F. Gary Gray
Born in New York City, NY, but raised in both South Central Los Angeles and Highland Park, IL, Gray's mother was a secretary, while his father worked on an Army base. After his parents divorced, he went to live with his father in Illinois, where he started working at a local cable access channel while attending Highland Park High School. Gray returned to Los Angeles, where he studied film and television at both Los Angeles City College and Golden State College. But he never amassed enough credits at either school to earn his degree, choosing instead to drop out and start his career as a cameraman for Black Entertainment Television (BET) and Twentieth Television. Gray transitioned to directing music videos and adhered to filming only in 35mm, even if that meant taking a lower fee in order to stay on budget. Among the artists he shot videos for were Ice Cube, Johnny Gill, Dr. Dre, Mary J. Blige, Tone Loc and Barry White. Gray's video for Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day" (1993) was voted one of the "Top 100 Videos of All Time" by Rolling Stone, while his direction of Coolio's "Fantastic Voyage" (1995) earned him the Billboard Music Award for Best Rap Video and Best New Artist Video. At the MTV Music Video Awards that same year, Gray's video for TLC's "Waterfalls" (1995) was voted Video of the Year, while he walked away with Best Rap Video for Dr. Dre's "Keep Their Heads Ringin'" (1995). After accomplishing as much as he could with music videos, Gray was poised to make an entry in the feature film world, making his debut with the surprise hit "Friday" (1995). The madcap street comedy starred Ice Cube as Craig, a good-natured stoner who loses his job and winds up helping his slacker friend (Chris Tucker) smoke $200 worth of marijuana, which incurs the wrath of a local dealer (Faizon Love) and a much-feared local thug (Tommy Lister, Jr.). Made for a mere $3 million, "Friday" wound up spawning two sequels, neither of which Gray directed. Gray solidified his status as a filmmaker to be reckoned with following the release of "Set It Off" (1996), which starred Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett in a crime thriller about four women from the 'hood who turn to bank robbing to break out of the endless cycle of poverty and degradation. A huge financial and critical success, "Set It Off" grossed more than $40 million at the box office and gained cult status, continuing to play at some urban theatres a year after its initial release. After the success of "Set It Off," Gray moved on to helm his first studio film, "The Negotiator" (1998), starring Samuel L. Jackson as a hostage negotiator wrongly accused of murdering his partner. Though not a hit at the box office, "The Negotiator" was critically praised and remained a fixture on both rental shelves and various cable runs. Briefly turning his attention to the small screen, he was the director and executive producer of "Ryan Caulfield: Year One" (Fox, 1999), a short-lived drama about a 19-year-old rookie cop from an affluent section of Philadelphia who walks the beat in a violent urban neighborhood. Gray's first foray into television ended quickly, following a troubled preproduction that was followed by cancellation after only two aired episodes. After some time off, he returned to the comfortable confines of features, directing "A Man Apart" (2003), which starred Vin Diesel as a DEA agent hell-bent on taking down a drug kingpin (Timothy Olyphant) who has killed his wife. Moving on to his first remake, Gray directed "The Italian Job" (2003), a redo of the 1969 British heist thriller starring Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton and Donald Sutherland. Having landed on the short list of Hollywood's top directors, he helmed an adaptation of Elmore Leonard's "Be Cool" (2005), the amusing sequel to the hit "Get Shorty" (1995). While making his mark as a feature director, Gray stayed in touch with his music video side over the years, helming the videos for "Ms. Jackson" (2000) by OutKast, "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That" (2001) for Cypress Hill, and "Show Me What You Got" (2006) by Jay-Z. He returned to filmmaking with "Law Abiding Citizen" (2009), a tense thriller about a blood-thirsty vigilante (Gerard Butler) bent on avenging the death of his wife and daughter when one of the killers is set free with the help of a corrupt assistant district attorney (Jamie Foxx). In 2015, Gray fully returned to his hip-hop roots, directing and producing the N.W.A. biopic "Straight Outta Compton" (2015), which was a major critical and commercial success.