Boyz N the Hood
was released in 1991, a generally momumental year for me. I graduated
high school that year. Nirvana brought the music I had been listening
to to the mainstream. By the time ’91 had rolled around I had lost a
lot of interest I once had in film. I had stopped even going to the
movies very often as the crappy studio pictures of the late 80s made me
forget why I had been a film buff. But when Boyz came out, I remembered. It was a huge part of what got me back into film.
Boyz was also, frankly, the last John Singleton film I would want to have in my DVD collection. Maybe until now – I found his Four Brothers a
tremendous amount of fun. I can’t review the film until the day of
release, per Paramount’s usual embargo, but I will say that it’s a very
old-fashioned revenge film, filled with violence and humor and a couple
of really engaging action scenes.
I had a chance to talk to John Singleton a couple of weeks ago, when the film he had produced, Hustle & Flow, was opening. I had actually talked to John about two weeks before that, at the Hustle & Flow press
day, but at that time he was sharing a table with director Craig
Brewer, the guy we really wanted to talk to. I do have to say here that
I think it’s too bad that Hustle & Flow hasn’t
caught on – it’s a pretty great movie, and the fact that the film
hasn’t performed at the box office is only going to show the studios
that crap sells.
Q: What attracted you to this movie in the first place?
It was an opportunity to work with my buddy Mark Wahlberg. We’d been
talking for many, many years about doing something. Me and Mark have
known each other for many years, we partied together, we’ve had good
times together. We’ve always talked about doing something and it was
just the right time after 12 years of just partying and hanging out.
Q: Was it hard to resist the temptation to take some of the action here more over the top?
No. You look at the shoot out and my thing was to not make it an action
scene. Basically these guys are afraid for their lives – they’re not
badass, they’re just guys. The car chase, no one had done a car chase
in a blizzard before.
Q: Why did you shoot in Canada and not Detroit, where the film is set?
It was cost prohibitive. There was no infrastructure in place for us to
be able to do it in a way that would give me as much time as possible
to shoot what I wanted. Great town, but they were charging us so much
damn money. I don’t know if you’re from Detroit but they were graftin’
us. I tried, man, but it would have cost me another 15 million dollars
more. We had to go across the way.
Q: You have a real penchant for capturing the energy of men.
I’m a man’s man. What I like about this film is that the guys in this
are good looking guys, but they’re not Hollywood guys trying to look
better than their female counterparts. Me and my father used to sit
around and watch Lee Marvin movies and Charles Bronson and Clint
Eastwood and John Wayne. We used to watch those kinds of films, so that’s how I respond to male actors in a picture.
Obviously Charles Bronson and Clint Eastwood are touchstones for this
picture. Were there specific films you looked at when making this?
I’m a real student of American film. I study film and I know that if
you take different genres and you put different characters within that
genres, you create something new. In the era of the 70s with movies
like Dirty Harry and Death Wish, they took Western archetypes and put
them in urban milieus. The movies that came before that were Westerns,
and they were often revenge-based – there was something bad that
happened, there was a bad guy who did something bad or there was a set
of bad circumstances and there had to be the cowboy, the good guy, who
came to town to do the right thing. Sometimes in the wrong way but for
the right reasons.
has kind of been lost for this generation, that thing of, here’s the
bad guy, here’s something you’ve got to deal with. You guys were at the
screening last night – I wasn’t there but the way I’ve seen the film
play over and over again is how I used to see films play back in the
day, where even though the good guy is doing something righteous in
their revenge, it’s in a bad way, and it brings out the audience’s
blood lust. So it’s like, ‘Get em, get em, get em!’ It’s a trip.
You have a history of taking musical talent and turning them into
actors, Andre Benjamin being the latest. Why is that, why do you take a
chance other directors won’t?
I know certain people as people and I kind of gauge what they’re
capable of. I’ve made a career out of working with hip hop artists.
I’ve been responsible for more hip hop artists for making a transition
from music to acting careers than anybody else. It’s not like people
work with me and they’re a flash in the pan and don’t do anything else
– they end up doing a whole lot of different films. I think it’s a
testament to the process I put them through.
Q: What is that process?
I make them take the process of acting and the professionality of it
seriously. I give them different things, different drills to go
through. I have a coach and we’ll go through that process and they’ll
take that with them to other films they do.
Q: You haven’t directed a film from your own script in some time. Are you working on something?
Singleton: I am writing something, but every script I direct I rewrite some stuff. You see the shoot out, I rewrote that. The last movie I wrote the whole screenplay for is Baby Boy.
Q: If Boyz N the Hood were made today –
Singleton: Boyz N The Hood would not be made today. Unless I did it independently just like I did Hustle & Flow.
Q: Have things changed in that neighborhood?
Things have changed. In that part of Los Angeles it’s different. Where
it had been predominately black, now it’s predominately Mexican and
Central American and Laotian or Vietnamese. The whole topography of
certain areas changes ethnically.
Do you think it’s too easy for young filmmakers to get digital cameras
and shoot films? [I did not ask this question, I swear]
I think that’s a good thing for filmmaking. I think it’s a good thing
that people can shoot their films on DV and put them on a computer and
make a film for practically nothing. That’s how I discovered Craig
Brewer. He shot his first feature on DV and it looked better than 90%
of the movies out there now.
Q: At the end of this film, with the fight on the ice – how important was it to you to have that man to man element?
It was a street fight on the ice. It was better for them to have a
street fight than for Bobby [Wahlberg] to just walk up and shoot the
guy. That’s what we’re talking about in terms of Western archetypes. He
fought him to a standstill in a fair way. He didn’t just walk up like a
coward and shoot the guy. It was man on man.
Q: We’re hearing a lot of complaints about shooting in the freezing cold weather.
Singleton: It was crazy. I’m California but I didn’t complain. Tyrese complained the most.
Q: So Hustle & Flow opened this weekend. What are your expectations?
Singleton: We’re in close to 1100 theaters. We’re on part to do close to 9 million dollars, which is on par to what Crash did, but Crash had 2000 theaters.
To be frank and up front, what are your Oscar hopes for Hustle &
Flow? Do you think you have a shot at original song and best actor?
Singleton: I hope so. Best original song would be great. Screenplay and actor would be good too.
Q: Do you think the Academy is ready to have a crunk act up on stage?
I have no idea. Who would have thought Eminem would have gotten an
Oscar? I just hope the film does well financially, which it looks like
it is. Which bodes well for me to be able to finance other films
outside the system.
now there’s no system to help new filmmakers get in. If I came along
now, no matter how good my screenplay was for Boyz N The Hood or
whatever coming out of film school, I would have never gotten that made.
That’s what’s happening with American studios now, but if I’m able to
do what I did with Hustle & Flow and build capital and give money
to the guys who do this stuff – there are these guys doing what I’m
doing, twice as old as me, with millions and millions of dollars, but
they’re making bad movies.
trying to find a different way for this generation. My inspiration for
the whole thing is what John Sayles did and Cassavettes and what
Coppola tried to do with Zoetrope. I think it’s doable. If I can make
interesting pictures, even if they’re lower budget, that may seem out
of the norm and they may seem like alternative kind of films, but
they’re commercial movies. There are audiences for them. You go the
studios and give them this great idea and they say it’s a great idea
but they can’t do it. I don’t have to do it anymore. Now I say I’ve got
a great idea and I just do it.