Director, producer, and screenwriter
Born Bryan Jay Singer, September 17, 1965, in New York, NY; son of Norbert (a businessman) and Grace (an environmental activist) Singer. Education: Graduated from the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television, 1989.
Addresses: Agent—William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Office—Bad Hat Harry Productions, Inc., 150 South Rodeo Dr., 3rd Fl., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.
Film work includes: director, Lion's Den (short), 1988; director, executive producer, and screenwriter, Public Access, 1993; director and producer, The Usual Suspects, 1995; executive producer, Burn, 1998; director and producer, Apt Pupil, 1998; director, X-Men, 2000; director and executive producer, X2: X-Men United, 2003; director and producer, Superman Returns, 2006. Television work includes: director, House (pilot), FOX, 2004; executive producer, House, FOX, 2004–07; director, "Occam's Razor" episode, House, FOX, 2004; executive producer, The Triangle (miniseries), 2005.
Awards: Critics Award, Deauville Film Festival, for Public Access, 1993; Grand Jury Prize—Dramatic, Sundance Film Festival, for Public Access, 1993; Golden Space Needle Award for best director, for The Usual Suspects, 1995; Silver Award, Tokyo International Film Festival, for The Usual Suspects, 1995; Empire Award for best debut, for The Usual Suspects, 1996; best film (with Michael McDonnell), British Academy of Film and Television Arts, for The Usual Suspects, 1996; Readers' Choice Award for best foreign language films, Kinema Junpo Awards, for The Usual Suspects, 1997; Saturn Award for best director, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, for X-Men, 2001; Empire Award for best director, for X-Men, 2001.
Filmmaker Bryan Singer is best known for his work on the cult hit film The Usual Suspects, and three major Hollywood productions based on comic books, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, and Superman Returns. A true student of film, Singer loves the cinema and has a profound understanding of its language. As a director, Singer also brought enthusiasm to his projects. Actor Kevin Pollak, who appeared in The Usual Suspects, told Bob Strauss of the Chicago Sun-Times, "This guy is the real thing: He's got vision, style, and perfect teeth."
Born 1965 in New York, New York, Singer is the adopted son and only child of Norbert and Grace Singer. His father was a businessman while his mother was an environmental activist who later worked for the state of New Jersey's environmental protection department. Raised in Princeton Junction, New Jersey, Singer experienced upheaval in his life at age 12 when his parents divorced. Not really popular at school as a kid, Singer was the target of bullying by both boys and girls, but admitted he was different than most other children. He told Charlotte O'Sullivan of the Independent, "The important thing to remember is that I was a really annoying kid."
The young Singer was initially interested in still photography, but his interests soon turned to filmmaking. When he was 12 years old, he visited a friend in Atlanta, Georgia, who had an 8-millimeter camera. Together they made a movie, The Star Trek Murders. Though his friend was ostensibly the director, the young Singer dominated every aspect of the production. Back home, Singer and his friend Christopher McQuarrie made 8-millimeter and Super 8 movies together with others in their circle of friends. The star of one film was their friend Ethan Hawke, who later became a famous film actor. By the age of 16, Singer decided that he wanted a career making films; seeing Steven Spielberg's E.T. helped him believe he could do it.
After attending the School of Visual Arts in New York City for a brief period of time, Singer entered the University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinema-Television. He was rejected for USC's film school proper, but did not resent the snub since focusing on critical studies furthered his career. He told Jeff Strickler of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, "It was better for me because it involves the study of film theory and criticism. It meant that I got to see tons of great films." Singer graduated from USC in 1989.
While a student, Singer made a short film entitled The Lion's Den for $15,000, starring Hawke. It was shown at a workshop at the Director's Guild of America, which led to $250,000 in financing from a Japanese company, Tokuma, for his first feature. Singer's debut feature directorial effort was released in 1993. He also produced it and wrote the script with childhood friend McQuarrie and Michael Felt Dugan. The morality thriller was entitled Public Access and won a grand jury prize at Sundance.
