Director and screenwriter John Singleton gave a lecture to students Thursday night at the Annenberg School with personal insight on how to market their products in today’s world.
Public relations professor Fritz Friedman coordinated Singleton’s appearance, noting it was a supreme opportunity for students.
“[These appearances] give [students] the opportunity to talk to the top-tier directors and actors,” he said. “It’s all about critical thinking … I’m opening a window for students to see what the real entertainment world is like. Not one in theory, not one of academia, but people that actually make it happen. It is about giving them information and creating their own ideas from it.”
Singleton, a USC alumnus, was enrolled in the school’s Filmic Writing program. The class was designed to instruct each student how to express his or her own vision.
“After high school I thought I knew everything about movies,” he said. “The film school helped me because I found out that I knew nothing about movies. And it humbled me. It broke me down to my last compound. That no matter what I did that I had to study film.”
After graduating from USC in 1990, he directed his first film Boyz n the Hood. At age 24, Singleton was nominated for Best Director and Best Screenplay at the 1991 Academy Awards.
“[Boyz n the Hood] is created as an independent film,” Singleton said. “I wrote this film at the basement of VKC. I didn’t have money for a computer, so I used one down there.”
He went on to reveal his marketing tactic for Boyz n the Hood.
“The trailer is great because for some people it scares you, but for some people they say, ‘Aw it’s going to be the sh-t,’ Singleton said. “You would never know that this movie would have any meaning to it. You would think that it would be just violence. I had to sell the audience one way to get the audience in.”
Professor and director of public relations studies Jerry Swerling said that Singleton is an appropriate model for the students.
“I think his insight on how you can succeed at a very young age and the nature of his creativity and how you can be true to yourself — I think that he is a good role model,” he said. “John’s background is unique in his own way and that is what I think students should be exposed to.”
The audience had an opportunity to for a Q&A session with Singleton. One of the students asked what his advice would be for an aspiring director.
“Learn how to write. Learn how to tell your own stories. You have to write your own thing and have it,” Singleton said. “It has to be a valuable enough for somebody to say that I’ll invest in this.”
He also mentioned that one of the mistakes that young filmmakers will do is move the camera for no apparent reason.
“My favorite filmmakers move the camera to the service of the story — Citizen Kane — phenomenal camera movement, but it is all in the service of the story,” Singleton said.
A fan since Singleton’s start of the career, Nathan Goodly, a graduate student studying in education, said since applying to graduate school, there have been two people he wanted to meet at his time at USC — John Singleton and Ronnie Lott.
“I am a huge fan of his. Boyz n the Hood came out when I was in middle school and I appreciate the way he depicted the true story of L.A. life and also [launched the acting career of] Ice Cube,” Goodly said.
Singleton shared how USC’s film school helped him to where he is today.
“It really led me to know that this is a great legacy to go into,” he said. “To be open to artistic expression and different forms of story telling. Also to find my own voice as a filmmaker.”