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"Think Like A Man" Producer Will Packer Talks To S&A About The Film's Strong Opening Weekend + "No Good Deed"

by Tambay A. Obenson
April 22, 2012 7:22 PM
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will packer

Unless you've had your head buried in the sand somewhere, I'm sure that, by now, most of you have heard that the ensemble dramedy Think Like A Man, routed the competition, taking this weekend's box office crown, raking in around $33 Million, based on industry estimates. I'm hearing that the actual figure could very well be higher once the official count is in, some time tomorrow.

Yesterday afternoon, after I posted the entry alerting you to the film's strong Friday opening, and projections for the weekend, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with the man behind the film - Mr Will Packer, who produced Think Like A Man via his Atlanta, GA-based Rainforest Films production company - a brand that continues to grow and impress with each outing. But more on that later.

My conversation with Will was obviously centered on the successful opening weekend release of Think Like A Man; as you will see below, I asked him specific questions about what this weekend's numbers mean in the grand scheme of things, what their marketing strategyy was given the impressive audience turnout across the USA, the film's crossover reach, expecations for next weekend, how studios determine the number of theaters to open a film in (given that, as previously emphasized, Think Like A Man opened on roughly 2000 screens, 1000 fewer screens than the film that opened at number 2), and finally, of course I couldn't let him go without asking about his next project - the Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson thriller, No Good Deed, which has actually already begun production in Atlanta.

Dig in!

- What does this weekend's box office win mean in the grander scheme of things? Why should we be excited about this? What does it mean for you and Rainforest films?

It’s huge. I don’t think the significance of opening with the number 1 movie in America can be overstated. This isn’t the number 1 lower-budgeted film, or the number 1 African American Film, or the number 1 film for a particular audience; It’s the number 1 movie in America, period; and if those numbers hold, then we’re going to be in a great position that shows the power of a smart strategic marketing plan that takes advantage of social media, networking, grassroots and a great campaign; because we were up against films that were significantly larger than us. However, the great equalizer is the level of grassroots, social media, Twitter, Facebook support that we got; and the audience is saying, we want to see more films like this. And I think that when audiences start to realize their power in Hollywood decision making, you will see more films like this made and become more successful.

- Talk about the marketing strategy for the film; I spoke to Jeff Clanagan of CodeBlack Entertainment last week about the strong opening for his film, Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day, and the marketing strategy for that film; and he said almost exactly what you said - essentially, a heavy emphasis on a social media-driven, grassroots effort. So is that ultimately where it is for films like this? Because I'm assuming the studio isn't spending a lot of money on TV ads, billboards and traditional forms of marketing.

We definitely had traditional marketing which was strong; we definitely had a lot of presence; we did a lot of advertising, for instance on the NBA games, and shows like Basketball Wives, for example; I like to call that the "aerial attack;" but you also need to have a "ground attack" to compliment it, and our ground game is really, really strong. Our cast got out there and really, really pushed it; like tonight [Saturday night], I’ve got almost every member from the film's cast going out to theaters and surprising the fans, thanking them for coming out, and for their support. Those are the types of things that you can’t really quantify, that create genuine buzz and appreciation for a project in a way that traditional advertising just can’t. There’s a ton of traditional advertising out there, but you have to do something more to make your project stand out, and that’s what we try to do.

- One of the questions that was raised in the press before the film's release was whether it would reach non-black audiences; can you share any figures on whether that happened, from what you've seen so far?

All the Hollywood studios do exit polling to determine what the audience was that came out to see a particular film, but those numbers aren’t yet available. What I do know is that a lot of people came out to support the film; it doesn’t matter whether they were white, black, green or brown; what matters is that they came out to support, and I feel really good about that.

- What are your expectations for next weekend? Or are you just not even looking that far ahead, and instead enjoying this moment?

I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that I was looking forward to next weekend; because as a producer I was looking forward to next weekend, last weekend. That’s just how I operate. You keep focused on the prize, and then you look and ask questions like, ok so it was successful, can we hold, how well can we do, what’s next week’s competition; but it’s not something I want to talk about; yet, strategically, you need to be aware of what you’re going to do opening week, and what you’re going to do to sustain it the following weekends. But for the most part, movies after opening weekend are all about how strong the word of mouth is; advertising is all geared towards opening weekend; but how well the film performs after this weekend, will be about whether people enjoyed the film or not.

- The film opened on some 2,000 screens; can you give us a brief education on how studios determine how many screens to open a film on?

A lot goes into that; they try to figure out what they think the audience for a film is going to be, and where the screens need to be to capture that audience. Studios are very careful to try to do just enough by way of advertising and distribution to capture an audience without over-spending. And yes, I’m involved in those conversations, on how many screens the film needs to have. We ended up having about 2000 screens which was over 1000 less than The Lucky Ones, which also opened up this weekend; but our per screenaverage was so much higher, which is why it looks like we’ll be coming in at number 1.

