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Years ago, I interned for the inimitable Spike Lee at 40 Acres & a Mule Filmworks over the course of one spring break. I think I was 20 and I felt like I was in Mecca or on Olympus. One day a framed photo on a staffer’s desk stopped me where I stood and filled me with awe and envy. The picture was of Spike and John Singleton — a titan and a prince of the New Cinema, respectively, together in cool jackets, as I recall.
A few years later, while in my second year at NYU pursuing my MFA in directing, I made a 16 millimeter film — Magic Markers, a 23-minute “surreal love story”. It won a handful of awards and, through a budding agent, found its way to New Deal Productions, John’s film company. John liked it and gave me the break of a lifetime. He was going to produce a feature version of that short film that I would write and direct. We pitched around town and Fine Line bought it.
I spent a fair amount of time with John back then. One of our meetings/outings involved seeing Waterworld and Kids on the same night downtown in New York City. (I remember using a payphone to get showtimes.) His love of cinema resonated so powerfully with me. I also marveled at his uncanny combination of confidence and grace. It probably took nothing less to get from the hood to the heights of Hollywood.
Ultimately, I wasn’t ready for the astronomical break that John offered me — I just couldn’t get the feature version right, so it all went away. Looking back, I’m convinced that I hadn’t yet learned and suffered enough for the wisdom that John already had in droves as a young man. Still, I’ve always been grateful to Prince John who nevertheless kept his door open to me through the years while opening doors for so many others. Sometimes it’s illuminating how things go when you almost work with someone.
I last saw John in February at an event in Los Angeles. He was the best dressed person in a well-heeled crowd, but he did look different to me. I wondered how he was doing. I was planning to send him a new script in the coming weeks in hopes of collaborating with him at last.
It feels unutterably strange that he’s gone.
Rest peacefully, John.
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