Welcome to the Team, Vincent Singleton!
By Genevieve Buthod
In the “Welcome to the Team” series, we interview newly hired faculty and staff members at the School of Communication. This edition features Vincent Singleton, who has recently accepted an appointment as Full-time Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Film and Digital Media. While working in academia, he has remained an active member of the Chicago film community winning an HBO/Kodak Film Award, screening in notable festivals including Palm Springs and Chicago Black Harvest. His short films have aired on the nationally syndicated "African-American Short Films" program, produced by Badami TV.
What first made you interested in joining the School of Communication at Loyola University Chicago?
I think what drew me to Loyola was Dr. Elizabeth Coffman. She was very adamant about expanding the program and I’d previously done work with the Hank Center for Catholic Intellectual Heritage over the years. The connection was already there, I understood the culture and the environment, and I wanted to be a part of it. Now that I’m a full-time faculty member, I’m looking forward to being able to dedicate my time and efforts to my teaching and my research. Before, I had a pretty high teaching load as an adjunct. I was working at multiple schools. Now that I’m a full-time faculty member just at Loyola, I can just focus my attention all in one area.
What initially drew you to filmmaking? Was it a life-long dream?
I got into filmmaking during my time as an undergraduate student. I saw how it could be a major agent for change. When I was in undergrad at Knox College, we were able to create a class. I helped create a filmmaking class. They needed a director and I said I would do it. We created a documentary about social dynamics at the college; about how there was so much diversity but not a lot of interaction. After that, I saw behavior actually start to change on campus as soon as we showed it. I was hooked. I went on to Columbia College where I earned my Masters of Fine Arts in filmmaking. The visual medium is one of the most influential because it happens right in your head. I also studied psychology, and I found that that worked pretty well with filmmaking.
You seem to have a wide range of teaching experience. You’ve taught at more traditional liberal arts schools like Columbia College Chicago and Loyola University Chicago, but also at more specialized places like the Second City Film School, formerly the Harold Ramis Film School. Can you tell me about the differences in teaching at these different kinds of institutions? Does it affect your approach to teaching, and if so, how?
My approach to teaching is very practical. I always want the things that I’m teaching in the classroom to be immediately applicable to the industry. If I’m at the Second City Film School, where we’re developing students’ comedic voices, my role is always to enhance the students’ ability to bring what’s in their heads into fruition. I’m always geared towards preparing students to become working professionals. At the same time, I’m making sure they understand the responsibility that comes with filmmaking because of how visual the medium is.
I loved the section of your website where you outline your philosophies. In your teaching philosophy section, you say, “Perception shapes reality. The visual medium is a powerful tool in shaping perception.” Can you talk more about this? Why do you feel this is true, and what do you understand to be your responsibility to your students, given this truth?
I think that perception shapes reality. The things that we see and experience dictate what we believe our reality is. What we see, and what we receive through the medium of film, visually, we are immediately influenced. Behavior starts with thought. I ask my students, “Where do movies happen?” They say on their TVs, on their tablets. But in reality, films take place in your brain. If you have the ability to directly interact with people’s brains, you can adjust behavior and hopefully get an outcome that you desire. I’ve had conversations with people who say they don’t want to do something with a message. But I would stress to them that regardless of what you put out there, it’s going to be interpreted, so it’s important to be aware of the message that you’re putting out there. You might think it’s funny, but it could be received in a very damaging or negative way. Finding that control over the medium, that sense of purpose and direction of your work, is part of the responsibility of this pretty fun activity which is filmmaking.
What do you do if people interpret it differently than you anticipate?
You might think that you’re saying one thing, but someone else could interpret it a totally different way. The more skillful you are, the more experienced you are, the better you are able to hopefully present a clear idea that isn’t misinterpreted. That’s part of the reason we need to do multiple iterations of something, we need to practice. All you can do is at least put in the effort and be conscious of the decisions that you’re making.
What do you see as the balance between the responsibility of the viewer versus the responsibility of the creator?
I don’t believe that you can 100% control anybody else’s interpretation. You should be open to objectively assessing the work that you put out there. And hopefully people will understand it. One thing that I have noticed, though, is that presenting information in a particular way is more persuasive and clear than some other ways. It’s almost like a five-paragraph paper. A strong opening statement that gets attention, followed by support, thesis, and repetition. That’s one way to try to make things clear and logical. But logic isn’t always the determining factor when it comes to interpretation. You can move people on an emotional level. But you still have the frontal cortex saying whatever it wants to say because of people’s firmly held beliefs.
Your website also summarizes your directing philosophy as, “Convey a unified vision to the cast and crew. Lead by serving others.” How do you see this connecting to Loyola University Chicago’s Ignatian ideal of cura personalis, or “being a person for others?”
