You could call Spike Lee the basketball auteur.
No other filmmaker has sought to accurately portray basketball as much as Lee has. He cast Ray Allen in 1998’s “He Got Game” and shot some of the most famous Michael Jordan commercials. He’s also making a documentary for the National Basketball Association about Jordan’s last two seasons.
Lee’s current round ball film is “Kobe Doin’ Work,” a documentary of one game in the life of Kobe Bryant. Inspired by the 2006 soccer film “Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait,” Lee used 30 cameras to capture Bryant’s every move in a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs on April 13, 2008.
Bryant later recorded a commentary for the film, describing his thought process behind every shot, every screen, every pass. As it happened, Bryant laid down the commentary just hours after scoring 61 against Lee’s beloved New York Knicks in February.
The film, which is scored by Bruce Hornsby, premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival. It will air 8 p.m. EDT May 16 on ESPN.
Lee recently sat down with The Associated Press.
AP: A lot of people don’t like Bryant. Will they want to spend 90 minutes with him?
Lee: Whether you love him or hate him, I think if you know the game of basketball, you have to respect what he does on the court. I realize he has a lot of haters, but I’m not one of them.
AP: There’s a tradition of some unrealistic basketball action in films like “Teen Wolf.”
Lee: Here’s the thing. You can get away in baseball using actors. Basketball is hard. How many times have you seen a basketball film where ... you see the actor shoot — cut! — and the next shot is the basket with the ball going in? Hate that.
AP: You can’t have cameras on the court ...
Lee: Not yet!
AP: So what’s the hardest thing about capturing the game?
Lee: What we tried to do — and I think we were successful — just try as much as possible to show how the game looks to the players as they play it. And it’s not just how it looks, it’s how it sounds.
AP: You must have wished you had filmed the game he scored 61 points against the Knicks.
Lee: Yeah, but we were very happy. We had been trying to get Kobe to do this commentary for months. He canceled several times, so it was really iffy he was going to do it at all. I was very happy he did it and the fact that he scored 61 points I think really had an effect on the commentary. I know that if the Knicks had stomped him, that would have been a very less energetic commentary.
AP: A love for basketball certainly comes across, both from Bryant and you.
Lee: What you learn from this is that when people love what they do, it’s not like a job anymore. Then it becomes a joyful act — whatever that job is. The way he feels about basketball is the way I feel about being a filmmaker.
AP: You also had “Passing Strange” at Tribeca, your documentary of the theatrical production. How would you compare the challenges of shooting a staged performance to a basketball game?
Lee: It’s totally different. “Passing Strange” is a script — it has a book and lyrics and music and it’s scripted. A game is not scripted; that’s the beauty. So many things could have happened. He could have gotten hurt — which would have been disastrous. He could have gotten in early foul trouble — which would have been disastrous.