On the way to our table inside an empty restaurant in the mid-afternoon on the first day of the ATX TV Fest, John Singleton walks toward our table near the window. On the way, he sees Damson Idris, who plays Franklin on his new show, Snowfall. After he introduces us, Singleton asks the young actor if he’s planning on attending the premiere screening of the pilot episode at the historic Paramount Theater just down the street later that night. Idris smiles sheepishly, before saying that he wasn’t sure if he would, fearing he’d be embarrassed watching himself in a crowded theater. Smiling back, Singleton encourages him to go, explaining that this might be the only time he gets to watch an episode on the big screen.
Singleton, of course, is used to seeing his work in that environment. At 24, he was the youngest person to be nominated for a Best Director Academy Award, earning the nod Boyz N the Hood in 1991. Since that debut, which told the story of what it meant to be young and black in South Central Los Angeles, he followed up with similar films, including Poetic Justice in 1993 and Baby Boy in 2001. He’s also helmed big-budget action movies, including the reboot of Shaft in 2000, and 2 Fast 2 Furious in 2003.
More recently, Singleton has turned his focus to the small screen, directing episodes of shows like Empire and American Crime Story. His latest endeavor, Snowfall, which premieres this Wednesday July 5th on FX, is a period drama set in 1983 L.A., telling the story of the early days of the crack-cocaine epidemic. We got the chance to sit down with Singleton to talk about what inspired him to make Snowfall, and how the Peak TV era has helped him to tell his story the way he wants to.
What inspired you to tell this story, and to tell it on television?
They say in film school write about what you know, and so I took that to heart in film school and thought about writing about what was going on in my neighborhood in south central Los Angeles. I thought, “This is the story for me. This is the story before Boyz N the Hood. How did the neighborhood evolve into what it became?” I think I somehow had this in the back of my mind for many, many years.
Once I was starting to make the transition into television, I was like “What can I do? What’s the ghetto version of Game of Thrones?” Without dragons, you know what I mean? It was just to try to find a way to different characters, a multi-ethnic group of characters in a milieu in Los Angeles. So I was like “I got it! We’ll do something about how cocaine changed everything in L.A.” Because you have these stories, these various drug stories in different mediums, from film to TV that have been told. It’s always from Miami or the East Coast version of it. The West Coast version of it has never really been told, ever. Ever. Until now.
The Game of Thrones comparison is interesting, because you’ve got a lot of storylines going on at once, but most of the commercials we’ve seen so far are centered around the character of Franklin.