Behind The Lens

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Most filmmakers dream of being recognized for their work. John Singleton’ dreams have come true. DaimlerChrysler has found him to be deserving of the fourth annual ‘Behind the Lens’ award; honoring achievement for his work as a writer, director and producer of feature films. Recipients of the award are chosen by an advisory panel of industry professionals. DaimlerChrysler will present $25,000 to the charity of Singleton’ choice.
Here’s my interview with Singleton (JS) and Frank Fountain (FF).

BSN: Why was John chosen for the award?
FF: The standards are quite high. We look for an honoree whose career expands for at least 15 years in film and television behind the lens. And John just made that. During that period the honoree must have worked and had a positive impact on the nature of the industry. And also that person must have provided access to African Americans and other minorities entering the field. We think that his contributions to the overall industry and the representation of African American life in a very realistic way, we believe that he was the absolute top candidate for consideration this year. We think he follows in the footsteps of earlier awardees like Reuben Cannon, Gordon Parks and Melvin Van Peebles. We think John was a natural for this award.

BSN: And John…your response?
JS: I’m really honored. The previous honorees are all idles of mine. I interned for Reuben Cannon when I was in college. Gordon and Melvin were the only two brothers that I could look to when I was a kid when I had the aspiration to direct. They are the only two people that I could point to that had done it successfully.

FF: John, if you recall, the two of us were the ones who presented the first award to Reuben Cannon in 2002.
JS: Reuben is a close friend of mine, an advisor. A confidant in many ways. It’s just really good. I feel really honored. I’ve learned from people before me how to navigate this business. And if it wasn’t for those people before me then I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I have.

BSN: John, in your 15 year career, have you seen a diversity of roles behind and in front the camera for African Americans? And are you happy with where we are right now?
JS: Yeah. In front of the camera I think that there is a huge difference from 15 years ago. I think that there are a lot of people working but the quality is not as up to par as possible. The actors that came before like Danny, Denzel and Morgan…all of these people came from the theatre and most of the black actors that are working right now they don’t have theatrical experience. They have television experience or they have film experience but that’s not to say that’s not successful too but it says that they are privileged to a force career in working in television and film instead of doing theatre. But behind the scenes, I’ve got to say that, it is not a novelty to be black and a male or be black and a woman doing feature film or television work. Some of the hottest stuff done in film and television are done by people of color.

BSN: John, you are at a point now were you’ve begun to produce films. Were do you see yourself in the future of this business?
JS: Well, what I want to do is continue to do new films but also finance them. And, you know, Hustle & Flow was a great experience for me but not only as a filmmaker creatively but as a businessman too. I couldn’t find anybody that would invest in my film projects and so I had to go and invest in them myself. It was a great experience.

BSN: What do you look for in a script that you may want to invest in?
JS: I look for something that…a movie has to have a reason to be made. It can’t just have a good idea. Or a bunch of dialog and nothing compelling about it. And I look for real filmmakers. People who are cinafiles. They watch movies. A lot of people in our generation, they grew up on television. There’s a difference between television and movies. There’s a difference in trying to interpret something in television than you would a film. And the people that I’ve been involved with… I guess my only 2 protégé are Craig Brewer and Xelinda Yancy. They’ve been pretty successful in what they’ve tried to accomplish.

BSN: Do you become overwhelmed with what you do?
JS: No. I’m not overwhelmed. This is what I planned for. This is what I wanted in terms of my career. I just really want to press on. My worst fear when I did my first film 15 years ago was being…doing one film and not being able to recover and do anything else.

BSN: Are you recruiting currently? And is Craig Brewer in your camp or apart of your organization?
JS: Craig is a part of me. He’s apart of my family.

BSN: Are you looking to build an organization of filmmakers under you? Is that how you are planning to do things?
JS: Yeah. There are filmmakers that know they deal with me they are going to learn from me. They are going to be able to have a career and learn something. And have a better chance at success than being with people who don’t really understand film.

BSN: Frank, when you mentioned that John just made the cut, what was the determining factor?
FF: Age. We wanted someone with experience who had really demonstrated their craft in the industry. And of course John is the youngest film director in history to be nominated for an Academy Award. Given his age and our requirement of 15 years, he’s been producing in the industry, in the business since…when he was 20 years old.

BSN: What was DaimlerChrysler looking for in starting this award?
FF: We first introduced the Behind the Lens award in 2002 to recognize and celebrate the outstanding achievements of people of color who work behind the scenes in the entertainment industry. To deepen the companies presence among the ethnic diverse communities; particularly the African American community. We noticed that most of the…NAACP Image Awards and some of the other awards did not recognize and celebrate those accomplishments behind the lens. We saw that as a void and decided to put the spotlight on it and decided to create an award. And having done so in 2002 we had a great reception in the part of the industry and film community…so we have continued it. With each succeeding year it becomes even more prominent. And so, we’re convinced that we’re doing the right thing. It’s another example of our commitment to rich into the community to expose our young people to the career path and opportunities that have not ordinarily considered in one way to highlight those opportunities is certainly reaching out and giving that award to someone who has this artistic talent.

BSN: Can you talk about the panel that determines the honoree?
FF: We have a great committee that works with us on selecting the honoree. That includes the honorary chair Reuben Cannon. And producer, writer, director Paul Hall. And the President of BET Entertainment Reginald Hudlin and Angela Ford here on our team. And I serve as a co-chair. And I think with the collective knowledge and wisdom of this group of the industry, certainly more so of the others than myself, I think that so far we’ve been doing very well on our honorees.


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