EXCLUSIVE: Oscar winner Spike Lee has signed on to direct a filmed version of the acclaimed Broadway show David Byrne’s American Utopia. Participant adds another title to its portfolio of films meant to engage positive social change, as it will be lead financier and executive producer for the project. It is financing the film with River Road Entertainment and Warner Music Group.
The film will be produced by RadicalMedia, as well as Byrne’s Todomundo and Lee’s Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks production companies. Byrne, Lee and Participant’s Jeff Skoll, David Linde and Diane Weyermann will share executive producer credit; along with Warner Music Group’s David Bither, Charlie Cohen, and Kurt Deutsch; Bill Pohlad of River Road; and RadicalMedia’s Jon Kamen, Dave Sirulnick and Meredith Bennett. Kristin Caskey, Mike Isaacson and Patrick Catullo, who lead produced the Broadway production, will also serve as executive producers.
David Byrne’s American Utopia opened October 2019 and runs through February 16 at the Hudson Theatre, where it has played to sold-out, record-breaking houses. Weyermann will oversee the production for Participant. The film is planned for a 2020 release.
Said Byrne: “Pinch me. This couldn’t have worked out better for this project. Spike Lee directing and Participant producing — two socially engaged teams, well, three if you count us in the band, coming together in what I feel will be something moving, important, and unlike anything anyone has seen before.”
Said Participant CEO Linde: “American Utopia is a true celebration from a great artist and a beautiful reminder to our nation that we are all born barefoot and wearing the same suit. We are incredibly excited to work with Mr. Byrne and the incomparable Spike Lee, along with RadicalMedia, River Road and Warner Music Group in bringing this one-of-a-kind event out of the theater to audiences around the world.”
Said RadicalMedia CEO Kamen: “Stop Making Sense is one of the greatest music performance films ever. To have the opportunity to revisit the genius of David Byrne with American Utopia and produce a bookend film with Spike Lee and Ellen Kuras is a dream.”
Byrne, himself an Oscar-, Grammy- and Golden Globe-winning musician, teamed with 11 musical artists from around the world performing songs from Byrne’s 2018 album of the same name, along with songs from Talking Heads and his solo career for a major cultural milestone in the worlds of music and theater. The show drew raves, with choreography by Annie-B Parson and production consultant Alex Timbers singled out for high praise. They teamed with Byrne previously on the Imelda Marcos musical Here Lies Love. American Utopia has lighting design by Rob Sinclair and sound design by Pete Keppler. Karl Mansfield and Mauro Refosco are musical directors.
David Byrne’s American Utopia will be an integral part of Participant’s 2020 social impact work, including efforts dedicated to civic engagement and democracy, both major themes in the production.
The original American Utopia album was released by Warner Music Group’s Nonesuch Records in 2018. The record received a Grammy nomination and was the first by Byrne to reach No. 1 on the Album Chart; it was also his first to reach the top five on the Billboard 200 chart. The concert tour included more than 150 dates in 27 countries over nine months. Nonesuch also released the cast album for the Broadway production and has released eight other Byrne records since 2003, including two versions of his musical Here Lies Love. Byrne is also signed to WMG’s music publishing arm, Warner Chappell Music, which administers his global catalog, including American Utopia.
Lee is currently in post-production on Da 5 Bloods, starring Chadwick Boseman and Paul Walter Hauser. Most recently, Lee’s BlacKkKlansman earned six Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, and won for Best Adapted Screenplay. Lee is represented by ICM Partners and attorney Robert Strent at Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks.
The agreement was negotiated by Jeannine Tang, General Counsel, and Stefanie Holmes, VP of Business & Legal Affairs for Participant, Lawrence Shire and Gil Karson of Grubman Shire Meiselas & Sacks on behalf of Byrne, Christa Zofcin Workman, COO for River Road, and ICM Partners.