I definitely see a connection between those two ideas. The idea of leading by serving others has to do with hopefully being a vessel to help causes, ideas, and people execute at their highest levels. As a director, it’s not necessarily about my vision. It’s about sharing my vision and giving to the cast and crew what they need to do the job at their own highest levels. I got that idea from my mother, who was a township supervisor. All the things she did were in service to the township. It really embedded in me the importance of a selfless kind of leadership. When you do that, you allow yourself to acknowledge the fullness of another person. They’re not just there to serve you.
Your short film, “The Porter,” about the multi-generational dream of home ownership for a Black family, won the HBO/Kodak Chase Legacy Film Challenge Award. Can you tell me more about what inspired you to create this film? How did it feel to be recognized for your work?
Whenever I create work, I always want to do something that is socially conscious and acknowledges underrepresented communities as well. I had actually moved to the Pullman neighborhood and I was really fascinated by the history of how the place was built and run. But I was also interested in how it was foundational to the development of the Black middle class. When I was given this opportunity, I was granted the funds to make the film, and entered the competition as a finalist. In terms of the film itself, all the things that I had experienced as a new father, being newly married, it felt sort of natural as it came out of me. One thing that I was trying to do was to address the general through the specific. I was really trying to develop the characters and show how the conflicts that they each overcome work together as a gestalt, a mosaic of what this community might have been. I think the competition was pretty solid. Being flown out to HBO headquarters and winning the award felt good, it felt like that story was being unearthed a little bit. It’s about being socially conscious and aware of the landscape of possibility, and also our responsibility to reflect these more hidden stories.
Can you tell me more about your company, Film Collective Productions? Is that something you manage entirely independently, or do you have others contributing? Do you produce other people’s independent films through the company?
It started out as a collective, and evolved into simply the entity that I use to produce my products. It gives me a legal and financial structure to do things like accept funds, contract with payroll, and be covered with insurance. It’s pretty much the operating entity. For a few years there, we did have multiple partners and a physical location over on 18th Street and Halsted, but then they sold the building and I opted to stay remote. Everything was remote and virtual by then anyway. We’ve done some documentaries as well as a couple of commercials. Mostly it’s for my things, but sometimes when different producers in town need specific services, like assistance with insurance, I will enlist a team of freelancers and we help them with that together.
Can you tell me about what you are working on now, be it research or preparing for classes this academic year?
The biggest project now is a feature film that I’m in development with called, “Survivor, Soldier, Sinner, Savior.” It’s a script that my brother wrote. He’s a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. He wrote a script that talks about the hidden scars of trauma and how people overcome them. I’m very excited about it. It should be a really good story. Hopefully we’ll go into production in June 2023, but right now we’re in pre-production, still trying to attach some actors and get crew members together. And of course, always fundraising. Trying to secure funds for independent projects is a very hands-on activity.
What can students expect from your classes this year?
This semester, I’m teaching Cinematography One, also called COMM 232. It used to be Advanced Digital Production, which focused on everything. The update that I’ve been able to coordinate is that it’s a lot more focused on the cinematography aspect. Now, with my focus being to enhance the visual stamp of Loyola on the films that our students put out, the Cinematography One and Two (in the spring semester) will help students hone their craft and making sure that the students have a command over the image. A lot of filmmaking is being able to capture an idea appropriately. If you’ve got an idea, but you aren’t technically proficient enough to make the idea in your head a reality, that’s where a lot of otherwise-good films can struggle.
The other class I’m teaching is Producing. The way that I’m approaching this class is to actually dive 100% into what a film producer does. I feel sometimes people are a little unaware of what a producer does and they confuse it with a production manager, or even an executive producer, which are different roles. I’d like to ensure that students who go through this class are aware of the entrepreneurial aspect of producing as well as the managerial aspects: organizing, executing. The goal is to add to the Chicago pool of producers. I want to give students the ability to produce at a higher level. I want to make sure my students understand this role and demonstrate it. They should be able to bring a project from idea to conclusion. I lecture, but I also like to do hands-on activities. I try to activate different modes of learning. It’s listed as a lecture class, but there’s a an active component to it as well.
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you would like to talk about before we end today?
One of my goals is to strengthen the connection between the Chicago film industry and Loyola University Chicago. I want to put our students into positions that allow them to interact with industry professionals, so that once they graduate, they can seamlessly transition into being working professionals themselves. They would be known among the industry, or they would know who to reach out to, so they wouldn’t be coming in as complete outsiders. One of the program goals is to engage and activate more of the alumni who have gone through the program, and I’d like to tap those resources and connect them with current students. I think that’s a positive direction.