Tag Archive: john singleton


youngpac

So…

I had an idea in mind…if the numbers look like this by the time I think the judges see it, I think I’ll be in good shape.

And I asked you guys for help…

And you guys blew past what I wanted in less than 24 hours.  I apologize for underestimating you.

Anyway, go back and ‘Funny’ it up some more.  Can’t hurt right?

And enjoy today’s song!

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dear-white-people_784x0

First, the macro level:

For my generation, we all looked up to Spike (with John and Reggie not far behind).  and in those days, it’s fair to say we all had some form of a ‘hero complex.’  Without getting into a much bigger conversation about black leadership in America, what we grew up on is ‘one voice up front that speaks for everybody.’  We kid each other now, but I can recall many early meetings with friends that usually started with someone walking in the room more or less saying ‘I’m here now, so you got what you need to make a movie!’

What hip hop has evolved into for the past couple of generations, and the (thankful) direction black filmmakers have been successfully growing into is the much more true to life idea that there are several points of view, even those who contrast with each other, that are all ‘authentically black.’

(How’s that for a segway into the micro?)

Dear White People is built around four archetypal characters every black person (especially if you went to college) will recognize: Tessa Thompson as the biracial kid who’s metaphorically yelling Black Power louder than most of the ‘fully’ black kids. Tyler James Williams as the (closeted homosexual) kid who’s not quite black enough for the brothers, but too black to hang out with the white folks.  Teyonah Parris as the bougie black person who goes a little too far to prove she’s not like ‘those hood black people.’  Brandon P. Bell as the good looking, and polished legacy kid whose every decision is setting himself up to be ‘The Guy’, right on down to the white girlfriend.

The jokes come quick and hit the bullseye when the come, especially in the first half.  There’s a Gremlins joke that I think is in one of the trailers that’s still funny.  There’s a throwaway line that you have to take as a direct reference to Dawn on Mad Men (where Teyonah appears often but doesn’t give her the opportunity to show the range and the sexuality that she does here, and I LOVE Mad Men.)  There are other direct and indirect references to Spike in the film.  Do I see Dear White People as School Daze 2.0?  Yes I do, but that’s by no means an insult.

Do I think it’s a perfect film?  No.  I have nitpicks in the third act and (like a true Spike Lee joint) there were some tone changes and convenient circumstances I didn’t really go all in for.  But as a first film?  Go back now and watch She’s Gotta Have It.  Even Spike has publicly said how much now he hates some of the choices he made with the third act of that film.  Look at the progression Ava DuVernay has made I Will Follow to Selma.  The young brother who directed this film, Justin Simien, he’s clearly got talent and he has a ‘voice’ that’s not what everybody else is doing.  I for one, look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

 

young2pac

On the list of great 2Pac singles, this one (kind of understandably) is way down the list.  I only think I hear this once every couple years.  So I was still hyped when it came on the radio and I still knew all the words.

And is that a young John Singleton in the background trying to look hard?  I think it is…

 

How about something fun for my last post of 2011?

So 99 times out of 100 when I’m sent sides (an audition script), I can look at the product as a whole, look at where the character fits into the story, and build something from the ground up.  But there was one screen test I did this year where I had to do things a little differently…

2Pac.

When I first heard about the project (when Antoine Fuqua was still attached), I was actually aiming for the part of Mopreme, one of Pac’s older relatives who in the story (real and fictional) acted as his conscience.  Then word went out that there was an open call for the title role, and they wanted an ‘unknown’.  To be truthful, I was still a little hesitant (since at this point I’m older than Pac was when he was murdered), but after a few ‘Fuck That!’ conversations and reminders that every biopic I like uses this rare technique known as ‘makeup’, I decided to go in.

So now it’s a question of craft.  Creating a completely original character is one type of challenge.  But how do you create a character that based off a real person whose own persona is iconic in its own right?  We all know what Pac looked like, we know how he sounded when he talked, how he sounded when he rapped.  If you do a pitch perfect impersonation, you’re seen as an impersonator and not an actor.  But you stray too far away from the public persona, and you’re rejected for not being ‘accurate’ or ‘realistic’.  This is why playing real people, living or dead, is generally seen as the greater challenge.

