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In the Director’s Chair with Michael Schultz

Q&A with the film, television, theater director whose enduring impact in broadcast history is more than making iconic movies and launching famous careers

Described in an array of articles with titles like “godfather of the black film renaissance,” “important trailblazer,” and “game-changer,” Michael Schultz, as a movie, TV, and theater director, has undeniably impacted the entertainment industry over the course of four decades through his directing, the possibilities he created for other African American artists, and the choices he made to create the best opportunities for himself and people around him.

Perhaps best known for films like Cooley High (1975), Car Wash (1976), Which Way is Up? (1977), The Last Dragon (1985), and most recently, Woman Thou Art Loosed (2004), Schultz is equally admired for paving the way for African Americans to get a foot in the doors of Hollywood and major studios, particularly as directors and film crews.

His long list of TV work includes episodes of iconic shows and movies like To Be Young, Gifted, and Black, The Rockford Files, Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Chuck. Besides blazing his own trail for generations to follow and build upon, Schultz was launching the careers of famous names like Richard Pryor (Grease Lightning and Which Way is Up?), Melanie Mayron (Car Wash), Denzel Washington (Carbon Copy), and Blair Underwood (Crush Groove).

But apart from the list of his work you can Google online or the various interviews you can read or watch about him, Schultz is someone you’re compelled to want to sit with and ask question after question to for hours. There just may not be enough hours to sufficiently spend this way, which is why Fame’Us magazine is honored to bring to readers some of this great American pioneer’s thoughts about his career and life in his own words.

Q: Film and TV directors are often seen as people with interesting and intriguing careers. How would you describe your career as a director?

A: I have been fortunate enough to have a career as a director in film, television and theater, which is a great gift. Directing is hard work, but it is extremely gratifying and a lot of fun.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a director? Were there any people who particularly influenced you?

A: My dream, coming out of high school, was to become a general in the Air Force – somewhat like Colin Powell. But when they were selecting candidates for the first class of the Air Force Academy, they were only taking the highest scoring person from each state. I was the second highest scoring person in the state of Wisconsin, and so they offered me a scholarship to West Point. But I did not want to be in the Army; I wanted to fly jets. So I decided to go to the University of Wisconsin—Madison to study astronautical engineering, and become an astronaut. However, in my sophomore year I realized that I wasn’t cut out for engineering, and I did not like engineers, so both of my dreams were crushed. Not knowing what I was going to do, I spent most of my sophomore year in the movie theater that played foreign films. I was watching films by Fellini and Zefferilli and Truffaut and Godard, and I was profoundly impressed by the power of great story telling. And I wanted to be able to do that – because there are so many great stories from our culture that need to be shared with the world. And somewhere in the process of maturing I reasoned that if I made a reputation as a director in the theater, which was a goal within reason, eventually someone would offer me a film.

(Full article available in print)