He Got Game: About The Production

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Principal photography began on location in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York on July 28, 1997. Filmmaker Spike Lee wrote the story with Coney Island as the physical setting and, true to form, Lee's penchant for depicting reality in his motion pictures brought him to the famed streets, basketball courts and schools to realize his vision for Touchstone Pictures' "He Got Game."

"With Coney Island, you get some great visual images of the amusement park's Wonder Wheel and The Cyclone, the beach and the Atlantic Ocean," notes Spike Lee while discussing his choice of filming location. "There is also a kind of weathered and run-down look to many of the buildings that fit with the story and the design of the film. We wanted Coney Island and the locale to be a character in this film ... not just the amusement park, but also the housing projects as well."

"Coney Island has produced many basketball legends from playground courts," explains producer Jon Kilik, who reteams with Spike Lee as a producer on their eighth feature together. "The courts are famous for having some of the greatest basketball players in New York City and the nation."

Players, such as NBA star Stephon Marbury, have come from Coney Island and its famous O'Dwyer Gardens court. "There is, of course, the real 'Garden' court," explains Jon Kilik. "But rather than interrupt what normally happens there, we found a nearby court that was not used very much and created our own Garden out of that one.

"Spike wanted a reality, not just with the basketball playing, but also with the locations where the playing takes place," continues Kilik. "Whether it was at the famed Lincoln High School, on the streets or in the playgrounds, we treated all of the locations as very sacred places. Lincoln High School has a great reputation for producing some fantastic basketball talents. The playgrounds where we shot the opening credit sequence have a legendary status as well. It was with a great deal of respect that Spike went to each of these places to try to not only create a reality for the movie, but also to preserve and document the great history of those famed courts.

"Spike is from Brooklyn and he likes to film in the New York area," Kilik notes. "We do a lot of preparation with the community and the Mayor's office before filming to ensure that the residents and the filmmakers can live and work together. We renovated a playground with new backboards and the repaving of the basketball court. We tried to make our fictional locations as realistic as possible and shot most of the film at actual locations, instead of building studio sets. We brought the entire production to Coney Island so that it became completely interwoven with the story."

In addition to Jon Kilik's on-going producing relationship with the filmmaker, Spike Lee has also previously collaborated numerous times with director of photography Malik Hassan Sayeed, production designer Wynn Thomas, editor Barry Alexander Brown and costume designer Sandra Hernandez.

"There is a very deep, mutual respect," notes Kilik, speaking about the association of the filmmakers. "I think there is a communication that is familiar and a respect for the quality of work that each individual brings to the productions. These are people who have grown together and have a shared sensibility. They also add things to Spike's extraordinary vision, and he really values their contribution."

Discussing his collaboration with director of photography Malik Hassan Sayeed and their approach to the cinematography for the film, Spike Lee notes, "We wanted a very realistic edge to the photography for this film. We always let the script and the subject matter determine that approach, and this story really seemed to demand and allow that kind of attitude. We wanted to cover the basketball playing in an interesting way that took you right into the energy and thrust of the game."

"Spike made a decision very early on to use real ball players for the film, and I think that was a very good idea," notes Denzel Washington. "In so many movies where there is a basketball scene played by actors instead of athletes, the sequences can look just terrible. The filmmakers have to shoot around the game, instead of allowing the audience to experience it. With this film, even in the way Spike and Malik shot the scene between Jake and Jesus, they were able to set up the cameras and let us play. And it looked like it was supposed to look," says Washington, adding with a wry smile, "Like an over-the-hill man playing a younger pro'."

"Denzel is an athlete who played on the JV team during his freshman year at Fordham University, under then coach P.J. Carlissimo," explains Spike Lee. "He is a big hoops enthusiast, so I wasn't worried about him being able to do what he needed to for the basketball playing that Jake does in the story."

"I'm from Mount Vernon, New York, which also has a very rich history of basketball," notes Denzel Washington. "I grew up with some great players like Gus Williams and others who went on to play with major teams and win championships. The wonderful thing about acting is that you get to put on different hats and step into different worlds, and on this production, I've had the opportunity to hang out with people like Earl Monroe."

"In the story, Jesus always thought that he was named after Jesus of Nazareth," explains Spike Lee. "But Jake tells him later that when he was growing up, his own favorite ballplayer was Earl 'The Pearl' Monroe, whose other nickname was 'Jesus.' And that's who he was actually named after."

Basketball legend Earl Monroe was also brought into the production as a consultant and technical advisor to ensure authenticity for the basketball aspects of the film. "I think that the realism of the film is going to really shock people," notes Earl Monroe. "The players and the types of scenes that we shot really show basketball, and probably better than it has been shown in any other film."

When asked about Denzel Washington's basketball playing for the film, Monroe says "Denzel was a player in college, so he certainly has skills from that time. He has a relatively good understanding of the game, so I think with all of the factors involved, he comes across very well. And it is certainly obvious that it is really him out there playing on the court."

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