So the sides went out and as a 2Pac fan I recognized it instantly from my teenage years.  You have to take me at my word when I say I didn’t rewatch this until after I did my screen test:

So I learned the words, thought about the emotions behind them (frustration) and made some choices.  Part two of the screen test was doing any Pac song that we liked.  The choice I made in that regard was to stay away from his best known videos, where again we all have an established ‘visual’ performance to go with the lyrics.  I lucked out a little since my favorite Pac song doesn’t have the ‘iconic’ video to go with it.

So my last gift for you this year, my loyal readers, is the screen test I did for ‘Tupac’.  You can judge for yourself if the choices I made ‘worked’ or if I could’ve gone farther with it.  I heard John (Singleton) is calling the shots now, so if you’ll excuse me I have to go butter up one of my fellow Trojans.

Feliz Ano Nuevo!

 

Mooz-lum

 

Out now on video (and Netflix, where I got a hold of it) is one of the first films to give a perspective on being an (African-American) Muslim in the post 9/11 age.  Mooz-lum stars Evan Ross as a young man going into his freshmen year of college, trying to find the right balance of respecting the values of his childhood while taking advantage of the freedom of being out from under his suffocating parents.  (I realize looking at that sentence that more or less describes every freshmen going to college doesn’t it?  Let’s move on…)

I’ve heard various opinions on this film from Muslims and non-Muslims, film geeks and casual interested parties.  Personally, I liked it.  It reminded me alot of Spike’s earliest films, where you knew walking in you were getting a message, and the plot points of the story moved you in that direction.  The college setting also gave me some ‘Higher Learning’ flashbacks, but that may be because movies set in college are rarely this serious.

Saying that I want to be clear on this: Mooz-lum is not a ‘Tyler Perry film, but with Muslims in it.’  And I don’t mean that in a way to be disrespectful to what Mr. Perry does, but this film is not a gospel film.  You get insight into the story of one Muslim family, (and I’m not familiar enough with the director to know how autobiographical it was), but the ‘I was lost and now I’m found’ element of this story is more…subdued.

Last comment is for 2 of the lead actors.  Nia Long, Hall of Fame gorgeous as any brotha will tell you, but in this film she plays the mother of the family.  Her sex appeal isn’t an asset for this character, but she still nailed the part.  She’s an actress.

And Evan Ross…who knew?  I have this conversation with some of my black film geek friends, but it bears repeating: we have a nice group of 20 something black actors and actresses who can all pull their weight.  If we ever get another ‘Golden Age of Black Cinema’, we should be more than covered with people who can give us quality performances if put in the right roles.

Until next time…

boyz-n-the-hood

Boyz N The Hood was the debut film by writer/director John Singleton.  The semi-autobiographical tale revolves around three young black men, Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy, and their daily lives growing up in South Central Los Angeles.

On to the tale of the tape…

Relevance:  While the phrase ‘black film’ can take on many different meanings (as this countdown hopefully illustrates), Boyz N The Hood is the type of film that is universally agreed to represent the ultimate prototype.  Black director, black writer, black cast, black soundtrack, black setting, black story.  Spike had already proven there was a modern audience for black film; in mimicking the rise of West Coast hip hop, John opened America’s eyes to a very real ‘street’ sensibility that was getting louder and prouder.

Legacy:     So many careers and trends can be traced to this film.  John Singleton obviously, but also Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Cuba Gooding Jr. started their rise with this film.  The good and bad ‘hood’ films (Menace II Society, and countless others) wouldn’t have gotten made without Boyz.  While Spike was the clear pioneer, John’s success told both Hollywood and future filmmakers that there was room for more than one black storyteller at a time.  That might be the greatest legacy.

Craft:  Rewatching it years later, there are points where the film is undeniably ‘preachy’.  (And the Wayans absolutely slaughtered this point to death in their parody, Don’t Be a Menace).  That aside, the film’s structure is fairly classical.  Three brothers, one undeniably good (Tre), one undeniably bad (Doughboy), and one good who has some ties to the bad (Ricky).  The presence of the father figure (Furious) is somewhat on the nose, but no one can take away from the great performance of Laurence Fishburne.

Crossover:  Without a doubt.  Boyz N The Hood was on its own regard a crossover phenomenon.  John Singleton became the first African-American, and the youngest person of any color to be nominated for Best Director.  As referenced in the Legacy section, Ice Cube has gone from Doughboy to the star of Are We There Yet?  Anyone who saw that coming is a bold faced liar.

