“Fruitvale,” the drama based on Oscar Grant’s last 24-hours won the Sundance Film Festival’s top prizes on Saturday night. Here’s a look at what sets director Ryan Coogler apart from other filmmakers working in hollywood.


The facts that set him apart:


The basics:

Name: Ryan Coogler

Age: 26 

Hometown: Oakland


Coogler’s last short film was about sex workers. 

via Filmmaker Magazine:

Fig, the latest, has been on the festival circuit, and it’s a heartbreaking tale of a prostitute trying to leave the life and keep her daughter. It has a shattering conclusion, of which Coogler says, “That film is from deep research. I spent Christmas break on the streets and got a lot of stories. I never want to shy away from the truth.”


Coogler says the most difficult part of making “Fruitvale” was during the editing process. 

via Buzzfeed 

“The difficult thing about this was that I had to write this character dying; I had to watch this character dying. I’ve seen this dude die probably tens of thousands of times throughout this process,” Coogler says.


He was working security at a rave when Oscar Grant was shot: 

via Entertainment Weekly

I was home for Christmas break from USC. I was working security at a rave called Sea of Dreams in San Francisco. I was just working the door for extra money. I got a call: somebody had been shot at the BART station in front of like a 10-car train full of people. He had no gun on him and the cops shot him. I was like, “That’s crazy.” And by the time I got home, maybe like 10 a.m., he had already passed away. It was already all over the internet.


He’s currently working on a ‘graphic novel.’
via Entertainment Weekly

“I’m working on a graphic novel right now and also a young adult novel.


Coogler’s father almost bled to death in his arms. 
via Filmmaker Magazine

Ryan Coogler remembers the first moment it occurred to him to become a film director. Having grown up in Oakland, Coogler was on a football scholarship to Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., where he had to take a creative writing class. The assignment was to write about a personal experience, and Coogler wrote about the time his father almost bled to death in his arms. He handed it in, and the professor called him into her office. What did Coogler want to do with his life? “Play ball, become a doctor and be a positive influence in my community,” he replied. He remembers her saying, “I think you should become a screenwriter. You can reach more people.” Coogler thought she was crazy. “But I was always thinking about stories, so maybe there was something to it.”


Coogler went to Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., on a football scholarship and had to transfer after they canceled their football program. 
via Filmmaker Magazine

“The young wide receiver got another scholarship, this time to Sacramento State.”

He was semi-homeless for a week. 
It’s been widely reported Coogler was homeless for a semester but not really. 

Coogler explains to Democracy Now:

Yeah, that’s also something that kind of—I saw on the news it kind of got bloated a little bit. I’ve never been homeless in my life, always had a home. When I first went to film school, however, because it was such a sporadic thing, I went down the Los Angeles, you know, and I didn’t have anywhere to stay yet. So I kind of had to jump-start in classes and things like that. So, for a few—I would say, for about a week and a half, you know what I mean, I was getting dressed in my car, spending most of my time in school, you know, until I found a place. But I bumped around quite a bit. I stayed with some Jesuits, you know what I mean, with a group of Jesuits that were in training, basically. I stayed with like a distant relative for a day or two. But I found my car to kind of be a safe haven for a little bit, you know, before I got an apartment.

He’s been counseling incarcerated youth since he was 21. 
…and he still had his day job during Sundance. 

via Democracy Now

I work as a counselor at juvenile hall. I work with incarcerated youth. And I’ve been doing that since I was 21. My dad has been doing it since I was like—I think like three or four years old.

Coogler’s uncle is Clarence Thomas. (Not the judge.) 

via Democracy Now 

Clarence Thomas is a third generation Oakland longshoreman and the former secretary treasurer of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. Thomas is also a former Black Panther.


Production budget for “Fruitvale” came mostly from grants. 

via Filmmaker Magazine

After gaining recognition and accolades for his successful short film Fig, which won both the DGA and HBO’s Student Filmmaker Awards, Coogler’s screenplay Fruitvale made its way to the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. Appropriately, the film was fully shot in Oakland and San Francisco, and majorly supported by the San Francisco Film Society’s production and post-production grants.


Trayvon Martin story made film more ‘immediate’ for cast and crew. 

via Entertainment Weekly

These things keep happening. So many people have died in similar circumstances to Oscar’s, it’s crazy. The thing that made Oscar’s death different was that people recorded it. So many people get killed like this, and nobody’s there to witness it. So it becomes an officer’s word against someone who’s dead. So for me, it was always an issue of me getting this project out there sooner than later. But when Trayvon was killed, that was devastating. It didn’t accelerate the process, but it definitely made it more immediate for people who were involved.


He’s rooting for the 49ers. 

via Entertainment Weekly

 As much as I want the Niners to win, what makes me nervous is [San Francisco’s coach] Jim Harbaugh is [Baltimore’s coach] John’s little brother, you know what I mean? Because I have two little brothers, and it’s very difficult for younger brothers to beat big brothers. I’m from across the bridge, so I go for the Raiders, but I support the Bay Area and the Niners are doing a good job of representing us. I’ll be rooting for them.


He wishes there were more female directors.

via Filmmaker Magazine

I wish there were more female filmmakers getting the opportunity to make material. I look at some of the recent work by Andrea Arnold, Ava DuVernay, Dee Rees, Lena Dunham, and Debra Granik and I see some very fresh cinematic perspectives. This year in particular it has been interesting watching Megan Ellison’s impact on the independent film world as a producer.


His greatest wish for “Fruitvale” is real change. 

via Filmmaker Magazine 

“My greatest wish for this film is for it to have an impact on the future, and make viewers think about how we treat each other.”

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