Pop quiz–name a Black filmmaker with a major studio distribution deal in their back pocket. If Tyler Perry is the only name you came up with, add Will Packer to the list. As co-founder of Rainforest Films (with partner Rob Hardy), Packer has been quietly upending the status quo of black films, producing projects that defy the modern day minstrel shows African-American moviegoers are subjected to. Whether it’s a racially diverse heist film like Takers or a heart-warming family drama like This Christmas, Packer’s films offer a more varied scope of the black narrative in cinema.
With Think Like A Man, Packer is betting big with an A-Team of Black Hollywood (Taraji P. Henson, Gabrielle Union, Michael Ealy, Kevin Hart), hoping that a film with an all black cast will cut across color lines. The Urban Daily caught up with Packer to discuss his formula for success, why female moviegoers shouldn’t be put off by the title Think Like A Man, his distribution deal with Sony Screen Gems, and his long-term working relationship with Idris Elba.
TUD: While promoting “Think Like A Man” you announced the movie is the highest test scoring film in Sony Screen Gems history. What do you think accounts for the movie’s appeal?
Will Packer: Yes, the final score was 99%, which is incredible. It’s a movie that has universal themes, which everyone can relate to. It has great comedic appeal with Kevin Hart doing his thing. Plus you have characters you really care about, that the audience invests in. You’re rooting for them to figure out their love lives.
“Think Like A Man” will be opening up against Disney’s Chimpanzees and the Zac Efron romantic drama The Lucky One—what are your predictions for this weekend’s box office?
I’ve never been shy about my ambitions when it comes to my films (laughs). I believe when you dream, you have to dream in color. I make no bones about the fact that I want this to be the #1 movie in America. We’re not on as many screens as The Lucky One and they’ve got a bigger marketing budget but I believe in the product and in the audience that will go out and support this film.
(UPDATE: 04/23/2012– Think Like A Man was the #1 movie in America, grossing $33 million)
There are some women who flat out refuse to see this movie, because of the movie title “Think Like A Man.” What would you say to female moviegoers who are on the fence about supporting this film?
The title “Think Like A Man” is not meant literally. The point is to have people open their minds to the perspective of the other person they’re in a relationship with. Steve Harvey’s book was written for women, but the film isn’t telling women to think like men because men have a better thinking ability than women. It’s to have women open their minds to the perspective of men and men opening their minds to the perspective of women. In the film the male characters have become complacent in their relationships, they’re getting away with things they shouldn’t. When women hold men up to a higher standard, then men are forced to step their game up.
Since we can predict that Think Like A Man will succeed in the box office, can we expect a sequel Think Like A Woman?
(Chuckles) It all depends on the box office. That’s how Hollywood works. I’d love to see a sequel.
Last week on “The Russ Parr Morning Show,” Michael Ealy said that Think Like A Man isn’t just a black film but a film for the mainstream audience as well. What are the challenges in producing films with a cast of color to make it appeal to mainstream audiences?
As a producer that’s something I think about every step of the way from the time the script is being written to when the film is being marketed. Think Like A Man is universal in that it isn’t culturally specific—anyone, no matter their color or background can relate. White and Latino moviegoers are going see themselves in these characters.
There were articles being written asking if the movie would appeal to White audiences. It was almost as if they were looking for validation or permission to see a film with a cast of color.
That’s unfortunate. The way Hollywood sees it, it’s a business and they want to make money. I hope everyone will go see it. Why shouldn’t White people enjoy this movie? Come on White people, come on, come all!
When you’re looking through scripts, what qualities are you looking for that make you think, “this is the movie I want to produce”?
There are several things I’m looking for. One question I ask myself, “is this a story that means something? Will it touch people?” It doesn’t necessarily have to have a message, but I don’t want people to walk away thinking they wasted two hours of their time. I look for films that have an audience because all filmmakers work under an economic imperative. You’re making films that will do well at the box office. I want to make films that people will enjoy.
You’ve worked with Idris Elba on at least five projects together (The Gospel, This Christmas, Takers, Obsessed, No Good Deed)—what is it about Idris that makes him your go-to person?
Idris and I have a great working relationship. Here’s the thing about Idris—he is dedicated to his craft and serious about the art of acting. He has a tremendous work ethic, he’s passionate about the projects he takes on. He also elevates any material you give him.
Besides Tyler Perry, you are one of the the very few black filmmakers to have a distribution deal with a major studio (Sony Screen Gems). How did you broker this deal? What has your relationship with Screen Gems been like?
Clint Culpepper, the president at Sony Screen Gems, has been extremely supportive. He’s someone who believes we should make films with mainstream appeal that just happen to have casts of color.
The deal came about when I made a few independent films and was able to distribute my films without the aid of Hollywood. When Trois made $1 million dollars without studio distribution, I was able to secure my relationship with Screen Gems. I tell people just because you don’t have connections or money, don’t let anyone tell you that your dream is over.