in Las Vegas, I got a DVD and said I want to do it. I didn't plan on Sony Records and Michael Jackson's estate calling me to do this documentary. I mean some of its planned, this other stuff has just happened. People call me a workoholic sometimes, but I love the work. I wouldn't call it that. Here's the thing though. When you do something you love it's not really work, that's the way I look at it. Looking into the future,

I know you're doing "Old Boy" which is already controversial for some fans, especially on Twitter. Did you expect people to be picking away so closely at this one?
People are passionate about certain films. No, it's a good thing. Hopefully I’m doing that next.

That’s a studio gig. Is it one for them, one for me?
No, I mean I've always, I do both. So, it's been interpreted like with “Red Hook Summer” that Spike doesn't want to work in Hollywood anymore. That's not the case at all, I just knew that Hollywood was not going to make this film. If the film's going to be made I have to do it.

"There used to be variety. Hollywood's decided, 'Fuck summer we're going to make tentpole movies 12 months a year now.' "
“Miracle At St. Anna” was a big studio project that audiences didn’t respond to --
That wasn't the first one.

But is it disheartening when you do something like that? Especially when --
Any filmmaker, any artist wants to connect with audience. I mean whether you're a musician and record a great album that you pour your heart and soul into and nobody buys it, it's difficult for a filmmaker.

OK, how about a film like ‘Anna’ that talks about African American history that you presumably want African American audiences to respond to?
It's not the first time.

People always say Hollywood doesn’t give audiences many good choices these days, but considering what people respond to in theaters these days, are the studios really to blame? Or it it an opiate of the masses type thing?
Well, audiences going to digest what they want to digest regardless but what's different in the past Hollywood had more variety in the films they were trying to make. they really took seriously filming so called Oscar caliber. Here's the problem, Spielberg and Lucas brought about the whole blockbuster, I'm not blaming them it's a fact, they brought about the whole blockbuster thing and for the most part blockbusters were limited to Memorial Day and Labor Day.

Yeah, but that was '75, '77.
But still, it's only been recently that they've decided, “Fuck summer we're going to make these films 12 months a year.” So when we've done that then the section of accounting that is reserved for more adult stuff, that's been pushed aside by every film, not every film but they want tent pole films. I'm not saying that's the reason to make a film to get an Oscar nomination, but it's special effects, computer generated effects, you don't have to make a film unless you have that type of film.

Inside Man
So what does one do to combat that?
Well, what you do is something like “Red Hook Summer” where you find investors and also, I'm not condemning Hollywood. They can do what they want to do. But what they want to do I've got to try to have as little impact on what my artistic output's going to be too. That's what that initial meeting was with James McBride with what became the kernel, the germ for this film.

Do you think you'll keep doing...
It depends on the story. If I want to do some big budget film it will be much more difficult raising the money.

What about “Inside Man.” Was it dispiriting that it didn’t provide the juice for a sequel despite being your biggest hit ever and a surprise success that year?
They didn't want to do it, so that's it. I just found it strange that that's one thing the studios is good about, making sequels. Most sequels make a ton of money and don't cost that much. You'd have to ask them why.

“Red Hook Summer” opens in theaters on August 10th in limited release.

This article is related to: Spike Lee, Red Hook Summer, Interviews, Interviews, Features


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