The following article appeared in the July 18, 2005 issue of Jet Magazine

The following article appeared in the July 4, 2005 issue of Time Magazine


Smith, Rock 'Hustle' for Terrence Howard

Associated Press Writer

At long last, Terrence Howard could stop hustling and roll with the flow. Love was all around the veteran character actor Wednesday night, as his low-budget drama, "Hustle & Flow," was treated to the kind of Hollywood premiere usually reserved for big-budget flicks: large, lavish and loaded with big-name guests.

Among them were Chris Rock and Will Smith, taking their turns accompanying Howard down the arrivals line, assuring that reporters knew just what and who they were dealing with.

What "Ray" was to Jamie Foxx, they insisted, "Hustle & Flow" will be to Howard: the breakthrough, the star-maker, perhaps even the Oscar-winner.

No doubt, Howard was feeling the love. "I am standing right next to Will Smith," he told AP Television News, as if in shock, only for comic-actor and Oscar host Chris Rock to slide beside him and break into the interview.

"Terrence Howard!" Rock proclaimed. "This year at the Oscars, at the Academy Awards..."

Howard: "You're going to do it this year?"

Rock: "If you are nominated, that will definitely go a long way to us doing that, I can tell you that! Jamie Foxx is going to hand over Terrence (the best actor statuette) at the Oscars, he is going to ... pass the heavyweight belt, and he will be the champ!"

Was Rock serious about returning to host the Oscars?

"Hey, If Terrence is nominated, it means at least I won't be the only black person there," Rock replied, smirking.

Produced on a shoestring for a reported $2.8 million budget, tiny "Hustle & Flow" has been looming large since January's Sundance Film Festival, when writer-director Craig Brewer was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and honored with the coveted Audience Award.

Opening Friday, the film casts Howard as a streetwise Memphis hustler trying to find his voice and realize his long-buried dreams.

"I have been watching Terrence Howard for a lot of years and I have always known that he has something and he was coming," commented Smith. "But (in) 'Hustle & Flow,' he is giving the performance of the year in this movie. You have never seen the choices that this guy makes. He has his own thing, his own space and there is a fire that he creates and I am just sitting and watching him ... I have to get to work on my craft! I'm being really lazy!"

Also receiving solid notices is Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, who plays a music-biz hotshot who can make the Howard character's dream a reality. The hip-hop superstar follows the acclaimed "Crash" with what may be another hit one that he says accurately portrays the music business.

"Everybody hears these songs coming from the hip-hop industry, but nobody really understands what it takes to make these songs; what people are doing in order to get the beats together, to get the hooks, to get the go-around," Ludacris said. "You get to see the blood and sweat and tears that these people put in and it gives you a firsthand look on how music is made, on how a lot of people hustle."

Director Puts His Name, and Money, at Stake


LOS ANGELES - Dressed in a Puma T-shirt, jeans and white sneakers, John Singleton walked into the lobby of a building on the Paramount Pictures lot here and suddenly stopped in his tracks. Before him were two giant billboards: one for a film he had bankrolled and produced, "Hustle & Flow," which hits theaters on July 22, the other for his latest directorial effort, "Four Brothers," due in August.

"Wow," a smiling Mr. Singleton said, reveling in the double whammy. "That's pretty cool." Mr. Singleton is back in a big way, but to hear him tell it, he never left.

"My last film made $240 million," he quickly pointed out in a recent interview. He was referring to "2 Fast 2 Furious," the critically lambasted blockbuster he directed in 2003. "Hello, I've been here."

Yes, Mr. Singleton has been here, churning out, on average, one film every two to three years. But none has managed to generate the buzz of his 1991 breakthrough, "Boyz N the Hood" - that is, until now. Written and directed by a newcomer, Craig Brewer, "Hustle & Flow," which Mr. Singleton dropped more than $3 million of his own money to make, was the hit of this year's Sundance Film Festival, winning an audience award, a $9 million price tag and Mr. Singleton a $7 million two-movie deal with Paramount and MTV Films.

Equal parts "Rocky" and "8 Mile," "Hustle & Flow" tells the tale of DJay, a Memphis pimp who has a midlife crisis and decides to become a rapper. The plot was a hard sell at first. Mr. Brewer and the producer Stephanie Allain knocked on doors for two years trying to land a deal in Hollywood, but to no avail. Ms. Allain turned to Mr. Singleton, hoping his pull would open doors. "They shot us down again," Mr. Singleton said. "I was surprised by that."

