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Gray, F. Gary 1969–

F. Gary Gray 1969

Film and video director

Video Triumphs Led to Film

Double-Edged Sword

Dramatic Smart Action

Opportunity and Creativity

Sources

Im single-minded, F. Gary Gray told The Source magazine. When Im working on a project all my attention is there. Gray has the been the object of a fair amount of attention himself, having earned more awards than perhaps any other video director for his work with smash acts like TLC, Coolio, and Ice Cube, as well as his feature film work. After breaking into music clips and making his way to the top of the video world, he directed a funky, low-budget comedy that earned ten times what it cost to make; his next venture, an action drama, saw him enter the Hollywood mainstream. Yet he refused to allow his newfound celebrity to change his focus. These people will put you on a pedestal, he said of filmdoms star-makers, and then knock your ass down.

F. Gary Gray was born in New York City, but did most of his growing up in South-Central Los Angeles. The lure of the street there was particularly strong, however, and during his teens he was sent to live in Highland Park, Illinois with his father. I went to a predominantly white, rich high school, he recollected in The Source, adding that the resources at this midwestern institution were much better than anything I had ever seen. I knew I had to take advantage of this situation.

Taking advantage in this case meant exploring video, learning how to direct and edit programming for the schools cable-access TV station. He demonstrated considerable ambition in his chosen field, and upon graduating, he came back to Los Angeles. There he pursued college studies in film and television. From a young age, I knew I was going to be a filmmaker, he insisted in The Source. He landed camera-operator jobs for various television programs, including Screen Scene for the Black Entertainment Network (BET) and Pump It Up for Fox. At the Fox network, more importantly, he met rappers W.C. and the Maad Circlewhich featured a then-unknown MC named Coolioand talked them into letting him direct their video. The first thing I did, he recalled, was use my directors fee to shoot the video in 35 millimeter, like actual films are shot. The larger frame sizemost videos are shot in the smaller 16 millimeter formatfit Grays swelling ambitions.

Video Triumphs Led to Film

Fortunately, Gray had talent to match those ambitions, and word of his directorial skill spread to other acts. Soon, he found himself directing clips for Mary J. Blige, Coolio, TLC, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, among others. The video for Ice Cubes It Was a Good Day was listed among Rolling Stone s Top 100 Videos of All Time. Gray garnered multiple trophies at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, including four awards for the TLC clip Waterfallsincluding Video of the Yearand the Best Rap Video honor for Dr. Dres Keep Their Heads Ringin. By 1996, Grays video-related honors would include 16 awards and 23 nominations.

At a Glance

Born c. 1969, New York, NY. Education: Attended L.A. City College and Golden State College.

Video and film director, c. 1990s-. Worked as camera operator for BET and Fox television networks; directed music videos for W.C. and the Maad Circle, Coolio, TLC, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and others, c. 1992-96; directed feature films Friday (1995) and Set It Off (1996).

Awards: Best Rap Video and Best New Artist Rap Video for Coolios Fantastic Voyage, 1995 Billboard Music Video Awards; four awards, including Video of the Year for TLCs Waterfalls and Best Rap Video for Dr. Dres Keep Their Heads Ringin, 1995 MTV Music Vdeo Awards; numerous other video awards.

Addresses: Home Los Angeles, CA. Publicists Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, 9171 Wilshire Blvd., Penthouse Suite, Beverly Hills, CA 90210-5530.

Due to the success of Ice Cubes It Was a Good Day, Gray earned his first opportunity to direct a feature film. Co-written by Cube, Friday is a broad comedy inspired by the pot-fueled antics of 1970s comedians like Cheech and Chong. The novice filmmaker was given a paltry $3 million budget to make it. Ive been doing videos for about four years now, and Ive been wanting to direct a feature since I was about 17, Gray told High Times magazine. I knew that I had to deliver something that was high-quality. There was a lot of pressure, because with making motional pictures, when youre a first-time filmmaker, if the dailies dont look good the first week, if the performances arent good the first week, the director gets fired.

Double-Edged Sword

Any concerns Gray may have had regarding his abilities were unfounded. His instincts allowed him to plan the shoot and still leave room for improvisation. Co-stars John Witherspoon and Chris Tucker, Gray told High Times, are so funny on the fly and right off the cuff that I didnt want to miss any of that, so I said, Stick to the script for the first two takes, and on the third take, do it how you want to do it. When I got to editing, I used most of the third takes because they were so funny, especially Chris facial expressions. Cube, meanwhile, has a lot of discipline, Gray reported. It helps me as a director for him to have that much discipline and be the star of the movie, he added, because if everybody wanted to run wild, then it would just be a big babysitting session and you lose a lot of time. Cube doesnt play that whole Im a star trip.

