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Interview: Gunnin’ for that #1 Spot

June 25th, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Today’s Hulu Days of Summer premieres are two sports-related documentaries. First up, the classic motorcycle racing film On Any Sunday, directed by Bruce Brown and featuring Bullitt star Steve McQueen. Considered the pioneer of surfing films, Brown made a name for himself with the influential Endless Summer; similarly, On Any Sunday (1971) has been hailed as one of the best motorcycle documentaries of all time.

We’re also proud to announce the online premiere of Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot on Hulu, a riveting look at eight top high-school basketball players as they prepare for an elite matchup on the playground courts of Harlem’s famed Rucker Park, what many consider the Mecca of basketball. If you’re a hoops fan, you may recognize some of the players featured: Four of them are pros — Jerryd Bayless (Portland Trail Blazers), Michael Beasley (Miami Heat), Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves) and Donte Green (was with the Sacramento Kings) — and another two, Tyreke Evans (Memphis) and Brandon Jennings (playing in the Italian League), are participating in the NBA draft tonight. (Kyle Singler will remain at Duke; Lance Stephenson starts college in the fall).

But even if you aren’t a fanatic about the sport, the stories of these up-and-coming players will captivate you, as will the footage of the Elite 24 Classic game in Rucker Park. A week ago, Hulu spoke to director Adam Yauch (of the Beastie Boys) about the film; while we were at it, we also asked him about the Beasties’ forthcoming album, Hot Sauce Committee, due out in September.

And if you enjoy Gunnin’ for That #1 Spot, you may wish to check out another basketball documentary, Hoop Dreams — a favorite with the Hulu team. It’s available on Hulu until June 28. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor

Hulu: One of the challenges that many independent filmmakers face is getting clearance to use music in their projects. Yet you were able to get music from The Game, Ludacris, Jay-Z and M.I.A. How did your standing in the music industry help you leverage a great soundtrack?

Adam Yauch: It was definitely tricky because of the budget of the film. I definitely had to reach out to a lot of people. My management company helped out a lot, reached out to a lot of labels and publishers and artists. And I was definitely texting and calling people right down to the last second, when I was mixing the film even, texting artists and saying “Am I keeping this in the film, or am I taking it out?” and “How are we doing this?” But for the most part, people were very supportive and helpful in getting it done.

Can you tell us about Rucker Park? What was it like shooting there?

It was definitely cool, going up to the Rucker to shoot and see the game. You know, there’s great energy up there. There’s great energy that comes from the crowd, and good honesty, too. You have people screaming things out. There’s a lot of heckling going on. It’s definitely an interesting atmosphere to be around.

And you played basketball with the guy who organized the Elite 24 game seen in the film, right?

Yeah, we used to play ball together.

Did you give it up or …?

No, I still play, but actually he hasn’t been playing these days. He messed up his knee and hasn’t been playing lately.

There’s been a number of documentaries about basketball — particularly Hoop Dreams. How is “Gunnin’” different from other docs?

I think it’s a snapshot of that period of time. It’s really like a look at where the world of elite high school basketball is in the late summer/early fall of [2006]. I think it’s interesting. It’s definitely different than Hoop Dreams in that sense. Hoop Dreams is an amazing film, but that’s a different time.

Do you think you ended up capturing the essence of Rucker Park, it being a Mecca of playground basketball?

Yeah, I think somewhat. I think it does get a bit of background, to give somebody a sense of it. You get a sense of what it meant to these kids to go out and play there, kids from all over the country. It meant a lot to them.

Speaking of the kids, how did you choose the particular set of players featured in the film?

They were recommended to me. I kind of wanted to get kids that were diverse in terms of their backgrounds, geographically, where they lived. I also wanted to kids that would probably be successful and make it into the NBA. My original plan was to do profiles on eight of the kids and pick five to use for the film, but I ended up really liking all of them and using all eight in the film.

And since that game, five of them went on to play in college. A few of them are already pro.

Right now four of them are in the pros, and there’s two that could make themselves eligible for the draft. I think one of them, Brandon Jennings, is definitely going to make himself available for the draft this year. And with Tyreke [Evans], I’m not sure if he’s going to stay in school a little longer. [Editor’s note: Evans announced his eligibility shortly after our interview with Yauch, he is expected to be selected in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft.] I wouldn’t be surprised if all eight of them ended up in the NBA if you look a few years from now. Lance Stevenson, the youngest one, who was 15 when we shot the documentary, is just going to be starting college [this fall].

Has he said where?

Memphis or Arizona, but he hasn’t declared.

With many of the players, we see how supportive their families are, of course. But what surprised me was how some of their neighborhoods came together to help the boys out. How did you see these communities come together?

It’s definitely interesting to see how much it means to everybody in the neighborhood, and to see how much people are rooting for them. It was really interesting being around that, getting to shoot and go to the different places and see the kids and all their friends. It’s cool to see.

Are you going to be watching the NBA Draft?

Yeah, I’m going to check it out. Last year, I actually went to the draft, the first time I ever went there. It was great to see a bunch of the kids going into the NBA, which is an amazing thing to watch. It’s just crazy because it’s something they’ve been striving for most of their lives, most of them since they were very young kids. And to see that happen … The fact that they’re sitting there, and they don’t even know what city they’re going to be moving to. They’re sitting there, waiting to find out where they’re going to live, who their coach is going to be, and who their friends are going to be. To see that happen, it’s pretty wild. And there ares trades going on while it’s going down … I mean these kids are basically going to go home and pack their bags and move to Minneapolis, or San Francisco, or Boston, or New York, wherever, in the morning. It’s pretty wild.

What about the nicknames — “Doo Be Doo,” “Pay Up,” “Be Easy” — they get on the playground? Do they end up sticking around after the competition?

Yeah, a lot of times the nicknames stick with them. Bobbito [Garcia] is great. He was the announcer. He’s definitely a classic at coming up with nicknames for people. And obviously, you see in the film, it means a lot to the kids, to get a nickname. It’s important to them.

I loved Shampoo — that was the best nickname of them all.

Yeah, that killed me. I was laughing so hard. “Sham-POOOO!”

Gunnin’” isn’t your first foray into directing — you’ve directed a number of Beastie Boys videos (“Ch-Ch-Check It Out,” “Intergalactic,” “So What’cha Want”). Do you prefer being behind the camera, or in front?

Honestly, I think I kind of prefer being behind it, directing. In some ways, when you’re directing something and you know what needs to get done, sometimes it’s just easier to jump out from behind the camera and just do it, rather than try to describe something.

The Beastie Boys have been in the spotlight lately as you’re performing at festivals and shows. What’s it been like up there on stage?

It’s fun. We just did a couple of shows. We played at Bonnaroo, which is a big festival in Tennessee. That was a lot of fun. We did a couple shows leading up to that. It’s been nice to go out and play.

Can you tell us something about the new Beastie Boys album you’re working on, Hot Sauce Committee? Are you trying any new sounds, anything like that?

Yeah, it’s been just kind of experimenting around the studio. A lot of it is us playing instruments, and sampling ourselves playing. We’re making some records.

You recently reissued a digitally remastered Paul’s Boutique. Can you believe it’s been 20 years?

I know. It’s weird, right?

What was it like revisiting that album?

It was cool. Some of the stuff sounded better than I thought it would; some sounded worse. Some of the music, some of the tracks, like “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun” is definitely cool; the music track on that. And “Hello Brooklyn” — some of the music tracks are really strong.

Last comment: Apr 23rd 2014 3 Comments
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