Spike Lee's money troubles -- ''Malcolm X'' is slightly over budget

Is Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, by far the most expensive movie ever filmed by a black director, in serious money trouble? While newspaper reports say it is, Lee insists the stories are just backlash hype. The facts: Lee has given up much of his up-front salary (estimated at $3 million) to the film’s blossoming budget, which is now $5 million over the $28 million insured by L.A.’s Completion Bond Co. The company took over the production in December and must make up any run-over costs. Warner Bros., which put up $20 million (Largo Entertainment kicked in an additional $8.5 million), has refused to give Lee any more — at least until it sees some completed footage.

While $5 million isn’t peanuts, it’s not a large overrun by Hollywood standards. When the independently produced Dances With Wolves needed extra millions, for instance, Orion and foreign distributors supplied them. ”Spike is caught in a change in fiscal attitudes in Hollywood,” says a studio executive.

”Films go over budget all the time,” says Lee, now home in New York. ”We’re looking for another investor. I’m not happy about it, but I’m not letting it concern me.” He wound up shooting in January in Cairo and Soweto, where he filmed Nelson Mandela for the coda to Malcolm X. Lee, who, contrary to rumor, says he has not converted to Islam, insists, ”I’m going to get the film finished the way I want it finished.”