Friday may not have been a favorite with criticsTimes reviewer Peter Rainer was in the majority when he declared the film a scattershot jokefestbut its lean budget helped it go into the black quickly, and it eventually earned 10 times what it cost to make, and turned out to be one of the most profitable releases of 1995. These movies are a double edged sword, Gray reflected in the Los Angeles Times. Though any other comedy would have three times the budget and twice as long to shoot, I appreciated New Line [Pictures] giving me a shot. How often does anyone write a check like that to an unproven 23-year-old? Gray pointed out that after making such a splash directing rap and R&B videos, I was besieged by hip-hop offers. After Friday, he explained in Vibe, I didnt want to be pegged as an in-the-hood-type director. Its just too easy to get that title. He informed USA Today that he was offered every regurgitated action comedy idea that Hollywood has done.

Dramatic Smart Action

Instead, Gray took on a far more ambitious project: an urban heist thriller with four female protagonists. Though the hit film Waiting to Exhale had demonstrated the box-office potential of black women, the edgy Set It Off brought in action elements designed to woo male viewers. And, added Gray in Vibe, these women are just exhaling all over the place. Co-starring rapper and television star Queen Latifah and budding star Jada Pinkett, Set It Off tells the story of a group of down-at-heels women who turn to armed robbery. Grays conception for the film was, he asserted in Newsday, dramatic smart action. He had already used many of the elements of action filmmakingsuch as helicopters in his videos, and wanted to reach beyond the usual trappings of the genre. I didnt want to use the action gratuitously because then it has no weight, he claimed. The sequences just become set pieces for action. Its not worth it. He had been looking, he said, for material with something for the emotions.

In Set It Off, Gray found the right combination of elements. It takes a lot for me to get passionate about something, he told Thulani Davis of Newsday. The film, he ventured in Detour, has always been in me. But it was definitely a leap. I would shoot for 14 hours, then I would watch dailies for two, then I would rewrite and work on the script for three hours. If I got five hours of sleep it was like heaven: usually it was two or three. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the film, Gray mused to Davis, was its female focus. Its a male-dominated industry, he averred. Stories are told from a male point of view. I wanted to create a womens perspective. He sat down with the cast members and talked about a range of issues; but he also took them to a firing range to make sure they looked natural using guns onscreen. I would also create special rehearsals, the filmmaker told Detour. normally, you go straight for the script, but when you have characters who have a history with each other, you have to create that feeling, and it has to be as genuine as possible. So for the first week, I would take the actors out for meals and movies to create a camaraderie that comes second-nature. The results, he added, were fantastic.

Critics didnt entirely agree, however. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times admired the productions style but complained of genre contrivances that are the obstacles to [the films] being taken seriously. The director received both praise and blame in Turans review. Though he is obviously talented, the critic wrote, Gray is also 26 years old, and Set It Off is characterized by the youthful director tendency to be overambitious, to try to squeeze every possible movie moment into one finite film. USA Todays Susan Wloszczyna, meanwhilewhile admitting the film was more fun to watch than it has any right to be nonetheless dubbed it overlong, overdone and over-wrought. Gray, she continued, knows how to ignite high-octane action, but the dramatic passages drag like a rusted tailpipe.

Opportunity and Creativity

Although he hasnt dwelt on it much in interviews, Grays celebrity derives in part from his success in the main-stream as a black filmmaker. Yet he never claimed to have encountered adversity because of race. The strong battles, the battles that re historical for blacks in Hollywood, I havent experienced any of that, he pointed out in Newsday. Ive had the opportunity to make a film that I think is good. And in USA Today, Gray warned against pigeonholing audiences. I know a lot of people who enjoy rap music who arent black, he pointed out. You cant just say its black music. To segregate films the way Hollywood likes to segregate films, ultimately everyone loses. Grays assessment of the present-day situation in Hollywood was mixed. I can honestly say its changing, he said. I can see my colleagues getting opportunities they didnt have even five years ago. In the same breath, it still needs more of a major change. I think ultimately black filmmakers need more options and more supporteverything from getting the best material to getting the best financial support to make it right.

Gray shared a bit of his creative method with Detour. Budget constraints, he allowed, forced him to prioritize shots in order of importance. With that part of the process completed, Ill sit back with a cigar and some classical music, and read the scene, start to envision it, and write it down shot for shot, he explained. Sometimes you cant come up with a shot to save your life, and sometimes shots come so fast that you start misspelling words because youre writing so fast. He added that his visual sense compels him to put the camera where the story is, so I dissect a scene and think about it in the context of the whole movie and decide how Im going to cover it. He discussed his strategy for overcoming a lack of creative flow in Vibe, Sometimes I get slowed down by writers block or visual block where I cant find the shot, he admitted. But I dont worry. Creativity is a mansion. If youre empty in one room, all you have to do is go out into the hallway and enter another room thats full.