The crime film focuses on a wicked, conniving man, Whiley Pritcher (played by Ron Marquette), who arrives in a small American town named Brewster. Pritcher begins to host a phone-in cable television show which he uses to seduce and manipulate the previously ideal community by asking the question, "What's wrong with Brewster?" Using the cloak of anonymity, neighbors complain about each other, while Pritcher advances his own agenda. The idyllic Brewster is torn apart.
Some critics called Public Access a mix of David Lynch's film Blue Velvet combined with Thorton Wilder's classic play Our Town. Reviewing Public Access for the Boston Globe, Matthew Gilbert found much to like, commenting, "Even when the plot of Public Access goes nowhere particularly fresh, the camera work is artful and precise, the scenes are well acted, and the creepy atmosphere is as engaging as it is enigmatic."
After Public Access made the rounds of the festival circuit without securing a theatrical release, Hollywood studios offered Singer numerous large budget productions. Instead, Singer chose to continue making small films his way for a time. His next project came from an idea he developed with McQuarrie while waiting in a line at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival. However, many studios were not interested in financing what became an international hit.
In 1995, Singer released his clever, puzzle-like caper film The Usual Suspects, which he directed and produced. McQuarrie, who had previously worked as a detective, wrote the script. While ostensibly about heists committed by five interesting underworld types brought together for the jobs, at the heart of the complex film is figuring out the identity of a criminal mastermind, Keyser Soze, who has been running the show. Full of clever dialogue, deft plot twists, and sometimes confusing movements in time, The Usual Suspects was more than just another heist flick; it was a film that critics compared to classic crime films of the 1950s. Popular with critics, who compared Singer to Spielberg and John Huston, the film was also a hit with audiences. It moved from the art house circuit to mainstream movie theaters within a few weeks of release, even though it only had a budget of $6 million and was shot in 35 days, brief by feature standards.
While Singer and The Usual Suspects were often compared to another up-and-coming filmmaker with a crafty crime drama—Quentin Tarantino and his Reservoir Dogs—the young director explained that there was a logic behind his making two such cheap crime movies. He told Strauss of the Chicago Sun-Times, "It's a low-budget way to make a marketable film. That's why young directors are attracted to crime dramas…. Writing meaty dialogue is cheap, and actors want to have neat things to say and do, so you can get a bunch of really good, talented actors to work well below their established prices. And once you've got those fine actors, you can get a distribution deal and somebody will finance your movie."
For Singer's next project, the director continued to walk outside of the mainstream of Hollywood. Released in 1998, Apt Pupil was based on a novella by popular horror novelist Stephen King which Singer had first read in high school. With a script written by his childhood friend Brandon Boyce, the controversial plot focuses on Todd, an intelligent teenager from California played by Brad Renfro, who is keenly interested in the Nazis and the Holocaust, but not as a skinhead wannabe or white supremacist. Todd finds that a former Nazi war criminal, Kurt Dussander (played by Ian McKellen), lives in his community under an assumed name. The high school student becomes obsessed with him and uses blackmail to force the elder man to tell him what he knows about Holocaust atrocities. While the older man is being blackmailed, he plays power games with his young blackmailer, who torments him in turn. With the film, Singer helped show how evil perpetuates evil.
Because Apt Pupil touches on Nazi themes and features Nazi uniforms and goose-stepping, it touched nerves, especially in Europe. Singer defended his film, telling Bruce Kirkland of the Toronto Sun, "The film does not preach hate. It does not preach violence. It does not preach bigotry. It does not preach maliciousness. With that said, if it sparks controversy and great conversation and discourse beyond the theatre experience, then I'm really proud!" While King was enthusiastic about the film adaptation of his novella, audiences and critics did not share his fervor for the film; it was a box office failure.
After Apt Pupil, which only had a budget of $14 million, Singer took on a more big budget, mainstream project. He helmed the film adaptation of the popular Marvel comic book series X-Men. Singer's film was made on a budget of $75-80 million and released in the summer of 2000. While based on comic books, a literary genre Singer admitted he did not embrace even as a child, he believed X-Men touched on very deep themes and like his earlier films, emphasized outsiders. He told Chris Garcia of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution "It's all about the disenfranchised, people who are looking for an identity, a place in the world, and are trying to find it amidst prejudice. I think it's an important concept, yet it's presented in a comic book universe, which allows it to reach so many young people, and that's a key audience for that kind of ideology."
