John Singleton

Writer / Producer / Director


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

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About
About this interview

In his three-hour-and-fifteen-minute interview, John Singleton (1968-2019) shares stories of growing up in Los Angeles, and his early interest in film. He talks about when he knew he wanted to be a filmmaker (around age nine) and his experience attending USC Film School, where he wrote his breakout film “Boyz N the Hood.” For “Boyz N the Hood,” he describes the process of writing, selling, and casting the film, tells stories of shooting in his old neighborhood, and explains how he was able to direct the movie (despite never having directed before). Singleton shares his inspiration, research, and stories from the set for his films “Poetic Justice,” “Higher Learning,” “Rosewood,” and “Baby Boy.” He also talks about his forays into television, starting with an internship on The Arsenio Hall Show and an early job on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and more recent efforts directing episodes of Empire and American Crime: The People v. O.J. Simpson, as well as his then-upcoming series, Snowfall. He shares his feelings about his Emmy and Academy Award nominations, reflects on hip hop culture’s impact on his work, and concludes by sharing his greatest career achievement and best lessons he’s learned along the way. Jacqueline Stewart conducted the interview in a joint venture with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on September 24, 2016 in New York, NY.

“When I was going to film school, all the white kids wanted to be Steven Spielberg…I said, I’m going to be John Singleton.”

Interviewee(s)
Highlights
John Singleton on the experience of filming "Boyz N the Hood" in the neighborhood where he grew up
John Singleton on what he learned from directing American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
John Singleton on what he likes about television now: "it's like I can make a movie every other week"
John Singleton on his greatest achievement: "I've been in this business for twenty-six years and I haven't lost my soul"
John Singleton on the opening sequence of his film "Baby Boy" and using the theories of psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his childhood and early education; on the importance of movies to him when he was growing up; on deciding he wanted to be a filmmaker when he was a child
On a life-changing moment when he changed junior high schools and met kids who also wanted to be filmmakers; on attending USC Film School; on meeting Spike Lee; on his determination and focus while in film school
On seeing "Do the Right Thing" and being determined to find his own voice; on writing "Boyz N the Hood"; on getting his first agent
On selling "Boyz N the Hood" and insisting he direct his own film (despite never having directed before); on working on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and interning on The Arsenio Hall Show; on meeting Ice Cube on the set of The Arsenio Hall Show; on Ice Cube's audition for "Boyz N the Hood"
On the real-life inspirations for the characters in "Boyz N the Hood"; on casting "Boyz N the Hood"; on the crew of the movie; on filming in his old neighborhood and what the film showed the world about Los Angeles; on why he wanted to direct American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

Chapter 2

On representations of violence in his work; on meeting Richard Pryor and Steven Spielberg; on directing Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video
On what he learned from watching Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola direct; on "Poetic Justice"; on "Higher Learning"
On directing "Rosewood"; on working with child actors
On the impact of "Rosewood" on his career; on directing "Shaft"; on his directing style; on his writing process; on working in film versus television

Chapter 3

On the impact of hip hop culture on his work; on how he uses music and sound in his work; on the impact of the LA Riots and Tupac Shakur's on his work; on "Baby Boy"
On the opening sequence of "Baby Boy"; on "2 Fast 2 Furious"; on collaborating with cast and crew
On producing "Hustle & Flow"; on independent vs. studio films; on directing Empire
On American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson; on being nominated for an Emmy; on his then-upcoming television project: Snowfall
On how the industry has changed over the course of his career; on his legacy; on how black filmmaking has changed since 1991
On his audience; on his greatest achievement; on his professional regrets (or lack thereof); on the best lessons he's learned over the course of his career
Shows

American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

View Show Page
John Singleton on cold-calling the writers of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson to tell them he wanted to direct it
John Singleton on directing an episode of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
John Singleton on what he learned from directing American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
John Singleton on being nominated for an Emmy for American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
John Singleton on working with Cuba Gooding Jr. on American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

Arsenio Hall Show, The

View Show Page
John Singleton on being a director's intern on The Arsenio Hall Show and what the experience taught him about directing for television
John Singleton on The Arsenio Hall Show being the only variety show that would put on hip hop and R&B artists at that time
John Singleton on meeting Ice Cube while he was interning at The Arsenio Hall Show and how that eventually led to him casting him in "Boyz N the Hood"
John Singleton on working with composer Stanley Clarke, who he met on The Arsenio Hall Show, on three of his movies