After the release of Set It Off, Grays career itself began to resemble such a mansion. The Los Angeles Times deemed him a face to watch in 1997, and he discussed his options with the paper. Im not afraid of a big studio film; I trust my instincts, he insisted. But for me its not really about box office. Its about looking back on your work and not having to apologize for it. Im trying to keep my blinders on and continue to perfect what I do, because Im very young and I have a lot to learn. At the same time, Gray recognized that he brought something unique to the table. I think the movie audience is starving right now for new material and fresh ideas, he noted. In Detour, he described directing as a love it or leave it job, and confessed to feeling doubts at times. Sometimes you think, Am I out of my mind for doing this? he reflected. But then you sit back I just got back from the Boston Film Festival, and we had a standing ovation for [Set It Off ] you take really deep breath and you say, It was all worth it.

Sources

Detour, November 1996, p. 70.

High Times, June 1995.

Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1995, p. F2; April 23, 1996, p. F1; November 6, 1996, p. F1; January 5, 1997, (Calendar) pp. 6-7.

Newsday, November 3, 1996, p. C14.

The Source, January 1996, p. 27.

USA Today, August 21, 1996, p. 7D; November 6, 1996, p. 8D.

Vibe, September 1996.

Additional information was provided by publicity materials from Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, 1996.

Simon Glickman

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Gray, F. Gary

F. Gary Gray

Film, video producer

Video Triumphs Led to Film

Double-Edged Sword

Patience Pays Off

Opportunity and Creativity

Sources

Gray has the been the object of a fair amount of attention himself, having earned more awards than perhaps any other video director for his work with smash acts like TLC, Coolio, and Ice Cube, as well as hisfeature film work. Im single-minded, F. Gary Gray told Sourc. magazine. When Im working on a project all my attention is there. After breaking into music clips and making his way to the top of the video world, hedirected a funky, low-budget comedy that earned ten times what it cost to make; his next venture, an action drama, saw him enter the Hollywood mainstream. Yet he refused to allowhis newfound celebrity to change his focus. These people will put you on a pedestal, he said of filmdoms star-makers, and then knock your ass down.

F. Gary Gray was born in New York City, but did most of his growing up in South-Central Los Angeles. The lure of the street there was particularly strong, however, and during his teens he was sent to live in Highland Park, Illinois with his father. I went to a predominantly white, rich high school, he recollected in Source, adding that the resources at this midwestern institution were much better than anything I had ever seen. I knew I had to take advantage of this situation.

Taking advantage in this case meant exploring video, learning how to direct and edit programming for the schools cable-access TV station. He demonstrated considerable ambition in his chosen field, and upon graduating, he came back to Los Angeles. There he pursued college studies in film and television. From a young age, I knew I was going to be a filmmaker, he insisted in Source. He landed camera-operator jobs for various television programs, including Screen Sceneto. the Black Entertainment Network (BET) and Pump It U. for Fox. At the Fox network, more importantly, he met rappers W.C. and the Maad Circlewhich featured a then-unknown MC named Coolioand talked them into letting him direct their video. The first thing I did, he recalled, was use my directorsfee to shootthe video in 35 millimeter, like actual films are shot. The largerframe sizemost videos are shot in the smaller 16 millimeter formatfit Grays swelling ambitions.

Video Triumphs Led to Film

Fortunately, Gray had talent to match those ambitions, and word of his directorial skill spread to other acts. Soon, he found himself directing clips for Mary J. Blige, Coolio, TLC, Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, among others. The video for Ice Cubes It Was a Good Day was listed among Rolling Stones Top 100 Videos of All Time. Gray garnered multiple trophies at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, including four awards for the TLC clip Waterfallsincluding Video of the Yearand the Best Rap Video honor for Dr. Dres Keep Their Heads Ringin. By 1996, Grays video-related honors would include 16 awards and 23 nominations.

Due to the success of Ice Cubes It Was a Good Day, Gray earned his first opportunity to direct a feature film. Co-written by Cube, Fridayi. a broad comedy inspired by the pot-fueledantics of 1970s comedians like Cheech and Chong. The novice filmmaker was given a paltry $3 million budget to make it. Ive been doing videos for about four years now, and Ive been wanting to direct a feature since I was about 17, Gray told High Times magazine. I knew that I had to deliver something that was high-quality. There was a lot of pressure, because with making motional pictures, when youre a first-time filmmaker, if the dailies dont look good the first week, if the performances arent good the first week, the director gets fired.