He was more than surprised, Ms. Allain said: "It was like a slap in the face. It upset him so much. He felt like his name value was on the line."

Studio executives "couldn't see past the stereotypes and see the humanity in these characters," Mr. Singleton said.

It did not help that they had Terrence Howard, a relative unknown, in the lead and Mr. Brewer, a first-time director, at the helm.

So Mr. Singleton, inspired by Mel Gibson and the hip-hop entrepreneur Damon Dash, decided to finance the film himself, thus violating Hollywood's Rule No. 1: Never ever spend your own money.

"Everybody thought I was crazy," Mr. Singleton said. "Everybody."

Though he has been vindicated, Mr. Singleton is not out of the woods just yet. The road from Sundance to box office glory is littered with the carcasses of small films that were supposed to hit it big.

So, Mr. Singleton has been tirelessly promoting the movie. During filming last August, he flew journalists to Memphis to visit the set. Friends like Spike Lee and Will Smith have held private screenings for tastemakers. And Mr. Singleton has guarded prints of the movie with the ferociousness of rabid pit bull. "If it gets pirated it will be after the movie comes out," he said.

On the day of the interview, Mr. Singleton, a consummate multitasker, had a power breakfast with executives at E! and a lunch with an executive at DreamWorks. He then dashed over to a meeting about the soundtrack for "Four Brothers," which stars Mark Wahlberg, Garrett Hedlund, the R&B singer Tyrese and Andre 3000, one half of the hip-hop duo OutKast. Because the film is set in Detroit, Mr. Singleton wanted a lot of old school soul. The studio was asking for more contemporary urban hits.

"There was a time when executives wanted to only put rock in everything," he said. "Then it was techno and now it's hip-hop."

Mr. Singleton may have inadvertently had something to do with this turn of events.

It was his poignant depiction of life in the gang-ravaged streets of Compton, Calif., "Boyz N the Hood," that established Mr. Singleton as one of Hollywood's most promising talents. While the world of drive-bys and Crips and Bloods had been chronicled in rap lyrics by groups like N.W.A., it had never been captured on celluloid. At only 24, Mr. Singleton became the youngest person ever nominated for a best director Academy Award. He followed two years later with "Poetic Justice," starring Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur. "Higher Learning," his next project, dealt with life on a socially segregated college campus. In each of these films, main characters meet violent deaths. Mr. Singleton was out to do more than tug at heartstrings; he was eager to provoke thought, to advance the conversation whether it be about race relations, gender bias, date rape, single parent homes or, preferably, all of the above.

"I wanted to be taken seriously as a filmmaker and my first film was taken so seriously," Mr. Singleton said, "so I kept feeling like each film had to be more serious than the last one."

It doesn't get more serious than "Rosewood," Mr. Singleton's 1997 film about an African-American town in Florida that was burned to the ground by a white mob in the 1920's. The film received tepid reviews and was a commercial flop. And even worse, Mr. Singleton said, it was trounced by "Booty Call," which was released the same month.

"You've got to understand, before that I was a golden boy," the director said. " 'Rosewood' was a whole different thing. The studio didn't support it. They were afraid of the picture. You're talking about black genocide."

Mr. Singleton took some time off to gather his thoughts, travel, marry and divorce, and have more children (five in total, with four mothers). Unlike other young directors, he was not grappling with how to break into the business, but what exactly he wanted to do in the business. The answer was simple: Have fun.

"Finally I said, you know what, I'm in this business because movies saved me from delinquency, movies saved my life," he said. "I just want to make movies. It doesn't matter if they're serious or not."

Mr. Singleton went on to make films like "Shaft," a remake of the 1971 action movie, and "Baby Boy," a commentary on the infantilizing of the black man.

Mr. Singleton has grown fond of telling interviewers that he greenlighted "Hustle & Flow," and while that makes for a compelling sound bite it is a bit of a stretch. His inability to get the film made within the system speaks to an even bigger issue in Hollywood, the director Spike Lee said.

"Very few studios have people of color deciding what films get made," Mr. Lee said. "There's not one African-American at a studio in a position to greenlight a film. When that happens that will be landmark. That will have far more impact than two black people winning Academy Awards in one year."

Though Mr. Singleton agreed with Mr. Lee's assessment, he does say that blacks have made strides in front of and behind the camera in recent years. "When I came in the game it was more of a novelty to be a young, black male making movies," he said. "Now it's not a novelty, which is good."