Emmy Awards, The (Primetime and Daytime)

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John Singleton on being nominated for an Emmy for American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

Empire

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John Singleton on directing an episode of Empire
John Singleton on directing for television (and directing Empire, specifically)

Pee-Wee's Playhouse

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John Singleton on casting Laurence Fishburne in "Boyz N the Hood," who he had met while working on Pee-Wee's Playhouse
John Singleton on working as a production assistant/security guard on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and what he learned from Paul Reubens

Snowfall

View Show Page
John Singleton on creating the FX series Snowfall
John Singleton on why he wanted to create Snowfall as a TV series
Topics

Advice

View Topic
John Singleton on the best lessons he's learned over the course of his career

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
John Singleton on how seeing "Star Wars" when he was nine made him understand what a director does
John Singleton on the importance of movies to him when he was growing up
John Singleton on changing junior high schools of his own volition (without moving or permission), and how this led him to meeting children of people in the film business who also aspired to be filmmakers
John Singleton on attending USC Film School: "It was a revelation for me"
John Singleton on seeing the film "She's Gotta Have It," meeting Spike Lee and telling him, "I'm going to USC Film School in two weeks. Watch out for me. I'm coming"
John Singleton on seeing a screening of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" and how it made him determined to find his own voice and tell his own stories
John Singleton on how he uses music and sound in his work, and how this was influenced by classes he took at USC
John Singleton on the opening sequence of his film "Baby Boy" and using the theories of psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing

Criticism of TV

View Topic
John Singleton on representations of violence in his work

Diversity in Television

View Topic
John Singleton on The Arsenio Hall Show being the only variety show that would put on hip hop and R&B artists at that time
John Singleton on directing Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video, and his vision for putting Michael Jackson with "a whole bunch of black people"
John Singleton on how opportunities for African Americans in entertainment have changed over the course of his career

Emmy Awards

View Topic
John Singleton on being nominated for an Emmy for American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
John Singleton on being nominated for an Emmy for American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson

Fame and Celebrity

View Topic
John Singleton on being nominated for Academy Awards for "Boyz N the Hood"

First Big Break

View Topic
John Singleton on getting his first agent based on the strength of the screenplay to "Boyz N the Hood"

Historic Events and Social Change

View Topic
John Singleton on African American culture around the time he was born (in 1968) and how that affected his parents' generation and his own generation in terms of their identity and their artistic pursuits
John Singleton on directing "Rosewood" and reflections on its historical context
John Singleton on how real-world events like the Rodney King verdict and Tupac Shakur's death have affected his work
John Singleton on what black filmmaking was like in 1991, and how it has changed over time

Minorities

View Topic
John Singleton on The Arsenio Hall Show being the only variety show that would put on hip hop and R&B artists at that time
John Singleton on directing Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video, and his vision for putting Michael Jackson with "a whole bunch of black people"
John Singleton on how opportunities for African Americans in entertainment have changed over the course of his career

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
John Singleton on how seeing "Star Wars" when he was nine made him understand what a director does
John Singleton on the importance of movies to him when he was growing up
John Singleton on changing junior high schools of his own volition (without moving or permission), and how this led him to meeting children of people in the film business who also aspired to be filmmakers
John Singleton on attending USC Film School: "It was a revelation for me"
John Singleton on seeing the film "She's Gotta Have It," meeting Spike Lee and telling him, "I'm going to USC Film School in two weeks. Watch out for me. I'm coming"
John Singleton on seeing a screening of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" and how it made him determined to find his own voice and tell his own stories
John Singleton on getting his first agent based on the strength of the screenplay to "Boyz N the Hood"
John Singleton on how he uses music and sound in his work, and how this was influenced by classes he took at USC
John Singleton on the opening sequence of his film "Baby Boy" and using the theories of psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing

Pop Culture

View Topic
John Singleton on being nominated for Academy Awards for "Boyz N the Hood"
John Singleton on directing Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video, and his vision for putting Michael Jackson with "a whole bunch of black people"
John Singleton on black culture's impact on American pop culture: "Black culture has always been pop culture"