- And finally, I know that your next project is gearing up in Atlanta, with Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson - both you're working with again; anything you can share with us on what to expect from the film, and when we can expect to see it in theaters?

I’m actually calling you from the set of that movie right now; and yes, that’s the next one. As a producer, it don’t stop, as they say. I’ve got one film opening this weekend, and now I'm in production on my next one; it’s a cycle, and I’m blessed to be able to be active as a producer. I don’t have a release date yet; I just want to first get through this current release [Think Like A Man], and then get through this new production [No Good Deed], and then I'll start looking at when’s the best time to release it; but yes, it’s a thriller with Idris and Taraji; it’s a script that I’m really proud of because it’s a film that wasn’t originally conceived with African American leads in mind; and I like the fact that it’s a universal film; but I wanted to put the best talent in front of the camera for this movie, and those 2 people happened to be idris and Taraji, who happened to be black. This will help us in building as well if, or rather, when it’s successful.

And so there you have it! Some very useful information there I'd say; and I thank Will Packer (and his publicist) for the time.

I should note that, despite the fact that critics were split down the middle on the film, this is the 4th Rainforest Films production to open at the number 1 slot domestically, on the opening weekends of each of those 4 films -  Stomp The Yard opened at $21 million and ended up with a $61 million box office take; Obsessed shocked the world and opened at $28 million, and went onto make close to $70 million; Takers opened at just over $20 million, and grossed almost $60 million; and now Think Like A Man exceeds all expectations and rakes it $33 million; It's hard to argue with those stats, especially when you consider the age and size of the company.

Keep in mind that the production budget for Think Like A Man was in the $12 to $15 million range.

If the film has legs, as the saying goes - meaning if word of mouth is strong, going into next weekend, producer Packer and company might see it eventually become their highest grossing film to date.

We'll be watching... 

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  • Simone | April 25, 2012 7:09 PMReply

    I not surprise by 1st place, the film received one of the most buzz marketing around the web and some Tv, they interested people to come on theater an see the movie, i read comment about the movie in France medias, i'm very outrageous, they that don't understand why this unknown movie like they call "Thing Like A Man" made 33 million, they said the movie has no star, the only one is Chris Brown, in clearly, kevin Hart, Taraji P Henson, Michael Ealy, Gabriel Union, and the other in cast have no name in cinema, they have just forgotten that is not their first movie, they are completely ignorant, they write wrong things and it very difficult for black people that we are, who live in France to support that, it's very caricatured, if they could have a racist word they wouldn't hesitate to use it , the mainstream media in France, don't know nothing about the black culture, they always use stereotype to talk about black people, when you read the paper about the movie, they don't know who is Steve Harvey, sometime, they only say he a radio host. They don't clearly explain what the movie talk about. They also said it's a hard blow for Hunger Games, because, the movie lost her first place, he's now on the third place, they just forgot that Hunger has made more than 500 million dollars since he was released on theater. We must understand that an African American isn't allowed to beat Hunger Games, i ask myself, who has written this rule, please, if some know, say me. They no black cinema in France, they just know a few African American movie star like, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman, Samuel Jackson, Eddy Murphy, Denzel Washington, Hale Berry, they don't have obligation to talk about black culture, they are a lack of subject about black on the media. No release date for the movie in France, i just wait that the movie come on DVD in the USA and i buy one like i used to do. I will never stop support black movies, please don’t stops give us the news, we need you Shadow and Act.

  • Tirf Alexius | April 25, 2012 6:27 PMReply

    Truly insightful interview. It's promising to see films of this nature have stellar opening weekends. I'm amped!

  • DGB360 | April 24, 2012 1:57 PMReply

    This was great info on what happens behind the scenes of film making. The film industry is A TOUGH BUSINESS. Great to see young men getting thru rough waters and producing good films. Keep me posted.

  • bondgirl | April 23, 2012 3:22 PMReply

    Good interview, but I would've loved to hear Will's thoughts on the international marketing strategy, if there is one.

  • CareyCarey | April 26, 2012 10:24 PM

    @ SHOCKARD, since Bondgirl has been dropping in less and less, and JUG has taken an extended leave of absence, you're fast becoming my go to man. Yep, you're like that guy from the old Dragnet series, Joe Friday... "Thurday, April 26. It's cold in Shadow and Act. We were working the day watch out of the Comment Division. I am looking for nothing but the facts, nothing but the facts". Yes sir Shockard, I love how you come straight from the hip and say what others dare not. In essence, you see the big picture and I like that in you. Now I ain't nobody but I'm just sayin'

  • SHOCKARD | April 26, 2012 9:59 PM

    @CAREYCAREY... I could tell you're fully aware of this what I'm saying. Hell, you said Big Mommas do well and that is so true. My German friends love Big Momma's House. And these are educated Germans with PhD's. They also love The Wire. I think it all boils down to what you expect from a genre. If it's a comedy, then it has to make you laugh, and like you said humor does not translate very well across cultural lines. I didn't think Bridesmaids was funny at all but it did well, but they were dealing with a universal theme about friendship and marriage. Also, even I have to admit, BMs was well structured, conventional storytelling. A caveman would get it. I didn't see TLAM, so I can't call it. In the end, if people in other cultures don't care about the "4 friends conspire to turn the tables on their women when they discover the ladies have been using Steve Harvey's relationship advice against them" plot or if they don't think Kevin Hart is funny then run for cover.