Mr. Singleton said he wanted to continue to guide other young filmmakers through the moviemaking process. "There are a lot of talented kids making films on video," he said with the fervor of someone who struck oil once and is eager to drill again. "I'm looking for the next new stars."

Now that he's got the hang of this producing thing, Mr. Singleton, who is teaming with Mr. Brewer again for "Black Snake Moan," about a girl who suffers from a sexual addiction, said he was ready to tackle movie moguldom.

"I just want to be able to make the type of movies that I want to make and I don't ever want anyone to tell me that if I really feel passionate about something I can't make that movie," Mr. Singleton said. "I've got to be able to say, well, I'm making it anyway, bye." He threw his head back in laughter. "Now that's power."

Just Keep Hustlin'

Source: Edward Douglas

The unadulterated hit of this year's Sundance Film Festival, winning the Jury Prize and being picked up by Paramount in a highly lucrative deal for producer John "Boyz n the Hood" Singleton, Hustle & Flow by Memphis filmmaker Craig Brewer is groundbreaking in the way that it redefines a number of genres, particularly the urban street drama.

Its the story of a pimp named DJay, played by Terrence Howard (Crash), who decides that he has one last chance to do something with his life, so he builds a studio with a local producer (Anthony Anderson) and starts to record tracks about his life in hopes of getting the support of a local rapper (Ludacris) who's returning home to Memphis after making it big. The richness of the character allowed Howard to break out with possibly the finest dramatic performances of the year.

ComingSoon.net recently talked to Craig Brewer and John Singleton, about how this project came together after years of trying to find a studio to help them make it.

CS!: What do you say when people ask if we need another pimp and ho flick?

John Singleton: Another one? When's the last time you saw one?

Craig Brewer: That's something that we've been talking about among ourselves, because that seems to be the dead horse everyone keeps beating. Why are we seeing another one of these? Do we need to see another pimp with a dream to do rap? But I don't think I've seen this before. I've seen movies where pimps are parodied and there's some pageantry to it, but I can't think of anything recently. When I was rollin' around in Memphis, I saw these characters and what I felt is that I hadn't seen this character before.

Singleton: I think this film transcends DJay being a pimp or even a hustler. He's a guy who basically has not got to where he wants to be in life. One thing we all talked about while making this movie is that the intriguing thing about this guy is that he does things, as a character, that the audience doesn't like, but he's a likable guy. He's like Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull or Stanley Kowalsky in "A Streetcar Named Desire." He's that kinda guy. We had Terence watching Marlon Brando in Streetcar and characters that had an edge to them. He's this guy that you like, but you don't like the things he does. That what flips people out and that's what kept it from being made for so long. Because all they saw was 'pimp' and they said we don't wanna make this. This isn't the stereotyped glorification of a pimp advertising with the suits and the gators. This guy is a chauffeur. He's a broke guy who's on his last leg; he's on his last leg even while he's holding these girls together to get them to do what he wants them to do.

CS!: Craig, can you talk about the genesis of the film and how long it took for it to come together?

Brewer: This one came out of me really quick, because I really was making a story about the experience I just went though making the first movie. I'd written a script called 'The Poor and Hungry' about car thieves in Memphis. I was trying to shoot on film, and I didn't have any money, and me and my wife were really struggling for a long time just to make ends meet, much less make something like am movie. I started making that movie on DV, and after my dad died I got about 20 grand of inheritance. I lived off that for about a year and a half, and bought an editing system, and video cameras from Circuit City. Some of you probably have better cameras than I was shooting my movie with, but this movie kind of rescued my wife and me. We were building sets in our house and trying to quiet down neighbors. We were filled with the sense that if I'm 24 and my dad died at 49, then I'm almost over. Throughout that whole process it was a very stressful time, and I just thought that the process was a more interesting story. Ultimately, a person who feels that he does have one shot, and he has to get going now. It really came out of me in a couple of weeks, because I had known pimps and hustlers and girls before, but this was this kind of gorgeous iconic look. He rolled up in this pieced- together. He was a black pimp, and he had this white girl with microbraids. And I thought, what do they talk about when they clock out? What are they doing when they're just sitting there, and what's on their mind? That's when I started getting the process of writing it down. It took about fours weeks to write the screenplay, which is pretty quick for me; I take a little bit longer. (Read More...)