Will Packer: The Film Producer For Films Such As Think Like A Man Takes Us Behind The Camera
By Martin A. Berrios
Here today and gone later today is a saying that is all too prominent in Hollywood. Film producer Will Packer has been able to avoid those consequences by steadily crafting standout projects including Think Like A Man, Ride Along and Stomp The Yard. His secret? He goes above and beyond when putting in the work that the public does not see.
Now with the spotlight shining brightly upon him, Black Men magazine speaks to Will Packer about his start in the business, his proudest achievement and how African American actors can break through the big screen’s invisible ceiling.
Black Men: How did you get into film?
Will Packer: One of my Alpha Phi Alpha line brothers wanted to be the next Spike Lee or John Singleton. I helped him to raise money and find distribution for our first film project, which was called Chocolate City. At that time I didn’t know I wanted to be a filmmaker—I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and work for myself.
Was it difficult for you to breakthrough being that you are African American?
It’s a difficult business. When you have that many people of all backgrounds and ethnicities trying to get into what ultimately is a very small window, you’re definitely going to have a lot of competition. The fact that Hollywood makes only a certain amount of movies that are aimed at African Americans means that you have even fewer opportunities for people of color. So, that means for filmmakers of color that we find other ways to get our story told.
What do you find to be the most difficult part of getting a movie made?
Financing and distribution—that’s the paradox. In order to secure financing you really need distribution. In order to get distribution you need to have the financing. So many filmmakers are inevitably caught chasing their tails trying to get in when they don’t have the key elements to make a film. Because of digital and the influence of the Internet and social media, distribution isn’t what it once was. However, you can make a great film for a nominal amount of money with digital equipment and put it out yourself online.
You have worked on so many credible films. What do you consider your shining achievement?
I have had several, but I have different reasons certain films of mine are important. Stomp The Yard was the first film of mine that went number one. The Gospel was my first movie that was distributed on more than just a few screens. Think Like A Man was the first film that almost approached the 100 million dollar mark. Ride Along was the first movie that actually crossed the 100 million. Money can’t be the only reason you do this—it’s about the stories that I am telling. The people that I am touching are critical to my success.
You worked very closely on the N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton. Why does that movie get released to film and a project like TLC’s biopic Crazy Sexy Cool goes straight to VH1?
A lot of the times it’s the team behind the movie. I can’t speak about the TLC story, as I don’t know much about it. But I can tell you that you had Dr. Dre and Ice Cube behind the film all the way—those two are major Hollywood players—[director F. Gary Gray] is a big feature film director and Universal Studios is putting it out. A lot of the times it’s about the package.
What is your opinion on the overwhelming criticism the film industry gets for pigeonholing dark skin African American actresses?
I think for a very long time America had a very Euro centric image of beauty. So, African American women of all shades and hues have been held to that. I, personally, make it a priority of mine to reflect the full diaspora of African American women in all my films. I have a brown skin mother and brown skin daughters, and I want to make sure they feel beautiful, can be adored and be sought after on the big screen as well.
Common and John Legend just won an Oscar for best song. How important is that for Black Hollywood?
Huge! When we have people of color who win on the global stage like that, it means validation for them and people that look like them.
Lastly, what’s your secret?
Hard work. I don’t get distracted by things that are not important to my ultimate goal. It’s the work that you put in that nobody is watching that makes everyone pay attention to you later. It’s the hours I put in on the sets, on scripts, in the editing rooms that nobody sees that will have everyone paying attention to me at the world premiere. I always remember it’s the grind and the way you work when nobody’s paying attention or the camera isn’t rolling. Ultimately that’s what is going to drive your success.