Double-Edged Sword

Any concerns Gray may have had regarding his abilities were unfounded. His instincts allowed him to plan the shoot and still leave room for improvisation. Co-stars John Witherspoon and Chris Tucker, Gray told High Times, are so funny on the fly and right off the cuff that I didnt want to miss any of that, so I said, Stick to the

For the Record

Born c. 1969, New York, NY. Education: Attended Los Angeles City College and Golden State College.

Video and film director, c. 1990s. Worked as camera operator for BET and Fox television networks; directed music videos for W.C. and the Maad Circle, Coolio, TLC, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and others, c. 1992-96; directed feature films Friday. (1995) and Set It Of. (1996).

Awards: Best Rap Video and Best New Artist Rap Video for Coolios Fantastic Voyage, 1995 Billboard Music Video Awards; four awards, including Video of the Year for TLCs Waterfalls and Best Rap Video for Dr. Dres Keep Their Heads Ringin, 1995 MTV Music Vdeo Awards; numerous other video awards.

Addresses: Home Los Angeles, CA. Publicist Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, 9171 Wilshire Blvd., Penthouse Suite, Beverly Hills, CA 90210-5530.

script for the first two takes, and on the third take, do it how you want to do it. When I got to editing, I used most of the third takes because they were so funny, especially Chris facial expressions. Cube, meanwhile, has a lot of discipline, Gray reported. It helps me as a director for him to have that much discipline and be the star of the movie, he added, because if everybody wanted to run wild, then it would just be a big babysitting session and you lose a lot of time. Cube doesnt play that whole Im a star trip.

Fridayma. not have been a favorite with criticsTime. reviewer Peter Rainer was in the majority when he declared the film a scattershot jokefestbut its lean budget helped it go into the black quickly, and it eventually earned 10 times what it cost to make, and turned out to be one of the most profitable releases of 1995. These movies are a double edged sword, Gray reflected in the Los Angeles Times. Though any other comedy would have three timesthe budget andtwiceas long to shoot, I appreciated New Line [Pictures] giving me a shot. How often does anyone write a check like that to an unproven 23-year-old? Gray pointed out that after making such a splash directing rap and R&B videos, I was besieged by hip-hop offers. After Friday, he explained in Vibe, I didnt want to be pegged as an in-the-hood-type director. Its just too easy to get that title. He informed USA Todaytha. he was offered every regurgitated action comedy idea that Hollywood has done.

Instead, Gray took on a far more ambitious project: an urban heist thriller with four female protagonists. Though the hit film Waiting to Exhalehaú. demonstrated the box-office potential of black women, the edgy Set It Of. brought in action elements designed to woo male viewers. And, added Gray in Vibe, these women are just exhaling all over the place. Co-starring rapper and television star Queen Latifah and budding star Jada Pinkett, Set I. Off tells the story of a group of down-at-heels women who turn to armed robbery. Grays conception for the fi Im was, he asserted in Newsday, dramatic smart action. He had already used many of the elements of action filmmakingsuch as helicoptersin his videos, and wanted to reach beyond the usual trappings of the genre. I didnt want to use the action gratuitously because then it has no weight, he claimed. The sequences just become set pieces for action. Its notworth it. He had been looking, he said, for material with something for the emotions.

Patience Pays Off

In Set It Off, Gray found the right combination of elements. It takes a lot for me to get passionate about something, he told Thulani Davis of Newsday The film, he ventured in Detour, has always been in me. But it was definitely a leap. I would shoot for 14 hours, then I would watch dailies for two, then I would rewrite and workon the script for three hours. If I got five hours of sleep it was like heaven: usually it was two or three. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the film, Gray mused to Davis, was its female focus. Its a male-dominated industry, he averred. Stories are told from a male point of view. I wanted to create a womens perspective. He sat down with the cast members and talked about a range of issues; but he also took them to a firing range to make sure they looked natural using guns onscreen. I would also create special rehearsals, the filmmaker told Detour, normally, you go straight for the script, but when you have characters who have a history with each other, you have to create that feeling, and it has to be as genuine as possible. So for the first week, I would take the actors out for meals and movies to create a camaraderie that comes second-nature. The results, he added, were fantastic.

Critics didnt entirely agree, however. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times admired the productions style but complained of genre contrivances that are the obstacles to [the films] being taken seriously. The director received both praise and blame in Turans review. Though he is obviously talented, the critic wrote, Gray is also 26 years old, and Set It Of. is characterized by the youthful director tendency to be overambitious, to try to squeeze every possible movie moment into one finitefilm. USA Today. Susan Wloszczyna, meanwhilewhile admitting the film was more fun to watch than it has any right to benonetheless dubbed it overlong, overdone and overwrought. Gray, she continued, knows howto ignite high-octane action, but the dramatic passages drag like a rusted tailpipe.