Apollo:  Ricky’s slow motion demise is still incredibly powerful.  If I may, I’d like to use this space for something more personal.  I was still a kid when this film came out.  Spike’s films had already planted the seed in my head, and I heard about all this new black kid out of USC doing it, so of course I wanted to see the film.  Now I might be slightly off with this number, but the number of times I personally remember my father going out to the movie theater has to be around…5?  He has movies he likes now, but they’re not his thing, they’re my thing.  So there we were one Saturday afternoon (in Oak Park Mall for you Kansas City people) watching Boyz.  My Pops taking me to something I was interested in wasn’t a big deal to me; it’s what I’ve always known.  So when Furious made his speech to Tre about listening to him (and watching what happens to Ricky and Doughboy who didn’t have that male influence), it was just part of the movie to me.

Anyway, now that I’m on the other side of the table, I have so much appreciation for what I had.  Obviously having a man in the house doesn’t mean automatically mean a boy grows up into a good brotha, not having a man doesn’t mean a boy won’t turn out well.  But it’s a conversation I’ve had over and over again with some of my closest friends: having a good man involved in the life of a boy can go a long, long way in creating a good man.  (I’m deliberately avoiding the father-daughter influence; go listen to some old John Mayer for that.)  As a wrap I’ll say for its various flaws, Boyz N The Hood is one of the better, three-dimensional black films ever made.

The countdown will continue with another landmark film.  Until next time…

(Let me open this chapter by saying I almost certainly do more name dropping in the next few paragraphs than you will ever hear me do in a five minute conversation in real life.  Nature of the beast…)

Like any film geek worth his salt, I knew the names of the filmmakers who either graduated or were otherwise connected to the ‘USC Mafia’: Lucas, Spielberg, Singleton right off the top of my head.  My bootleg experiences had given me a rudimentary knowledge of how to make films; I honestly felt in undergrad I picked the basic knowledge of how to do that.  But I definitely didn’t know Hollywood: didn’t know how it worked, didn’t know how to get a project through the system, didn’t know anyone who could help me do these things. 

If I was forced to choose just one skill I picked up in grad school, it was relationship building, a.k.a. networking.  No one ever says it out loud, but my industry is not a meritocracy.  Don’t get me wrong, if it comes down to a Julliard trained cat with Broadway experience and some underwear model with no acting experience…um…bad example.  I don’t want to discourage the cat who was in my shoes many years ago; if you stay on your grind, push yourself to your limits, and constantly get your name out there, you will eventually create an opportunity of some type.  Even in Hollywood, persistence is rewarded (and somewhat mandatory).  My point though is the more people you connect to, the better off you are.  It was stressed to us very early to get to know the people to your left and right, because they will help shape your career.

USC is a great film school, and it’s unfair to say I didn’t pick up any new filmmaking tricks sitting in the classroom.  My craft absolutely picked up in my time spent in those halls.  But to come from the background I came from, what I was really paying for was ‘fraternity dues’ for lack of a better term…

Insider A: “Hey you ever heard of a Malik Aziz?”

Made Friend: “Yeah, I know Malik, he’s a friend of ours.”

You think I’m exaggerating?

My first mentor is now one of the hottest female screenwriters in town. (I won’t name her here, but for my non-Hollywood readers, I have a strong feeling you’ll start to become more familiar with her name in the next couple of years, if it takes that long).  Some of those guys ‘to my left and right’ have written top selling videogames and directed movies that have opened at the top of the box office.  Some have produced films that are already cult classics.  When I was 23 years old, I had my own office on a major studio lot, and was giving my script coverage every week directly to the head of the studio. (Another woman by the way; if I really did have any misogyny in me, it evaporated quickly simply by the constant support and interest shown in me by the numerous professional relationships I was finding myself in.)  Anyway, the studio job was cutting too much into my school time, so I had to find a new part time job.  And I did find one.  At the Playboy Mansion.  Catered lunches with the Bunnies, working on my thesis at night.  ‘Hollywood’, as my boys call me mockingly, was born.  If at that point I was becoming as smug and arrogant as I had ever been, could you really blame me?  I would never call myself ghetto, but in five years I had come a long way from Wyandotte County.  In two years, I had come a long, long way from Lawrence, Kansas. 

