Words manifest. When clearly focused and spoken, letters floating in air take solid form transitioning from chatter to effective matter. Movie producer Will Packer has proven this theory. Studying electrical engineering as a student at Florida A&M University, his bigger more creative dream - making movies - led to the co-founding of Rainforest Films before graduation. With his loud, fast, boisterous talk, he went on to make projects that saw his name and power spread as the new millennium arrived. The Packer “produced by” stamp graced 2007’s Stomp the Yard with Columbus Short and Meagan Good. Later that year he dropped This Christmas, a film that grossed over $50 Million worldwide starring Chris Brown and Loretta Devine. Later came 2009’s Obsessed with Beyoncé and Idris Elba, along with 2010’s sequel to Stomp the Yard and Takers which included a list of stars including Elba, Paul Walker, Hayden Christensen, and TI.
But 2012 became the jackpot year when Packer released Think Like a Man. Based on comedian Steve Harvey’s hit self-help book, the movie penetrated mainstream markets and went on to gross over $92 Million. A year later, he signed a production deal with Universal TV. Months after, he became one of the few, non-writing black producers to sign with Universal Pictures. And now, he begins 2014 with four films slated for release this year. About Last Night, Think Like a Man 2, No Good Deed, and the January starter, Ride Along. The buddy cop comedy starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart has the overwhelming support of Universal. Heavily promoted with huge billboards above Los Angeles Boulevards, beside New York subways tracks, and through intimate screenings, Q&As, and meet and greets nationwide, Will Packer proves that when he puts passion and pull behind a project, packed seats and a punch to Hollywood's face often follow.
In this exclusive interview with The Shadow League, Packer shines his outspoken, jokester personality into hearty laughter, snarky sarcasm, and a focused unstoppable habit of motivation and empowerment.
Raqiyah Mays: I was reading that there’s a Will Packer Day in Chattanooga, TN?
Will Packer: There is. Yes.
RM: And Ft. Lauderdale, Florida?
WP: Can you imagine? They are slow days. There wasn’t a lot going on those days. So…
RM (Laughing) So what happens? Is there a parade on Will Packer Day?
WP: I go down and get drunk. But I don’t drive home. I use Uber.
RM: You use Uber? This sounds like a commercial...
WP: I don’t drive on Will Packer Day. But I have a good time.
RM: How does getting your own day in two cities come about? I mean...
WP: It’s weird. The city council in that city passes a proclamation and they declare it, “Will Packer Day.” And it’s official. It’s on the books. But it’s that one day. And that’s what I didn’t understand. Because I went back a year later, on the same day...
RM: Oh, it’s not every year?
WP: And I tried to show my ass. And they were like, ‘This is not your day. And the people that voted for your day are no longer in office. You’re not even welcome in Chattanooga. So that was weird.”
RM: (Laughing) That’s funny. Ok so, let’s get serious. What’s always been your main objective? Have you reached it?
WP: I’m definitely not there. I definitely got a lot of work to do. But I’m really blessed. I’m at such an exciting time in my career. And I want to build up the success that I have and am blessed to have and see how far I can go. I’ve always been extremely ambitious. I’ve always been a dreamer who dreamed in vivid color, HD. And I will continue to be that guy. So it’s an exciting year and exciting time for me, but by no means am I resting on my laurels. I want to continue pushing and reaching greater and higher heights. And continue making good content.
RM: What would be the greatest, highest height for you?
WP: You know what? To define it, would be to put an end to it. And I’m always somebody who believes that you have to have malleable parameters. So I know I want to continue to make better films, reach a wider audience. I want films that play around the globe. I want to create content for the big and the small screen. I want to continue to hire and employ a large amount of people. I’ve been able, through my films, to employ more people over the course of the last few years than I ever have before. And I’m very proud of that.
RM: Well, helping to reduce the unemployment rate is a good thing. And this all comes from originally thinking that you wanted to be an engineer... And of course making a hit like Think Like a Man helps.
WP: (Laughs) It was spawned from me wanting to be an entrepreneur to be honest with you. I’m somebody who believes that what you’re doing, you gotta give it 110%. So even when I was majoring in engineering and I knew that wasn’t my ultimate goal, I gave it 110. I graduated magna cum laude with a degree in electrical engineering. And I tell that to kids and to people that are maybe not in the field of their choice or maybe have a vision or a dream and they don’t feel like they’re going after it right now. You’re going after it if you’re being the best that you can be. You gotta give 110%. You can’t just decide to give 110% when you’re put in the right opportunity. No. You won’t know how to do it then. And I tell my kids that. “Dad, I don’t want to do science or calculus. I wanna be something else.” Yeah, but you know what? If you don’t go and give 110% of this now, then when you’re faced with a challenge that you don’t know how to solve, you won’t know how to push yourself beyond your limits to do bigger and better things that you think are possible. So I always try to encourage people. And you never know who is watching. You never know what opportunity may present itself because you gave 110% in another area.
RM: I was talking to director Tim Story, who you did Ride Along with and Think Like a Man, and we were discussing a piece we ran on The Shadow League about the ebb and flow of black film…
WP: I’m not answering anything that you asked Tim. You want my answer or Tim’s answer? Which one you wanna use?
RM: Um... Yeah, so we were discussing the ebb and flow of black film...
RM: You have years where you have a lot of black cinema and some where there is hardly any. 2013 was amazing, films with so much depth, award winning. Where do you see black film going now for 2014 and beyond? Can we keep up that pace?
WP: I’m really optimistic. And I am because audiences, African Americans and others that consume that content, are flexing that muscle like never before. And believe me, Hollywood is paying attention. So it’s a really exciting time to be a filmmaker like myself. Because when you have a film like, and I’ll just pick one, The Best Man Holiday, which can open to $30-plus million dollars and perform really well, and make more its opening weekend than the total budget of it costs. That makes Hollywood say, “We need more content like that.” And it’s not just about putting black faces in front of the camera. Because not every film that was made for African American audiences did as well. But if it’s quality content, I think audiences will come. So I think for me, somebody who wants to push myself to continue to do better content and quality content, I’m excited, because it means that I know there’s an audiences out there that’s proven to be a force to be reckoned with.
WP: Was my answer better than Tim’s?
RM: It was great.
WP: I didn’t ask you that. Was it better than Tim’s?
RM: It was about the same. You were tied.
WP: I don’t want be tied. I wanna be the best.
RM: Well… (Using hands like a scale) You were here. He was there.
WP: I wanna be the best.
RM: Ok, you wanna hear that... You were the best.
WP: Delete my answer...
RM and WP: (Laughing)