Opportunity and Creativity

Although he hasnt dwelt on it much in interviews, Grays celebrity derives in part from his success in the mainstream as a black filmmaker. Yet he never claimed to have encountered adversity because of race. The strong battles, the battles that are historical for blacks in Hollywood, I havent experienced any of that, he pointed out in Newsday. Ive had the opportunity to make a film that I think is good. And in USA Today, Gray warned against pigeonholing audiences. I know a lot of people who enjoy rap music who arent black, he pointed out. You cant just say its black music. To segregate films the way Hollywood likes to segregate films, ultimately everyone loses. Grays assessment of the present-day situation in Hollywood was mixed. I can honestly say itschanging, he said. I can see my colleagues getting opportunities they didnt have even five years ago. In the same breath, it still needs more of a major change. I think ultimately blackf ilmmakers need more options and more supporteverything from getting the best material to getting the best financial support to make it right.

Gray shared a bit of his creative method with Detour. Budget constraints, he allowed, forced him to prioritize shots in order of importance. With that part of the process completed, Ill sit back with a cigar and some classical music, and read the scene, start to envision it, andwrite it down shot for shot, he explained. Sometimes you cant come up with a shot to save your life, and sometimes shots come so fast that you start misspelling words because youre writing so fast. He added that his visual sense compels him to put the camera where the story is, so I dissect a scene and think about it in the context of the whole movie and decide how Im going to cover it. He discussed his strategy for overcoming a lack of creative flow in Vibe, Sometimes I get slowed down by writers block or visual block where I cant find the shot, he admitted. But I dont worry. Creativity is a mansion. If youre empty in one room, all you have to do is go out into the hallway and enter another room thats full.

After the release of Set It Off, Grays career itself began to resemble such a mansion. The Los Angeles Times deemed him a face to watch in 1997, and he discussed his options with the paper. Im not afraid of a big studio film; I trust my instincts, he insisted. But for me its not really about box office. Its about looking back on your work and not having to apologize for it. Im trying to keep my blinders on and continue to perfect what I do, because Im very young and I have a lot to learn. At the same time, Gray recognized that he brought something unique to the table. I think the movie audience is starving right now for new material and fresh ideas, he noted. In Detour, he described directing as a love it or leave it job, and confessed to feeling doubts at times. Sometimes you think, Am I out of my mind for doing this? he reflected. But then you sit backI just got back from the Boston Film Festival, and we had a standing ovation for [Set It Off]. you take really deep breath and you say, It was all worth it.

Sources

Detour, November 1996, p. 70.

High Times, June 1995.

Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1995, p. F2; April 23, 1996, p. F1; November 6, 1996, p. F1; January 5, 1997, (Calendar) pp. 6-7.

Newsday, November 3, 1996, p. C14.

Source, January 1996, p. 27.

USA Today, August 21, 1996, p. 7D; November 6, 1996, p. 8D.

Vibe, September 1996.

Additional information was provided by publicity materials from Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, 1996.

Simon Glickman

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"Gray, F. Gary." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gray-f-gary

Gray, F. Gary

F. Gary Gray

1969

Film and video director

"I'm single-minded," F. Gary Gray told The Source magazine. "When I'm working on a project all my attention is there." Gray has the been the object of a fair amount of attention himself, having earned more awards than perhaps any other video director for his work with smash acts like TLC, Coolio, and Ice Cube, as well as his feature film work. After breaking into music clips and making his way to the top of the video world, he directed a funky, low-budget comedy that earned ten times what it cost to make; his next venture, an action drama, saw him enter the Hollywood mainstream. Yet he refused to allow his newfound celebrity to change his focus. "These people will put you on a pedestal," he said of filmdom's star-makers, "and then knock your ass down."

F. Gary Gray was born in New York City, but did most of his growing up in South-Central Los Angeles. The lure of the street there was particularly strong, however, and during his teens he was sent to live in Highland Park, Illinois, with his father. "I went to a predominantly white, rich high school," he recollected in The Source, adding that the resources at this Midwestern institution "were much better than anything I had ever seen. I knew I had to take advantage of this situation."

"Taking advantage" in this case meant exploring video, learning how to direct and edit programming for the school's cable-access TV station. He demonstrated considerable ambition in his chosen field, and upon graduating, he came back to Los Angeles. There he pursued college studies in film and television. "From a young age, I knew I was going to be a filmmaker," he insisted in The Source. He landed camera-operator jobs for various television programs, including Screen Scene for the Black Entertainment Network (BET) and Pump It Up for Fox. At the Fox network, more importantly, he met rappers W.C. and the Maad Circlewhich featured a then-unknown MC named Coolioand talked them into letting him direct their video. "The first thing I did," he recalled, "was use my director's fee to shoot the video in 35 millimeter, like actual films are shot." The larger frame sizemost videos are shot in the smaller 16 millimeter formatfit Gray's swelling ambitions.