While I definitely feel I earned every opportunity that came to me, I was still nearly a year short of my 25th birthday when I got my Master’s degree.  It was, in retrospect, a little too much too fast.  I still had a lot of life experience to get under my belt.  I was fairly mature for my age, but I wasn’t remotely mature yet.  God works in mysterious ways of course. A strike shut down the industry the summer I graduated.  My student budget fell all the way back into the red.  With no money and limited options, I put my tail between my legs and headed back to Kansas. 

My earliest memories of the movies were from the summers in Salina.  The local theatre would play these Sinbad serials as matinees, and we’d all ride our bikes home afterward and play out in the street.  Pirates, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, what have you.  E.T. was the first ‘Hollywood’ movie I remember seeing at the theatre; the Goonies was the first film I remember trying to imitate with my friends.

Fast forward to 1989 was the number, another summer.  Even in Kansas City, you couldn’t escape hearing about it.  One of the best movies of the year was a story about black people, written and directed by a young black guy…

I remember the first time I saw a picture of him: he was a little guy, he wore glasses.  I was a little guy who wore glasses; he didn’t look much different than me.  As much as I enjoyed movies, never in my wildest dreams, had I thought, “I can do that.”  Until now.

A few times in my life, I’ve found myself in the middle of a perfect storm.  This would be the first time for me a series of things all seemed to happen at just the right time.  First, my generation was the first to grow up with VCRs in our home.  (These preceded DVRs and DVD players for any young people who might be reading this.)  So if we missed a movie in the theater, we now had the ability to wait a few months and watch it at home.  This is how I came to see She’s Gotta Have It, and School Daze.

The other great blessing that fell in my lap was home video cameras becoming increasingly cheap.  My father always gave me more than I deserved, but his greatest gift to me was giving me the chance to fail.  As I’ve gotten older, I understand that for alot of people, when they’re told “You can’t do this,” “You’re not good enough for that,” that’s it.  End of story.  They don’t even try to do whatever it is they want to do.  I idolized Michael Jackson first, so he hooked me up with the cassette, the poster, the glitter gloves and the socks.  Yes, the socks.  I’ve always loved dancing, but tragically I wasn’t even passable as a singer until my mid 20s.  My first sports hero was Magic.  When I was two feet tall, I had a toy hoop in the basement.  When he moved up to having a home with a garage, we put a regulation hoop up, and the guys in the neighborhood would come play.  I had the most hideous, purple and gold, half varsity letter jacket, half turtleneck, Magic Johnson sweater ever made.

But outside of my historic triple single against Northwest for my 7th grade team (2 pts, 1 assist, 1 steal, I still remember), genetics killed my hoop dreams.  When I first showed interest in filmmaking, my father decided to buy ‘the family’ a video camera.  I think he used that thing 10 times.  Seriously, to this day, I have no idea what my father’s favorite movie is.  I know he likes westerns, that’s about it.  But somewhere down the line, he decided he was going to encourage me until I figured out what I was good at.  And I’m eternally grateful.

The first videos were me, my sister and cousins singing and dancing in front of our grandfather’s house.  There’s a pretty good one of me, baseball cap cocked to the side, dancing to ‘2 Legit 2 Quit.’  (That video will never see the light of day by the way).  I did a little rapping when hip hop started taking off nationally; I started shooting the basketball games when the guys came over.  Best Buy sold a little mixer, so I learned how to edit by putting the VCR and camera together and making music videos.  I was getting better at it.

And could there have been a better time to be a fan of black cinema?  Hollywood had jumped on the bandwagon and I was along for the ride.  The main mall in Kansas City Kansas was Indian Springs; I was down there for three reasons: to get an Orange Julius, to see what dimepiece they had working in Harold Pener, and to go downstairs to catch a show.  House Party, New Jack City, Juice: I saw all these on the big screen.  And it was usually kids like us running the ticket counter so normally I didn’t have a problem getting in.  There was one time though: my father had to take me to go see Boyz N Da Hood, which was written and directed by another little brother in glasses, who came from some school in California…

Like I said, it was a perfect storm for me personally.  I found something I was passionate about and good at.  I loved every minute of it.

And I still do.