The Italian Job
“I don’t have a typical filmmaker background. I didn’t grow up with a super eight camera or a video camera. I didn’t start cutting movies when I was four or five. I actually didn’t really start to get into the research of film until I was much older. I decided I wanted to direct a lot earlier than I started to do the research, which is really strange, but it is the case.” F. Gary Gray
One of the generation of filmmakers who crossed over from the world of music videos, F. Gary Gray has proven himself to be among the most creative, inventive and commercially flourishing of the crop. The African-American director made first impression with 1996’s Set it Off, which was a critically and commercially successful, and picked up an Acapulco Black Film Festival Award and a Cognac Film Festival Award for his bright work in the film. His rising profile was further confirmed with Gray’s directions of 1998’s The Negotiator (earned an Acapulco Black Film Festival Award), 2003’s The Italian Job (netted an American Black Film Festival Award and a Black Reel Award) and 2005’s Be Cool (received a BET Comedy and a Black Movie nominations).
In between movies, Gray continues to helm music videos. He has directed more than thirty music videos for popular musical artists like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, TLC, Coolio and Whitney Houston, and won several awards for his video work, including a 1995 MTV Music Video Award and Billboard Music Awards.
“Video is a playground for me. As a director of motion pictures, you can go two years without making a movie. You don’t want to get rusty.” F. Gary Gray
Romantically speaking, Gray was engaged to Elise Neal in the summer of 1999.
F for Felix
Childhood and Family:
Felix Gary Gray, who would later be popular as F. Gary Gray, was born on July 17, 1969, in New York, New York, but raised in South Central Los Angeles. He went on to live with his father in the Chicago area when Felix was in high school. Moving back to L.A, he attended California’s Golden State College, studying film and television.
Set It Off
New York-born, Los Angeles-raised F. Gary Gray became engaged with working behind the camera at a local cable public access channel while still in high school. After studying film and TV in college, he worked for a while as a cameraman for programs produced in L.A for such companies as Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Fox network’s rap video show Pump it Up. Gray moved on to direct music video for the hip-hop group WC and the Maad Circle, whom he met while on set of Pump it Up, and was quickly became an in-demand music video director, thanks to his affiliation with artists like Ice Cube, Johnny Gill, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Tone Loc, OutKast and Whitney Houston. Gray’s direction of TLC’s “Waterfalls” even won him a 1995 MTV Music Video for Best Video of the Year, and his work in Coolio’s “Fantastic Voyage” nabbed two Billboard Music for Best Rap Video and Best New Artist Video.
After the 1992 successful music video “It Was a Good Day,” which was named one of Rolling Stone magazine’s Top 100 Best Videos of All Time, Gray reunited with Ice Cube for the comedy film Friday (1995), co-written by and starring the rapper. The film’s budget was only $2 million, but made back around $30 million at the box office. His big break, however, arrived a year later when he helmed Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah in Set it Off. Made only $9 million, the film grossed more than $40 million, becoming New Line’s highest grossing movie of the year. Not only well-liked by the public, the action/thriller was a critical sensation, earning Gray an Acapulco Black Film Festival for Best Director and a Special Jury Prize at the Cognac Film Festival.
Gray received an Acapulco Black Film Festival for Best Director for his effort in The Negotiator (1998), a big budget actioner starring Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Spacey, and tried his hand in television as executive producer and director for the Fox short-lived drama series “Ryan Caulfield: Year One”(1999), about a teen undercover police. He went on to direct music videos like R. Kelly’s “f I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time,” OutKast’s ‘Ms. Jackson” (2000), Cypress Hill’s “When The Ship Goes Down” and “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That” (both 2001) and Babyface’s “How Come, How Long” (also 2001).
Returning to film, Gray directed the action flick A Man Apart (2003), starring Vin Diesel, and scored his next success with the well-received The Italian Job (2003), a remake of the very booming 1969 British heist caper. He took home an American Black Film Festival and a Black Reel for Best Director for his work in latter. In 2005, Gray helmed Be Cool, the Get Shorty installment starring John Travolta and Uma Thurman. For his work in the movie, he nabbed a Black Movie nod for Outstanding Achievement in Directing and a BET Comedy for Outstanding Directing for a Theatrical Film.
Gray is scheduled to return to the director’s chair for 2008’s crime/thriller The Brazilian Job, the sequel to The Italian Job starring Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron.