DETAILS: The young actors in the film feel entirely
uncanned. How did you find them?
Spike Lee: Well, they went to my junior high school. A drama teacher there, Mr. Edwin Brown, does a wonderful job teaching theater. Once the script was written, I started sitting in the back of his class, just watching students.
DETAILS: Did the class know who you were?
Spike Lee: Yeah. They didn't know why I was there, though. [Laughs]
DETAILS: The main character, 14-year-old Flik, is a burgeoning moviemaker, filming everything he sees on his iPad.
Spike Lee: An iPad 2! Well, even more than that, he's just a techno-whiz. Like my children are. They have to help me download stuff. I mean, they have to help me turn on the TV!
DETAILS: He spends the summer with his grandfather, a preacher played by Clarke Peters, of The Wire and Treme fame. I was struck by the sermons he delivered. What was it like directing those scenes?
Spike Lee: Well, number one, Clarke Peters is a great actor. With people like him, Denzel, John Turturro, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee—you're not really directing, you're suggesting. I'm not trying to be cliché, but he caught the spirit. He was catching the Holy Ghost! Plus, one of the staples of the black church is the call-and-response—the interchange between the pastor and his flock. So everybody was in on it, and we just let the camera roll.
DETAILS: What was it like working with a small crew and financing the film yourself?
Spike Lee: Here's the thing: Just look at the current climate of Hollywood. They weren't making this film, and that's not a condemnation. I understood that I was going to finance this myself. By any means necessary, you dig?
DETAILS: It's like you've come full circle back to your indie-film roots.
Spike Lee: I had just bought a Sony F3 camera, I had my own editing system. So I had the means and the ways. You know, I'm gonna go out to friends, family, people I've worked with over the years, and say, "Look, I need a favor. We gotta do this."
Clarke Peters as Da Good Bishop Enoch Rouse, with the film's middle-school-aged actors, Toni Lysaith and Jules Brown, on the set of Red Hook Summer
DETAILS: Did you consider calling in any favors from Denzel Washington or Halle Berry or Samuel Jackson—or any of the luminary actors whose careers you've advanced?
Spike Lee: No need. This isn't the kind of film where I wanted big stars…And I'm saving that card.
DETAILS: Your film talks about gentrification, but the Red Hook projects are still rough.
Spike Lee: There are Bloods there, hell yeah.
DETAILS: Did you have any issues?
Spike Lee: Nah. I go to the area before we start shooting, get to know who's who and who's…running shit, to make sure that everything is…uh…tranquilo. [Laughs] But after 18 days of shooting, they were ready to say, "I know you're Spike Lee, but fuck you, get the fuck outta here!"
Spike Lee's Upcoming Projects
The director weighs in on three more projects he's got up his sleeve beyond this month's Red Hook Summer.
BROADWAY: Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth
(Now – August 12)
"Well, it's Michael—I've known Michael a long time. Remember, in Do The Right Thing, on the side of Sal's Famous Pizzeria, we put that mural for Mike Tyson from Brownsville. Kerwin DeVonish, who has shot a lot of stuff for me, just happened to see Tyson's one-man show in Las Vegas. He called me, says, 'Spike, you gotta see it.' I couldn't, but I tracked down Mike and his wife, Kiki, in Poland. They were able to get me a tape. I loved it. So we're revamping the Las Vegas show for both of our Broadway day-butts [Laughs]."
DOCUMENTARY: Untitled, about the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Bad
"The thing about Michael, he recorded everything. I mean, a lot of stuff he shot himself. So we got footage that people going to die when they see. We got video, stills, songs that've been sitting in Michael Jackson's vault, never seen by the world. I mean, this stuff's just killin'."
FEATURE FILM: A remake of Oldboy, the 2003 Korean film and the Japanese manga
(Release date unknown)
"It's possible we'll do it. Right now, the people attached to it are Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley from District 9—he's a great actor—Elizabeth Olsen. So we have a great cast."