Speaking without notes or a filter, John Singleton opened the 2012 Film Independent Forum October 20 in Los Angeles with a keynote that offered his own brand of anecdotes and advice from more than two decades in the business.
He began by describing how he’d watch movies without sound through his bedroom window from his home in South Central LA. “Film and cinema saved me from delinquency,” Singleton said, “and when times get rough for me in the business, I go back to that.”
Singleton said “Blue Velvet,” “Sid and Nancy,” “Platoon,” and “My Own Private Idaho” were seminal checkpoints on the road to his feature film debut. “I knew in the back of my mind I wanted to be an independent filmmaker,” he said. “I had to think in terms of writing films and making them myself.” (As a student on the USC campus, Singleton added, “I’m from the neighborhood, so I didn’t have to walk around scared all the time.”)
Speaking directly to the audience concerns, Singleton said, “I came to you guys to be straightforward about this mission that you’re on.” That involved unveiling a prevailing sentiment the filmmaker said he’s heard all too often in his time in the industry: “‘Nobody cares about your little movie.'” Singleton added as an antidote, “You have to care about your little movie.”
As someone who’s spent significant time in both the independent and studio worlds, Singleton also had some remarks about the relationship between the two realms. “Independent film is the farm team for the rest of the business,” Singleton said. “The studios don’t acknowledge that at all.”
Even though he’s just as angry with the state of high-profile, big-budget filmmaking today, Singleton concedes that he knows the reason. “People are predisposed to say no because they don’t want to go out on a limb.
“The answer is persistence,” he said. When working to produce new films, Singleton exhorted the audience to keep in mind a guiding principle of not just filmmaking, but life. “This business is an ongoing thing like life. It’s evolving and it’s changing.”