James: Through these years, I worked on all kinds of stuff to make a living. I was a PA on commercials, and Kartemquin started hiring me to do stuff for them. If it wasn’t for Gordon and Kartemquin, who carried us and gave us a home and supported us, we never would have made it. Through them, that’s how I got to know Woody Wickham [vice president] at the MacArthur Foundation. [Ed. note: Wickham passed away in 2009.]
Quinn: MacArthur approached Kartemquin to do a film that was going to be for the Council On Foundations, which was coming to Chicago. And usually the host city would take people around to various non-profits in the city. But instead of doing that, they decided to make a film. Jerry and I were already on a project, so I asked Steve to come on and do it. This was really the first time I saw the vision and editing chops Steve had.
James: When I got the job, I remember saying to Peter and Frederick, “This is step one of the master plan to get money out of the MacArthur Foundation for Hoop Dreams.”
I totally started working Woody. But he was smart and knew what I was doing. He was just sincerely interested in the film. When we would get together to talk about their project, he’d always ask about the boys. So when I was done with their film, I went to Woody and said, “I would really like to talk to you about Hoop Dreams.” We had a breakfast meeting, and I showed him our demo, which by that time ended with William missing the free throws in the playoff game. He liked it and asked if there was a chance this would be in theaters, and I said, “Oh, forget it.” It was shot on video, and I felt no documentaries that are in theaters originated on video.
He brought some colleagues over to Kartemquin and we showed them the demo and some scenes. We felt it went great. He called me a week later, and this is how Woody was, he calls me and said, “Last week when I was looking at clips, did I leave my flannel shirt there?” And I was like, “Yeah, I think I see it.” And he said, “Good, would you mind getting it back to me? I’ll see you later—oh, I almost forgot, the foundation has decided to award Hoop Dreams a quarter of a million dollars.” [Laughs.] Then he said, “There’s only one thing, I told them it would be the most significant program of the year on public television. Don’t let me down.”