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
"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
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
"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
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."