A futuristic sci fi drama, X-Men focuses on tensions between mutants—people born with superhero-type skills—who are considered outcasts in the human world. They reluctantly act to protect the world using the very powers they are despised for having. At the center of the film is a secret academy which teaches young mutants how to best use their skills, run by Professor Charles Xavier (played by Patrick Stewart) and with classes taught by adult mutants. There is also tension between mutant leaders. Magneto (played by McKellen) believes that mutants will never be accepted by humans and acts out with violence to put humans in their place. Xavier continues to work for acceptance from humans. The film was a huge box office smash which grossed $295 million worldwide.
Singer returned to direct the X-Men sequel. Released in 2003, X2: X-Men United had a bigger budget ($120 million) and bigger expectations. The plot focused on a new threat to mutants as a powerful mutant hater, General William Stryker (Brian Cox) uses his influence to try and destroy them. Singer also continues the personal sagas of individual and groups of mutants as in the first film, including quests for personal understanding and a continuing emphasis on the concept of tolerance. While following a film like X-Men with a sequel can be a recipe for disaster, Singer received positive responses from both critics and audiences for his next chapter in the X-Men series. The film opened worldwide on the same day: May 2, 2003. Reviewing the film, Joe Baltake of the Sacramento Bee commented "X-2: X-Men United continues in the impressive tradition of the first film in that it is both simple and complicated—simple in the way its plot deals with the usual action narrative of good vs. evil, and complicated by the cerebral elements and shaded empathy brought to the plotting by Singer…."
X-Men fans were disappointed when Singer bowed out of directing the next installment of the series to direct a new version of the Superman story. Superman Returns, released in the summer of 2006, was Singer's own take on the comic superhero. Among his changes to the story was making Superman's paramour, Lois Lane (played by Kate Bosworth), a Pulitzer Prize-winning single mother to a five-year-old son. She won the award during a five-year period when Superman/Clark Kent (played by Brandon Routh) was gone, having traveled to Krypton. Set in the present, Superman Returns explores the intersecting lives of Superman as he reclaims his place in the world while his arch nemesis, Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), makes evil plans. Critics were generally dismissive of the film, which cost more than $200 million to make but only earned about $390 million worldwide. Despite this fact, Singer signed on to direct another Superman film, expected in 2009.
Singer remained confident in his abilities as a filmmaker no matter how his films were received. He told Bernard Weinraub of the New York Times, "You have to anticipate failure with each film you do. But whatever happens, I know I care deeply about each movie I do…. I feel confident weathering the successes, and I feel confident weathering the failures. I do my very best. Give it my all. That's all I can possibly do."
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, October 23, 1998, p. 11P.
Boston Globe, January 12, 1996, p. 31.
Boston Herald, October 18, 1998, p. 78.
Chicago Sun-Times, August 13, 1995, p. 8.
Gazette (Montreal, Canada), April 30, 2003, p. D6.
Globe and Mail (Canada), September 21, 1995; August 21, 2006, p. R5.
Guardian Unlimited, October 31, 2006.
Independent (London, England), August 18, 2000, p. 11.
Newsweek, April 28, 2003, pp. 59-60.
New York Times, July 9, 2000, sec. 2, p. 9; June 27, 2006, p. E1.
Oregonian (Portland, OR), March 29, 1996, p. 27.
Ottawa Citizen, September 15, 1995, p. C14.
Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), October 22, 1998, p. 2E.
Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO), June 28, 2006, p. 14D.
Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, CA), May 2, 2003, p. TK21.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), September 3, 1995, p. 9F.
Toronto Star, January 23, 1998, p. C6; October 23, 1998, p. D6.
Toronto Sun, October 14, 1998, p. 68; June 25, 2006, p. S12.
Washington Post, August 18, 1995, p. G1.
"Bryan Singer," Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001741/ (February 6, 2007).