Fortunately, Gray had talent to match those ambitions, and word of his directorial skill spread to other acts. Soon, he found himself directing clips for Mary J. Blige, Coolio, TLC, Ice Cube. and Dr. Dre, among others. The video for Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" was listed among Rolling Stone 's Top 100 Videos of All Time. Gray garnered multiple trophies at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, including four awards for the TLC clip "Waterfalls"including Video of the Yearand the Best Rap Video honor for Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'." A decade later, Gray's video-related honors had swelled to include more than four dozen awards and nominations.

Due to the success of Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day," Gray earned his first opportunity to direct a feature film. Co-written by Cube, Friday is a broad comedy inspired by the pot-fueled antics of 1970s comedians like Cheech and Chong. The novice filmmaker was given a paltry $3 million budget to make it. "I've been doing videos for about four years now, and I've been wanting to direct a feature since I was about 17," Gray told High Times magazine. "I knew that I had to deliver something that was high-quality. There was a lot of pressure, because with making motional pictures, when you're a first-time filmmaker, if the dailies don't look good the first week, if the performances aren't good the first week, the director gets fired."

Any concerns Gray may have had regarding his abilities were unfounded. His instincts allowed him to plan the shoot and still leave room for improvisation. Co-stars John Witherspoon and Chris Tucker, Gray told High Times, "are so funny on the fly and right off the cuff that I didn't want to miss any of that, so I said, 'Stick to the script for the first two takes, and on the third take, do it how you want to do it.' When I got to editing, I used most of the third takes because they were so funny, especially Chris' facial expressions." Cube, meanwhile, "has a lot of discipline," Gray reported. "It helps me as a director for him to have that much discipline and be the star of the movie," he added, "because if everybody wanted to run wild, then it would just be a big babysitting session and you lose a lot of time. Cube doesn't play that whole 'I'm a star' trip."

Friday may not have been a favorite with criticsTimes reviewer Peter Rainer was in the majority when he declared the film a "scattershot jokefest"but its lean budget helped it go into the black quickly, and it eventually earned ten times what it cost to make, and turned out to be one of the most profitable releases of 1995. "These movies are a double edged sword," Gray reflected in the Los Angeles Times. "Though any other comedy would have three times the budget and twice as long to shoot, I appreciated New Line [Pictures] giving me a shot. How often does anyone write a check like that to an unproven 23-year-old?" Gray pointed out that after making such a splash directing rap and R&B videos, "I was besieged by hip-hop offers." After Friday, he explained in Vibe, "I didn't want to be pegged as an in-the-hood-type director. It's just too easy to get that title." He informed USA Today that he "was offered every regurgitated action comedy idea that Hollywood has done."

Instead, Gray took on a far more ambitious project: an urban heist thriller with four female protagonists. Though the hit film Waiting to Exhale had demonstrated the box-office potential of black women, the edgy Set It Off brought in action elements designed to woo male viewers. And, added Gray in Vibe, "these women are just exhaling all over the place." Co-starring rapper and television star Queen Latifah and budding star Jada Pinkett, Set It Off tells the story of a group of down-at-heels women who turn to armed robbery. Gray's conception for the film was, he asserted in Newsday, "dramatic smart action." He had already used many of the elements of action filmmakingsuch as helicoptersin his videos, and wanted to reach beyond the usual trappings of the genre. "I didn't want to use the action gratuitously because then it has no weight," he claimed. "The sequences just become set pieces for action. It's not worth it." He had been looking, he said, for material with "something for the emotions."

At a Glance

Born in 1969(?) in New York, NY. Education: Attended L.A. City College and Golden State College.

Career: Video and film director, c. 1990s. BET and Fox television networks, camera operator, early 1990s.

Awards: Best Rap Video and Best New Artist Rap Video for Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage," 1995 Billboard Music Video Awards; four awards, including Video of the Year for TLC's "Waterfalls" and Best Rap Video for Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'," 1995 MTV Music Video Awards; African American Film Critics Association, special achievement award, 2003.

Addresses: Home Los Angeles, CA. Publicists Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, 9171 Wilshire Blvd., Penthouse Suite, Beverly Hills, CA 90210-5530.

In Set It Off, Gray found the right combination of elements. "It takes a lot for me to get passionate about something," he told Thulani Davis of Newsday. The film, he ventured in Detour, "has always been in me. But it was definitely a leap. I would shoot for 14 hours, then I would watch dailies for two, then I would rewrite and work on the script for three hours. If I got five hours of sleep it was like heaven: usually it was two or three." "Perhaps the biggest challenge of the film," Gray mused to Davis, was its female focus. "It's a male-dominated industry," he averred. "Stories are told from a male point of view. I wanted to create a women's perspective." He sat down with the cast members and talked about a range of issues; but he also took them to a firing range to make sure they looked natural using guns onscreen. "I would also create special rehearsals," the filmmaker told Detour. "Normally, you go straight for the script, but when you have characters who have a history with each other, you have to create that feeling, and it has to be as genuine as possible. So for the first week, I would take the actors out for meals and movies to create a camaraderie that comes second-nature." The results, he added, were "fantastic."

