Detroiter Joe Doughrity rises from set of Boyz n the Hood to Hollywood power player

irector Joe Doughrity’s 2011 film, CornerStore, a feature-length film set on Detroit’s west side, told the coming-of-age story of a young man who was unclear about his future and the future of his beloved Detroit.  But before stepping behind the camera, he got his feet wet in filmmaking working as a production assistant alongside John Singleton, first getting his break on the 1991 classic Boyz n the Hood. As Hood marks 25 years since its theatrical debut, we talk to Doughrity about being part of Black film history, what he learned from Singleton and how it influenced his career and his life.   

How did you come to get involved with Boyz n the Hood?

I used to read the The Village Voice. Before there was The Source magazine there was Nelson George’s weekly “Native Son” column (in the Voice) that covered hip-hop. He wrote a series of columns about Los Angeles, and one of them was about this kid John Singleton about to do a film called Boyz n the Hood. At the time, I was working as a temp at an ad agency and in film school. My co-worker had gone to the University of Southern California (John Singleton’s alma mater) and after I showed him the article, he came to work the next day with John Singleton’s mom’s address he’d gotten from the USC student directory. So I wrote a letter and I said, “Hey, I heard you’re making a film and I want to be involved.” The letter got to John and his assistant called me in for an interview at the Marla Gibbs CrossRoads Academy in Leimert Park in Los Angeles. The position was for a production assistant’s job. 

When I got inside the production office, “Brothers Gonna Work It Out” by Public Enemy was blaring on repeat from the speakers. They said that John was busy and I waited with this music blaring from the speakers – a song that I was loving at the time, too! When I go upstairs, there were all these white people sitting there on couches, Black exec Stephanie Allain and this one lone young Black kid – Singleton – that looks at me and we laughed. He said I was hired, right there on the spot without asking me a single question.  We had been running into each other over the last year at Golden Apple Comics on Melrose on Comic Book Day, and at the NuArt theater in Santa Monica where we would be the only two Black guys there for Akira Kurosawa films, and we’d give each other the head nod brothers do. John knew I was passionate about comics and film like him, and not just trying to get a job.  I was the youngest person on the set as the director’s PA. I dropped out of film school to join the making of an actual Hollywood film.

What was your experience?

It was an education for me. It demystified the process of filmmaking. This was a real, movie; a real film that had to get made on a 35-day schedule. Before I had worked on music videos as a PA or in the grip department for a few days here and there, but this was a real film I was there for from beginning to end. Larry Fishburne – back then he was Larry, now it’s Lawrence. I knew who he was from (the film) Cornbread, Earl and Me, I’d seen at the Mercury on Six Mile and Schaefer. I knew him from School Daze and Apocalypse Now

Boyz n the Hood was four weeks of preproduction, six weeks of production and another three months for post-production. It was six months of my life and it changed my life.

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Years later, what does it mean to you?

It means that I’m part of history. It validated my decision to be a filmmaker to a degree. After I graduated from Cass Tech, I made the decision to move to L.A. and start work in the movie business. [Working on Boyz in the Hood] validated my own journey, which led to me to work with John for the next ten years on films like Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, Rosewood and our movie version of Luke Cage, which was never made – caught in development hell. I was a part of Black film history and it means that I’m part of film history. It changed life for me, but also lots of other people.

What would we be surprised to know about production?

People would be surprised to know how Black the entire production crew was. Everyone from the hair stylists, wardrobe, props and craft services had black personnel and department heads. If the department head wasn’t black, John made sure there was a black person represented in the department even if they were just an intern. People don’t realize how many people John got into the craft unions – at least a dozen people are still working today. For example: Detroiters Daryyle Johnson, a leading Costume Designer, Brian Bellemy, an art director and production designer. People will be surprised to know about that Detroit connection, and even Nia Long has family from Detroit. When Ice Cube wears that D hat, there’s a lot more behind that. John went to college with kids from Cass Tech who had come out to attend USC.

What were some things that happened on set that stood out?

It was special to see John shooting in the neighborhood that he grew up in. I had that same experience when I did CornerStore in Detroit along McNichols. My film didn’t have the baller budget, but it had the same feeling. We had some interesting problems with gangs and getting locations [on Boyz n the Hood]. The scene when Ice Cube shoots the gang members that shot his brother was supposed to be in another location, but we couldn’t get permission from the gangs to shoot in the jungle. Earl West, a Flint native, was one of the location. He was a pretty tough guy that has graduated Michigan State and had an in with those locations and could negotiate these deals and things with these gangs. We knew that we were making something special.  We just didn’t know how special.

What are you doing now?

Right now, I am releasing my film CornerStore in July on Amazon Prime and VHX.com. Finally, after years of delays because of music rights, the movie with the Detroit cult following and 14-week release in the Summer of 2011 is coming out. I’m also actively working to get another Detroit project off the ground while working at one of L.A.’s largest camera houses, Keslow Camera. I prepare filmmakers to go out and shoot around the world in all-weather conditions with digital and film cameras. That’s my day job, but I’m constantly trying to find a way to come back to Detroit and make more movies about Detroit. I always have one eye on how I can get back to the D, where there are still a million stories to be told. I’m so proud of everyone that gave their time on CornerStore and what we did on an ultra low budget. And I hope I inspire the next generation of filmmakers like John Singleton inspired me.

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