John Singleton wants aspiring filmmakers to be confident about their work — because often no one else will be.
“Nobody cares about your little movie,” said Singleton during Saturday morning’s keynote address at the eighth annual Film Independent Forum, held at Directors Guild of America headquarters. “So you have to tell yourself ‘I care about my little movie.’ You cannot be shy.”
The director-producer reminded the audience repeatedly of his own passions, dating back to growing up adjacent to the Century Drive In Inglewood — where the offerings often consisted of slasher, kung fu and blaxplotiation pics — and at triple bills at the State Theater in downtown Los Angeles with $1 tickets.
“Film and cinema saved me from delinquency because I was more comfortable with that world than I was with my surroundings,” he added.
Singleton credited Spike Lee’s “She’s Got to Have It” as a key inspiration and the age of 18, noting that he sought out the filmmaker after a showing in Santa Monica. “I told him who I was and how empowered the film made me feel and said ‘so watch out for me,'” he added.
Singleton said that he differed notably from many of this fellow students at the University of Southern California’s film school — where he started in 1986 and wrote “Boyz in the Hood” — due to their preference for commercial films. “Many of them felt as if ‘Top Gun’ was the greatest movie ever made,” he added. Singleton listed “My Own Private Idaho,” “Sid and Nancy” and “Platoon” as being influential in broadening his understanding of cinema. He also said that going to USC helped him become fearless.
“I was from that neighborhood so I didn’t walk around scared,” he added. “It helped me establish a feeling of no fear because there was nothing they could throw at me that I hadn’t already seen.”
At age 24 in 1991, Singleton became the youngest person ever nominated for the Best Director Oscar and the first African-American to be nominated for the kudo. Subsequent credits include “Poetic Justice,” “Shaft,” “Baby Boy,” “Four Brothers,” “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Abduction”; producing credits include “Hustle & Flow,” “Shaft” and “Black Snake Moan.”
Two decades later, Singleton advised aspirants to remain passionate — and find ways to make certain that their films connect on an emotional level.
“This is not rocket science,” he said. “The reason why films get made is that the filmmaker was persistent in their vision. I’ve seen many people second-guess themselves into nothingness. Your first impulse is usually your best impulse.”