Critics didn't entirely agree, however. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times admired the production's style but complained of "genre contrivances that are the obstacles to [the film's] being taken seriously." The director received both praise and blame in Turan's review. "Though he is obviously talented," the critic wrote, "Gray is also 26 years old, and Set It Off is characterized by the youthful director tendency to be overambitious, to try to squeeze every possible movie moment into one finite film." USA Today 's Susan Wloszczyna, meanwhileadmitted that the film was "more fun to watch than it has any right to be"but, nonetheless dubbed it "overlong, overdone, and over-wrought." Gray, she continued, "knows how to ignite high-octane action, but the dramatic passages drag like a rusted tailpipe."

Although he hasn't dwelt on it much in interviews, Gray's celebrity derives in part from his success in the mainstream as a black filmmaker. Yet he never claimed to have encountered adversity because of race. "The strong battles, the battles that re historical for blacks in Hollywood, I haven't experienced any of that," he pointed out in Newsday. "I've had the opportunity to make a film that I think is good." And in USA Today, Gray warned against pigeonholing audiences. "I know a lot of people who enjoy rap music who aren't black," he pointed out. "You can't just say it's black music. To segregate films the way Hollywood likes to segregate films, ultimately everyone loses." Gray's assessment of the present-day situation in Hollywood was mixed. "I can honestly say it's changing," he said. "I can see my colleagues getting opportunities they didn't have even five years ago. In the same breath, it still needs more of a major change. I think ultimately black filmmakers need more options and more supporteverything from getting the best material to getting the best financial support to make it right."

Gray shared a bit of his creative method with Detour. Budget constraints, he allowed, forced him to "prioritize" shots in order of importance. With that part of the process completed, "I'll sit back with a cigar and some classical music, and read the scene, start to envision it, and write it down shot for shot," he explained. "Sometimes you can't come up with a shot to save your life, and sometimes shots come so fast that you start misspelling words because you're writing so fast." He added that his visual sense compels him to "put the camera where the story is, so I dissect a scene and think about it in the context of the whole movie and decide how I'm going to cover it." He discussed his strategy for overcoming a lack of creative flow in Vibe, "Sometimes I get slowed down by writer's block or visual block where I can't find the shot," he admitted. "But I don't worry. Creativity is a mansion. If you're empty in one room, all you have to do is go out into the hallway and enter another room that's full."

After the release of Set It Off, Gray's career itself began to resemble such a mansion. The Los Angeles Times deemed him a "face to watch in 1997," and he discussed his options with the paper. "I'm not afraid of a big studio film; I trust my instincts," he insisted. "But for me it's not really about the box office. It's about looking back on your work and not having to apologize for it. I'm trying to keep my blinders on and continue to perfect what I do, because I'm very young and I have a lot to learn." At the same time, Gray recognized that he brought something unique to the table. "I think the movie audience is starving right now for new material and fresh ideas," he noted. In Detour, he described directing as "a love it or leave it job," and confessed to feeling doubts at times. "Sometimes you think, Am I out of my mind for doing this?" he reflected. "But then you sit backI just got back from the Boston Film Festival, and we had a standing ovation for [Set It Off ]you take really deep breath and you say, 'It was all worth it.'"

Gray used his up-and-coming notoriety to land several more high-profile films. In 1998 he directed Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey in The Negotiator, a film about a standoff between two top police negotiators. Critic Roger Ebert praised Gray in the Chicago Sun Times, for directing one of the year's "most successful thrillers." He wrote that the film, which "essentially consists of two men talking to one anothercould have dragged." But "it doesn't" because "Gray makes us care about the characters , to get involved in the delicate process of negotiations." Although his direction of Vin Diesel in A Man Apart earned less praise, Gray rebounded in 2003 with a remake of Michael Caine's 1969 film, The Italian Job. In this story of a group of thieves who plot to steal back their money from another group of crooks, Gray's "direction never loses the dramatic thread in the slow scenes and never loses control in the chases," according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The African American Film Critics Association honored Gray for demonstrating "strong growth and a solid command of the filmmaking process" with a special achievement award, according to America's Intelligence Wire. Gray was planning to direct a sequel to The Italian Job as well as the sequel to Get Shorty in early 2005.

Selected works

Films

Friday, 1995.

