Despite the surprise success of this summer’s sleeper hit film, "Hustle and Flow," producer John Singleton is currently in hot water with the film’s major staff and cast of characters. The film’s co-producer, director, and three main stars claim Singleton still owes them money for the project.
According to the LA Times, co-producer Stephanie Allain, director Craig Brewer, and the film’s stars, Terrence Howard, Anthony Anderson, and DJ Qualls worked on Hustle and Flow for comparitively low pay with the promise of a portion of the film’s profits. Compensation was so low that Allain had to sell her home in order to afford living expenses during the film’s 22-day shoot in Memphis. The creative team says that they have yet to see their cut of a $9 million profit handed to Singleton by Paramount-MTV for the film’s distribution.
The film, a drama about the music career dreams of a small-time pimp in Memphis, Tennessee, was a near-independent venture, funded mainly by Singleton. The film was created on a budget of $3.5 million, a small fraction of the cost of most major motion pictures that are made today. When the film’s script was turned down by every major company in Hollywood, Singleton put up $2 million of his own money to fund the project, nearly two thirds of the film’s budget.
The film was a major hit at the January 2005 Sundance Film Festival, inciting a fierce bidding war for the film’s rights. Paramount came out the victor, purchasing the production rights from Singleton for $9 million.
Paramount reports that they began sending Singleton multi-million dollar checks last spring. By the film’s July release, he had received 99% of his $9 million payout.
Singleton is upset by the claims of his co-workers, insisting that he has continued to use his own money to pay for additional costs from the film. Singleton feels that he does not owe his colleagues because of the financial responsibility he took on with the project.
"I took all the financial risk on the film," he told the LA Times. "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." Singleton said he made plans to pay the Hustle and Flow staff soon.
"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."
He added, "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."
Mark Litwak, attorney for director Craig Brewer, says that despite the movie’s meager box office earnings ($22 million), and a large amount taken by Paramount for the film’s purchase and marketing, Singleton still has a contractual obligation to share the profit with the creative team.
Despite their current differences, Allain, Brewer, and Singleton continue to work together. Their next project, Black Snake Moan, is being produced by Singleton. The film is slated for release in 2006.