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Singer, Bryan (b. 1965)  
 
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Singer at the University of Southern California

For two years after graduating from high school, Singer took classes at the New York School of Visual Arts while he repeatedly applied to the Film Production program at the University of Southern California (USC). Realizing that he probably would never be accepted by the Production Division, he finally applied to and was accepted by the Critical Studies program of the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Majoring in film history, he completed his B.A. there in 1989.

While at USC, he not only continued to make his own films, but he also assisted Film Production majors on their projects. In the process, he developed friendships with other openly gay men, including composer and film editor John Ottman, who remains one of his closest personal and professional associates. Singer met Ottman in 1987, while working as Production Assistant on Summer Rain, the thesis film by Howard Slavitt, who won the student Academy Award for this endeavor.

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In 1988, Singer and Ottman initiated their professional collaboration by making Lion's Den, a short film (25 minutes) about five high school friends who realize that they no longer have much in common when they get together after their first semester of college. As a favor to his childhood friend, Ethan Hawke agreed to star in the film, even though he already was acting in major studio films. Co-directing the film with Singer, Ottman edited it on equipment that he had assembled in his apartment.

Shown in December at a charity event sponsored by the Directors Guild, the Lion's Den attracted favorable critical response. Among those in attendance at this screening was John Johnson, an American representative of Tokoma, a prominent Japanese manufacturing corporation. Immediately struck by the artistic potential revealed by Lion's Den, Johnson helped Singer secure funding from Cinema Beam, a program established by Tokoma to enable emerging international directors to create full-length movies.

Public Access

With a budget of $250,000 provided by Cinema Beam, Singer produced and directed Public Access, released in 1993. In developing the script, Singer collaborated with his childhood friend McQuarrie and with Michael Feit Dougan, a recent graduate of the USC School of Cinema.

Ottman assumed the responsibilities of both editor and composer when the individuals originally hired for these positions unexpectedly left the project. Ottman has worked as both editor and composer on many of Singer's subsequent films, including Usual Suspects, X-2, and Superman Returns.

Public Access is imbued with many of the themes that distinguish Singer's later work, including the pervasiveness of evil and the complexity of identity. The plot concerns Wally Pritcher, a young man who takes up residence in a seemingly tranquil suburban community. Initially, Pritcher seems to be a well intentioned, but ineffectual man--rather like Clark Kent, as portrayed in Singer's later Superman Returns. However, Pritcher soon emerges as a more complex and menacing character.

On the call-in show that he establishes on the local public access channel, Pritcher encourages viewers to make accusations against one another. As discord between residents develops, increasingly severe acts of violence engulf the community, which is on the verge of disintegration by the end of the film. Characteristically, Singer leaves Pritcher's motivations unclear, and one might even wonder if Pritcher had any responsibility for the chaos that engulfs the town.

Public Access was received enthusiastically at the 1993 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded the Grand Jury Prize for a Dramatic Feature. In the same year, Singer's film also won the Critics Award at the Deauville [France] Film Festival. However, mainstream American critics dismissed Singer's chilling depiction of life in a seemingly typical American small town as overly dark and cynical. Public Access was never distributed commercially in the United States, although it had a theatrical release in Europe.

The Usual Suspects

Elated by the enthusiastic reception of Public Access at Sundance, Singer and McQuarrie began planning their next project while still at the festival. Inspired by the title of a magazine article he had recently seen, McQuarrie told a reporter who inquired about their future plans that their next movie would be "called The Usual Suspects, so I guess it's about a bunch of criminals who meet in a police lineup."

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