Spike Lee returns to Chi for CRC “Chiraq” recording


Spike Lee and John Cusack at “Chiraq” press conference

It was a very long day for two Chicago Recording Company engineers on a recent Friday when they recorded ADR for Spike Lee’s “Chiraq” feature, based on an ancient Greek anti-war comedy that filmed here last summer.

Engineers Mark Wilkening and assistant Zac Schmidt arrived at the studio at 3:30 a.m., cups of black coffee in hand, to set up Studio 5 for the all-day session ahead that ended 14 hours later.

New Yorker Lee’s day also started pre-dawn. He caught the first flight out of LaGuardia to arrive at CRC at 9 a.m., an hour later than he had booked the session, due to weather delays.

Already set up since 6:30 a.m. at the studio was Lee’s New York-based ADR editor Ruth Hernandez who had arrived in Chicago the night before

“There were a lot of big scenes and lots of actors to record,” says Wilkening, who has worked at CRC for 10 years. “Throughout the day, about 30 actors and singers came in and out to record their various parts. 

“Spike wanted to enhance the dialog in some cases, and in others to add lines and record reactions from background actors.”

Among the actors was John Cusack, a familiar face at CRC, who has worked with Wilkening on many occasions. Cusack plays Fr. Mike Corridan in “Chiraq” and D.B. Sweeney, who also came in for ADR, is Mayor McCloud. 

But the biggest part of the session was recording a vocal track for “a recognizable Motown song” sung by a huge group of people in a key scene in the film.

Engineers Mark Wilkening and Zac Schmidt“Spike wanted an authentic vibe for the song,” says Wilkening. “So for the singers he asked around the studio for actors who could sing to record for us.  Altogether, we had twelve, men and women, who recorded the track.”

The day moved along quickly. “There was no chit chat between takes because of Spike’s limited time to be with us.  We had zero breaks and when we finished one session, we moved right onto the next.”    

This was Wilkening’s first session with Spike Lee himself — he’s an admitted big fan of the filmmaker — and his third for “Chiraq.”

The first session was recording Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina’s church for “Chiraq’s” opening narration. The second, shorter session was to record additional Father Pfleger voiceover and some actors’ pickup lines.  

“Chiraq” will be released in December as Amazon.com’s first feature film.  

Among its stars are Nick Cannon as Chi-raq, Teyonah Parris as Lysistrata, Wesley Snipes as Cyclops, Angela Bassett as Miss Helen, Samuel L. Jackson, Dolmedes, Val Warner as Electra Jackson, Harry Lennix as Commissioner Blades and Jackie Taylor of the Black Ensemble as Olympia.