Referring to a story about him having to finance the film on his own without Hollywood’s help, he was asked what would be different about the movie had he gotten Hollywood’s money?
“Where did you read that,” he asks me. I told him I read about it in The Daily Challenge Newspaper. He then proceeded to recount the steps that led to film being made. “They weren’t going to make this film. I knew that, James (McBride, [co-screenwriter, co-producer]) knew it. The whole thing when James and I sat down was that I was going to finance it. We would’ve been wasting our time if we thought we were going to get financing from Hollywood.
“First of all, this is not something that has never been done before,” Lee went on. “There are certain projects that no one may want to make. So hopefully you will have the means and ways to get it done. But what I’d like to clear up is that a lot of people have misconstrued this film as a declaration that I don’t do studio films anymore. That’s not the case at all. I’ve always done both and I will continue to go back and forth.”
Students that Lee taught at New York University were enlisted to be a part of the “Red Hook Summer” staff, and the film was shot in 18 days. The one thing that his students taught him, he admitted, was patience. It is not surprising that Lee includes them in the training process because education is very important to him.
“I’m a teacher myself,” he states. “I’ve been teaching film at NYU for the last 15 years. I’m artistic director at the graduate film school too. I come from a long line of educators in my family—my parents, my grandparents. Education has always been a key thing in my family.”
In “Red Hook Summer” Flik (Jules Brown), a kid from Atlanta, Georgia, visits with his grandfather in the Red Hook projects for the summer. There, unimaginable episodes in harsh realities ensue. A familiar scenario that many African Americans can relate to is the “summer switch” that Lee attests to.
“I was born in Atlanta and so a lot of my summers were spent in Atlanta,” Lee recalls. If you lived up north in New York, when school ended, your parents sent your ass down south. So my summers were spent between Alabama and Atlanta. I remember one summer we went to Atlanta and we had Michael Jackson Afros and people in Atlanta looked at us like we were Martians.”
In addition to his cinematic work and teaching, Lee has written books and is currently directing “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth” on Broadway. His next projects will be the Michael Jackson documentary “Bad 25” and “Old Boy.” Unfortunately, Lee laments, his most successful film to date, “Inside Man,” will not have a sequel because of financing. This year when I talked to the stars of that 2006 hit, both Denzel Washington and Clive Owen said they were looking forward to doing the sequel to “inside Man” and was just waiting for a script. However, hope springs eternal so it wouldn’t be surprising if Lee announced at some point soon “Inside Man 2” had been greenlit.