Set It Off, 1996.

The Negotiator, 1998.

A Man Apart, 2002.

The Italian Job, 2003.

Sources

Periodicals

America's Intelligence Wire, December 23, 2003.

Chicago Sun Times, January 29, 1998.

Detour, November 1996, p. 70.

High Times, June 1995.

Los Angeles Times, April 26, 1995, p. F2; April 23, 1996, p. F1; November 6, 1996, p. F1; January 5, 1997, (Calendar) pp. 6-7.

Newsday, November 3, 1996, p. C14.

Rolling Stone, April 4, 2003.

San Francisco Chronicle, October 10, 2003.

The Source, January 1996, p. 27.

USA Today, August 21, 1996, p. 7D; November 6, 1996, p. 8D.

Vibe, September 1996.

Other

Additional information was obtained from publicity materials provided by Bragman Nyman Cafarelli, 1996.

Simon Glickman and

Sara Pendergast

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Gray, F. Gary 1969(?)– (F. Gary Gray Mashton)

GRAY, F. Gary 1969(?)
(F. Gary Gray Mashton)

PERSONAL

Full name, Felix Gary Gray; born 1969 (some sources cite 1970), in New York, NY; raised in South Central Los Angeles and Highland Park, near Chicago, IL; nephew of Phil Lewis (an actor). Education: Attended Los Angeles City College and Golden State College.

Addresses: Agent William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Publicist Bumble Ward and Associates, 8383 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 340, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

Career: Director, producer, and actor. Also worked as freelance news camera operator, camera operator for Black Entertainment Television and Fox television networks, and camera operator for cableaccess programs while in high school. Some work as camera operator is credited as F. Gary Gray Mashton.

Awards, Honors: Billboard Music Video awards, best rap video and best new artist rap video, and MTV Music Video Award, all 1995, for "Fantastic Voyage"; MTV Music Video Award, video of the year, and Image Award, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 1995, both for "Waterfall"; MTV Music Video Award, best rap video, 1995, for "Keep Their Heads Ringin'"; another MTV Music Video Award, 1995; Special Jury Prize, Cognac Film Festival, and Black Film Award nomination, best director, Acapulco Black Film Festival, both 1997, for Set It Off; Grammy Award nomination, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, 1997, for "How Come, How Long"; Black Film Award nomination, best director, Acapulco Black Film Festival, 1999, for The Negotiator; cited among Rolling Stone magazine's "Top 100 Videos of All Time," for "It Was a Good Day"; numerous other awards and nominations for his work on music videos.

CREDITS

Film Director:

Friday, New Line Cinema, 1995.

(And executive producer) Set It Off, New Line Cinema, 1996.

The Negotiator (also known as Verhandlungssache ), Warner Bros., 1998.

(And executive producer) A Man Apart, New Line Cinema, 2003.

The Italian Job (also known as Braquage a l'italienne ), Paramount, 2003.

Film Appearances:

Extra, Major League, 1989.

Black man at store, Friday, New Line Cinema, 1995.

(Uncredited) Lowrider driver, Set It Off, New Line Cinema, 1996.

Television Work; Series:

Executive producer, Ryan Caulfield: Year One, Fox, 1999.

Television Appearances; Specials:

Acapulco Black Film Festival, Black Starz!, 2000.

Interviewee, Making the Movie: The Italian Job, MTV, 2003.

RECORDINGS

Music Video Director:

Director of many music videos, including "Fantastic Voyage" by Coolio, "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" by Dr. Dre, "It Was a Good Day" by Ice Cube, "Miss Jackson" by Outkast, "Black Hand Slide" by Queen Latifah, "Turn Back the Hands of Time" by R. Kelly, "Diggin' on You" and "Waterfalls" by TLC, "I Believe in You and Me" by Whitney Houston, and "How Come, How Long" by Stevie Wonder, as well as music videos for Babyface, Mary J. Blige, Johnny Gill, Tone Loc, W C and the Maad Circle, and Barry White.

OTHER SOURCES

Periodicals:

Black Enterprise, December, 1996, p. 85.

Entertainment Weekly, November 15, 1996, p. 38; June 26, 1998, p. 24; August 7, 1998, p. 11; January 8, 1999, p. 14.

Hollywood Reporter, July 24, 1998, p. 12.

Jet, August 17, 1998, p. 65.

Premiere, October, 1998, pp. 8290.

Source, November, 1996, pp. 72, 74.

Variety, November 23, 1998, p. 7.

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"Gray, F. Gary 1969(?)– (F. Gary Gray Mashton)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Encyclopedia.com. 26 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Gray, F. Gary 1969(?)– (F. Gary Gray Mashton)." Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. . Retrieved July 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/gray-f-gary-1969-f-gary-gray-mashton