Sex & Violence

View Topic
John Singleton on representations of violence in his work

Television Industry

View Topic
John Singleton on being nominated for an Emmy in 2016 and the kinds of opportunities television offers that are different from film
John Singleton on writing for film and television, and feeling it's the same, especially as television becomes more cinematic
John Singleton on what he likes about television now: "it's like I can make a movie every other week"
John Singleton on representations of violence in his work
John Singleton on being nominated for an Emmy for American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson and the opportunities he sees in television
John Singleton on how opportunities for African Americans in entertainment have changed over the course of his career
John Singleton on his feelings about current television: "I love TV"
John Singleton on the best lessons he's learned over the course of his career
Professions

Directors

View Profession
John Singleton on preparing to direct "Boyz N the Hood" by watching lots of other movies
John Singleton on directing being like "putting a puzzle together" and the difference between directing for film and television
John Singleton on wanting to have an all-black crew on "Boyz N the Hood" (with one exception) and his desire to have spontaneity in his filmmaking
John Singleton on the experience of filming "Boyz N the Hood" in a neighborhood that was not accustomed to having a film produced there, and shooting in his old neighborhood
John Singleton on how "Boyz N the Hood" added images and stories to the culture's ideas about Los Angeles and African Americans
John Singleton on directing Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video
John Singleton on what he learned from watching Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola direct
John Singleton on directing "Rosewood"
John Singleton on directing child actors
John Singleton on his directing style and how it's changed over time
John Singleton on directing cast and crew
John Singleton on directing for television (and directing Empire, specifically)
John Singleton on his involvement in post-production of TV shows he's directed: "it's shot exactly the way I want it to be edited"
John Singleton on the idea of the "auteur" director
John Singleton on what he learned from directing American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
John Singleton on his legacy as a director and whether or not he is a "socially conscious" filmmaker

Producers

View Profession
John Singleton on producing "Hustle and Flow"

Writers

View Profession
John Singleton on writing "Boyz N the Hood"
John Singleton on his writing process
John Singleton on what he likes about writing
John Singleton on writing for film and television, and feeling it's the same, especially as television becomes more cinematic
Genres

Children's Programming

View Genre
John Singleton on working as a production assistant/security guard on Pee-Wee's Playhouse

Drama Series

View Genre
John Singleton on cold-calling the writers of American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson to tell them he wanted to direct it
John Singleton on American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson
John Singleton on Empire

Late Night

View Genre
John Singleton on interning on The Arsenio Hall Show
John Singleton on working with composer Stanley Clarke, who he met on The Arsenio Hall Show, on three of his movies
People

Saul Bass

View Person Page
John Singleton on working with Saul Bass on the opening credits of "Higher Learning"

Francis Ford Coppola

View Person Page
John Singleton on what he learned from watching Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola direct

Marion Dougherty

View Person Page
John Singleton on Marion Dougherty casting Jon Voight in "Rosewood"

Laurence Fishburne

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John Singleton on casting Laurence Fishburne in "Boyz N the Hood," who he had met while working on Pee-Wee's Playhouse

Michael Jackson

View Person Page
John Singleton on directing Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video

Janet Jackson

View Person Page
John Singleton on running into Janet Jackson on the set of "Hook" and telling her he was writing a movie for her ("Poetic Justice"), and casting Tupac Shakur

Spike Lee

View Person Page
John Singleton on seeing the film "She's Gotta Have It," meeting Spike Lee and telling him, "I'm going to USC Film School in two weeks. Watch out for me. I'm coming"
John Singleton on seeing a screening of Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" and how it made him determined to find his own voice and tell his own stories

Richard Pryor

View Person Page
John Singleton on meeting one of his idols: Richard Pryor

Paul Reubens

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John Singleton on working as a production assistant/security guard on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and what he learned from Paul Reubens

Fatima Robinson

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John Singleton on Fatima Robinson choreographing Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time" music video

Esther Rolle

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John Singleton on working with Esther Rolle's on "Rosewood"

Tupac Shakur

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John Singleton on his relationship with Tupac Shakur and Shakur's death: "It was like...if Scorsese lost Robert De Niro"
John Singleton on his film "Baby Boy" and the fact that he developed the movie for Tupac Shakur

Steven Spielberg

View Person Page
John Singleton on meeting one of his idols: Steven Spielberg
John Singleton on what he learned from watching Steven Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola direct

Jon Voight

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John Singleton on Marion Dougherty casting Jon Voight in "Rosewood"

John Williams

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John Singleton on working with John Williams and Wynton Marsalis on "Rosewood"

August Wilson

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John Singleton on his admiration for August Wilson

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