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For all the sacrifice and luck, the cash isn't flowing

The 'Hustle & Flow' team hasn't seen the profits it expected. So who got them?

November 25, 2005|Rachel Abramowitz | Times Staff Writer

A mere 10 months ago, the filmmakers, actors and producers of this year's Sundance sensation "Hustle & Flow" were celebrating the sale of their hip-hop romance about a pimp trying to rise above.

It seemed like a fairy tale ending to a grueling indie saga. After getting rejected all over town, novice filmmaker Craig Brewer finally persuaded producer John Singleton to pony up a couple of million dollars of his own money to make the film. Brewer, producer Stephanie Allain and actors Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, and DJ Qualls had all worked for close to scale in return for a piece of the profits. And now it looked like there was going to be a pot of gold for the filmmaking team.

After all, at this year's Sundance film festival in January, the film sparked a frenzied bidding war, which resulted in Paramount-MTV agreeing to pay producer and financier Singleton $9 million for the right to distribute the film, which only cost him close to $3.5 million to make, and paid him an additional $7 million to develop two more films.

But Brewer, for one, has yet to see a cent; neither have Anderson, Allain or Howard. And Singleton is publicly irate at being cast as the heavy by colleagues whose careers he effectively helped launch.

Unfortunately, profit disputes are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but in this case, the dispute does not involve the gray-faced studio with tortuous studio accounting but the film's onetime savior: Singleton, best-known as the director of such films as "Boyz N the Hood" and "2 Fast 2 Furious." Indeed, during the 22-day Memphis, Tenn., shoot of "Hustle & Flow," Singleton and Brewer bonded over their mutual love of the raw hip-hop sound called Dirty South, the province of such rappers as Lil Jon and Ludacris, who also appeared in the film. The producer and his protege were so similarly attuned that they often showed up on set wearing the same T-shirt.

Of course, money -- or the absence of it -- can put a crimp in all relationships.

According to Paramount, Singleton began getting multimillion-dollar chunks of payment in the spring and had received 99% of the $9-million fee around the time of the film's release in July. Ironically, for all its hoopla, "Hustle & Flow" only grossed $22 million dollars at the box office, according to, and it is unlikely that Paramount has yet recouped its outlay for the purchase and marketing of the film.

Still, Singleton is contractually obligated to share his profits from the $9-million sale with the creative team, said Brewer's attorney Mark Litwak. "Paramount did pay the vast majority of the money eight months ago. Craig worked for modest wages, to say the least, and he was promised a very reasonable and customary share of the back end. The issue has been raised repeatedly with John over the last six months, and frankly a lot of people are furious with John. I find it amazing that so much of the goodwill that John had generated by going into his own pocket to get the movie made -- a lot of that goodwill has been lost now that he hasn't paid."

Singleton is equally miffed that all these people are shooting their mouths off about an accounting process they know nothing about. (Brewer, for instance, was just another struggling writer-director, while Howard was a knock-about character actor before "Hustle" came along.) Singleton claims that Paramount sent its first $2-million installment in May, and the rest of the money has dribbled out for months. All the while, he said, he's had to foot the bill for additional costs on the movie.

"I took all the financial risk on the film," he added. "We made a collective decision to do a professional mix for the film, and that cost was not covered by Paramount. That was covered by me. They're dealing with me as an individual and not as a studio -- I had to act like a studio. I was making sure that no one would get paid until after all the bills would get paid. I always planned to pay everybody by the holidays."

"I don't like somebody saying I'm a shyster. I resent people making comments when everybody's life has been changed from 'Hustle & Flow.' Everyone has a career now."

Litwak, however, said that doesn't mean his client should forego what is owed him. "The fact that Craig has not been paid is not acceptable. This has been repeatedly communicated to John and his attorneys. John said numerous times in the spring that payment was imminent. Then it was everybody was going to get paid by Thanksgiving. Now it's the next holiday coming up."

Allain, who sold her home to have the money to live during the making of "Hustle & Flow," declined to comment.

She and Brewer have a new production deal at Paramount and have been making another film, "Black Snake Moan," which is coincidentally also being produced by Singleton.

"We're great," Singleton insisted. "We just finished another movie that I helped get made. I got that greenlight before 'Hustle & Flow' came out. This is a matter of business."

Said Litwak of his client and Singleton: "They continue to maintain a cordial relationship."

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