For director Tim Story, it began with Star Wars. Setting up Luke Skywalker next to Darth Vader, among a legion of square and round people. And with an 8 millimeter camera his older brother had become bored by, little Tim made his first films editing scenes with tiny figurines inside the camera. That was 1980, he was 10 years old. Flash forward to the future, Story has become a success in the film game. Getting his start directing music videos including Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married,” India Arie’s “Brown Skin,” and The Lox’s “Ride or Die Chick” featuring Eve, Story’s knack for working with actors and bringing the best emotion among moving images morphed into movies. Now, with an assorted collection of films under his belt like The Fantastic 4 and its sequel The Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Barbershop, Think Like a Man, Ride Along, and this summer’s sequel to Steve Harvey’s blockbuster, Think Like a Man Too, Tim Story represents not just for African American directors, but everyone as a whole.
In this exclusive interview with The Shadow League, Story shares the pressures of having to represent the entire black race, while giving tips on what makes a successful director.
Raqiyah Mays: You have this interesting quote talking about working on Fantastic 4, and someone saying, “If you mess it up, you’re gonna mess it up for all of us.” With ‘Us” meaning African Americans. Do you ever feel like when you make a movie, you have to represent for the whole African American race?
Tim Story: No. I know that comes with the territory. And that actually allows me not to think about it. I just know that you do a good job, great job, leave it all out there on the set or the editing room. As long as you do that, you will represent everybody well. You’ll represent my family, the quote unquote “black race,” human society. Americans. Whatever you wanna call it. So I just take that out of the equation because it can be daunting. Like, I’m very hard on myself. I know when I didn’t do something as well as I could have done it. And so, if I make me happy, it has worked out that I make everybody that’s either involved with the project or related to me happy.
RM: I know you’ve said in the past that every director should have a little fear.
TS: Yeah. That’s the excitement of making these movies. If I don’t have a little bit of butterflies of making it right, and I’ve been in this position at times in my life where if you don’t have that fear of screwing up, it may be time to put it down when it comes to art. ‘Cause then I don’t think you’re pushing the envelope. I don’t wanna paint by numbers.
RM: What were you nervous about with Ride Along?
TM: Not screwing up. I like to say I knew I had the ingredients to make a really good cake. I just had to not screw it up. You had to not leave it in the oven too long, you had to not mix the ingredients too long. You had to put the right amount of icing on it. It’s that kind of thing where everything was set up to win. You just had to do it right.
RM: So what’s the key to being a good director?
TS: There’s an academic part of it, which is learning structure, films, and what pieces a film needs in terms of telling the story, what it needs to be fulfilling. And then, there’s the other side of it. Which is pop culture and knowing if you’re doing comedy, knowing when something’s funny. And at times, hiring the right people. And if you’re gonna do a comedy, you might need to hire people that can be funny. So I think it’s all of that. There’s an academic part, but then there’s a part that is your personality and what you bring to it.
RM: What comedies are some of your funniest?
TM: Everything from Midnight Run to Rush Hour, Lethal Weapon, Bad Boys, to Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hours. Those were the comedies I grew up on. And they still make me laugh to this day. And I must admit, I’m always trying to make something like that. They’re just masterful things.
RM: After Fantastic 4, do you want to do more superhero movies?
TS: I hope so. At some point, if I can find the right combination. Like Ride Along, it was the right combination of action and humor. If I can find the right combination of special effects and humor, I think I would go there. But I just like making people laugh. It’s fun.
RM: So are you funny?
TS: I… Ya know… I don’t know.
TS: I take a very interesting approach to life and ‘humor’ is the word I can best define how I look on life.
RM: Well, life is funny. You gotta laugh at it sometimes.
TS: Yeah, life is funny itself. The biggest laughs I’ve had are in the middle of a funeral.
RM: Oh God… (Laughing)
TS: At some point you need the release.
RM: The tension.
TS: Yeah, the tension! You need to let the tension go and somebody does something and it just makes you laugh. And that’s the juxtaposing position that I love. Most comedies are best when the stakes are high, when it’s life or death, and when I look at movies like Stir Crazy, those guys were going to jail for life and it was one of the funniest movies in the world.
RM: What do you say to the folks, the black progressive types that say they’re tired of black comedies and seeing us laughing all the time?
TS: When it comes to comedy, I think it’s kinda BS that anybody would even think for a second that they don’t want to laugh. My comedies always come from a real message. Like Ride Along, as far as the message of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover.’ There is a real message at the heart of it. I’m just giving it to you in a different language. And so I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing. And that’s what’s been great about this past year, with more black films coming out, it allows artists to stay in their lane and not have to represent every part of their demographic. And I make movies for this audience.
RM: Which is not a representation of all African Americans.
TS: Which they may not ever learn. Were just not monolithic. There’s so many shades. And there’s some people who only like to see comedies. And some who only like to see dramas. And that’s what makes filmmakers of color able to kind of be together. It takes a little bit of the pressure off of us to have to represent for the whole race. My instrument is laughter, and if that’s not your cup of tea at the moment, cool. Find something else to look at. Don’t put my beat feet to the fire to represent all dramas or all this all that. I’m doing my comedy thing and when you are ready to laugh, come see me.
Ride Along is in theaters now. Think Like a Man Too hits theaters in June.