Film Independent’s annual Filmmaker Forum kicked off this weekend’s event with a keynote address by director, John Singleton. Known for his groundbreaking indie film, Boyz N the Hood, as well as Poetic Justice and Rosewood, he has also produced such films as Hustle & Flow and Black Snake Moan. Singleton talked about growing up in LA and being inspired by movies from an early age. “What has endured has been my love of cinema that was nurtured as a really young kid growing up in Inglewood.” He talked about living next door to a drive in movie theater, where he could watch movies anytime (without the sound) he looked out his bedroom window. From Blaxploitation to Kung-Fu movies to horror films, he recalled watching Bruce Lee, Michael Meyers hiding in the closet waiting to attack Jamie Lee Curtis, and Pam Grier kicking ass as “Foxy Brown.” He also remembers going to the Estate Theater downtown to watch films and said “movies saved me from delinquency, I felt much safer in a movie theater than watching the stuff that was happening around me.”
Singleton said independent films made by filmmakers with unique visions and unique perspectives spoke to him more than studio projects, and that they helped him formulate his vision of what he wanted to do. “I never looked at films as products or commodities, not even artistic statements, I looked at them as entertainment.” Some films that made lasting impressions on him include: Blue Velvet, Sid and Nancy, Platoon, and My Own Private Idaho. But he the moment that was a revelation for him as a filmmaker, was when he attended the first screening of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It, and saw characters on screen that were flawed, funny and dramatic and not the straight paradigm of representations of African Americans that were seen in studio pictures. He told the story of meeting Lee on the sidewalk prior to the screening and telling him he was looking forward to seeing his film. After the screening, Singleton was blown away and empowered. Lee, swarmed by Hollywood big shots, noticed him through the crowd and walked over to ask Singleton what he thought. He said he loved the film and how he felt in his heart about it. Singleton recalls it being a galvanizing moment as a filmmaker, and told Lee to “watch out” because he was about to go to film school at USC. That’s the moment when he knew there were other forms of cinema to be made.
Extremely charismatic and down to earth in his address, Singleton’s advised, “I come to you guys today to try to be straightforward in terms of this mission that you’re on. For someone that’s been in the business for over 20 years, it’s never easy — getting into it the business or sustaining yourself in it.” He continued, “you can’t be shy, you can’t be a shrinking violet — that’s not something that you should be projecting to the world when you’re an indie artist. You have to tell yourself you’re going to have to have the resolve and have to endure no matter how many doors close on you.”
Singleton remains very optimistic about the future of independent filmmaking. “I think it’s easier to make a film now than ever before, you can shoot with a 5D, iphone, ipad. Movies are experimenting with different platforms and this business is evolving and changing, distributors are popping up like weed dispensaries. There is a lot of opportunity for independent filmmakers. You just have to be persistent in your vision and your goals to pursue that decision.”