John Singleton helped me realize my Hollywood dreams
The director of ‘Boyz n the Hood’ reached out to a lot of people. Here’s a heartfelt thank you from one of them.
“Hollywood is all about who you know …” We hear it time and time again. Yet somewhere in the middle of my journey to becoming a filmmaker, it hit me. This is an incomplete statement. The entire back half of the sentence is missing.
The most crucial part to anyone in Tinsel Town getting the opportunity to live out their film dreams exists in the back half of this statement:
“Hollywood is all about who you know … but who is willing to help you!”
Back in the day, there was one movie that seismically rocked my emotional core. Boyz n the Hood defined my childhood. But most importantly, it instilled a relentless inspiration to be like the guy who wrote and directed a cultural masterpiece, the cool and unapologetic brother in the glasses and the Malcolm X ball caps. His name was John Singleton. He went to USC’s film school. I knew I must go there.
I got that thick envelope in the mail from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. In huge block letters on the cover, it simply but so powerfully said, “YOU’RE IN!” I’ll never forget that day. It keeps playing in my head over and over again the same way Ricky getting shot at the end of Boyz n the Hood does.
We often joke about the power of our USC mafia. Well, believe me, the force is a most magnificent one! After making my first film, LUV, and debuting it at Sundance, I got a call one day. On the other end was a familiar but unknown voice.
“Sheldon, I saw your movie. It’s really good, man.”
“Umm … thank you very much. But I apologize … I have no idea who this is.”
“It’s John Singleton. I’m proud of you. Taking you with me.”
“Ahhh, OK. But where are we going, John?”
“TV. Just be ready.”
Sure enough, John keeps calling. And he’s calling during what was the most challenging moment of my career. After Sundance, you go on what they call the “Water Bottle Tour.” Everyone in town will meet with you, they will offer you water, but they won’t offer you a job.
Ring … Ring …
“Sheldon, I’m doing American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson with Ryan Murphy at FX. Come shadow me.”
Months later, another call from John:
“I’m shooting the pilot to my new FX series Snowfall. … Shooting in Pasadena tomorrow. See you in the morning.”
And then John is on the phone again with that one most important call, the necessary companion to education: an opportunity.
“I’m executive producer of a film noir detective series about a powerful African American woman in Oakland. It’s called Rebel, with Danielle Moné Truitt, Mykelti Williamson, Method Man and Giancarlo Esposito. You’re directing episodes 7 and 8. Told you to be ready.”
My first day of shooting Rebel, John comes to the set about an hour before we take lunch. I’m halfway through my first day and he says to me, “How many setups you got done?”
My response: “I don’t know, John, I’ve just had my head down working really hard, haven’t paid attention to my setups.”
John replies, “When I met Spielberg he asked me how many setups I did on Boyz n the Hood. It’s a film nerd thing, you know …”
“I don’t know, let’s ask the script supervisor.” John and I walk over and ask, she flips through her binder, looks up at John and says, “Twenty-one setups.” John looks at me, eyebrow raised.
“That’s impressive. First day.” He shakes my hand and disappears into the production office. This is a moment as a filmmaker that I will always hold on to.
You can have all the talent in the world, but you still have to be chosen.
I recently read in The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu that it is our greatest purpose as human beings to be in service to others.
John Singleton believed in me. He reached back to push forward. Not only myself, but a whole lot of us. Gave us jobs. Gave us education. Gave us opportunity. Gave us an unforgettable impression that inspired our lives.
Skool of Singleton,