Everything I learned about film making came from my father, Charles Guggenheim, who made great documentaries from the 1960s through the 1990s. Dad directed a whole series of films with strong social justice contents...including two documentaries about American education, one called Children Without (1964), which dealt with kids growing up in the Detroit projects, and another called High Schools (1984), based on the famous report on the state of American schools by Dr. Ernest L. Boyer.
I grew up watching Dad work, literally waking up to the sound of his moviola grinding film as he edited it in our living room. I spent my youth learning from him about film making, and seeing the power of movies at work in promoting social change and the quest for justice.
It was fascinating for me to grow up in Washington, D.C., where my dad did most of his work, in a home filled with amazing people up to and including Robert F. Kennedy, whose campaign for president my father worked on...in fact, Dad's memorial film about Bobby earned a twenty-minute standing ovation at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 and went on to win an Oscar. I got to meet so many people dedicated to world-changing missions like eradicating poverty, ending pollution, reversing racial discrimination, and providing every kid with a fine education. As a film-maker, my father was immersed in this work. And while he was admired in film-making circles for his accomplishments, he wasn't a celebrity. Few recognized the slender man riding his bike to work every day. But he won four Academy Awards, was nominated for twelve more...and he was my greatest teacher.
I helped my dad on some of his pictures, and after I graduated from Brown, he said, "Come work for me." It was a tempting offer, but after thinking it over, I realized that I couldn't accept. You don't inherit a film company. If you're going to be a film-maker, you have to break out on your own. So I moved to Hollywood with the goal of becoming a successful mainstream director rather than a specialist in documentaries. I guess that was my version of the step toward independence that every young person needs to take at some point.
I had several jobs in the movie business in 1990s, and I was working my way up the ladder as a producer when I finally hooked into a script that I really loved and had a special feeling for. I discovered and developed it and sold it to Warner Brothers, with me attached as director. It was called Training Day. I fought very hard to get Denzel Washington into it, and I finally convinced everyone to offer it to him. And he said Yes...but not with Davis directing. So I was fired from my own movie, without any fanfare and certainly with no recourse.