  • CareyCarey | April 26, 2012 1:41 AM

    @Shockard, I am not surprised. White Americans are basically transplanted Europeans and it's safe to say they expect the worst when it comes to black films, so why should Portuguese, German and French be any different? Also, as someone mentioned, humor and how it's expressed... does not translated very well across cultural lines, so I agree, Think Like A Man would flop in international markets. Now, reference your take on Denzel, Will and Jamie, I believe it's important to note that Will has never been in a "black film". Denzel has, but the ones he was in, basically flopped or had a minimal profit. Jamie was in "Ray" (white director, black cast) it did decent overseas business . I think much of it's overseas success can be directly related to Ray Charles's international acceptance/appeal and notoriety. Martin Lawrence does well with his Big Mommas. Eddie Murphy?

  • SHOCKARD | April 26, 2012 12:15 AM

    I don't care what strategy Will Packs have for international market. I know the European market too well. I lived in both Germany and Portugal for 6 years. I have more Portuguese, German and French friends born, raised and residing there than I have in America. I ask them all the time about our films and the reception there. It seems to be unanimous: they expect the worst when it comes to black films so they're not interested unless it's Denzel, Will or maybe Jamie. We have to regain their trust again that our films are good enough. With the successful box office, Think Like a Man will mostly make it overseas but it probably won't do well because they expect black films to be awful... that includes the black Europeans as well. But if the film is as good as everyone is saying, then hopefully word of mouth would get European butts in seats.

  • Micah | April 25, 2012 12:26 AM

    I'm also interested in how they tackle that phase. If there is such a phase for this film. Comedies can already be a hard sell in foreign markets since humor can be very culture specific. Rainforest has been very savvy thus far so perhaps they'll conquer that hurdle or maybe they'll try and tackle it on the next film.

  • CareyCarey | April 23, 2012 2:37 PMReply

    Be still and know that I am God. I will use you and abuse you, yet, more importantly I will strive to keep you misinformed and uneducated to the ways of my business concerns. I will whitewash your brain and bambozzle you, yet you will still envy me ~ The White Man, aka The Boogie Man. Listen folks, I am trying to drive home a point. Quick... think fast... of all of Spike Lee's black cast films... which ones turned the most "profit". Times up... Do The Right Thing and School Daze. Now, Spike Lee is arguably the best and most significant black filmmaker that we've had the privilege to experience. However, although he tackled most of the pertinant issues of black life, it's important to note that his films with a humorous flare were the only ones which could be defined as a financial success. In fact, many lost money. Here's the basic point... white folks have never been interested in seeing movies with a predominant black cast and there are only so many black dollars. Within those black dollars, history tells us there's a genre that black folks tends to gravatate to. Now check this, of Spike's black cast films, he never made more the 50 million. But wait, his largest budget, Malcolm X's was 33 million, it grossed only 48 million. Mo Better Blues: 10 mil got 16 mil. Clockers: 25 mil got 13 mil! Bambozzled: Budget 10 mil, gross 2 million! I am suggesting that success is spelled in many ways and white folk's model of success has never been the road to travel. Again, as Spike's journey illustrates, there's only so many black dollars, and how they spend those dollars is well documented.

  • CareyCarey | April 25, 2012 6:19 PM

    Don't worry about it Tieuel Legacy, I took no offense to you comment. In fact, I am glad you returned. In my comment, I was trying to convey 2 points which frequently come up in interview posts of this nature. I have to admit that I probably did a poor job of stating my position, which basically had little to do with pointing fingers at Hollywood. Anyway, I did not list Inside Man because although 2 of the actor are black ( one was a lead), most of the cast was non-blacks ( i.e. Clive Owen, Dalton, Jodie Foster, Christopher Plummer, and Willem Dafoe). And yes, we can sway numbers, however, I believe you know there are formulas that "many" use to define a "black cast" film. And if the formula kicks out "This Is A Black Film", many doors are immediately shut tight. To a large degree, those in the business of making money are justified in closing their doors. The models for financially successful films do not include black films that are outside of specific genres. Also, I believe it's a fact that other cultures are in no hurry to see black films. Therefore, although we will spend tons of money on movies, there is a limit. So whatever business we are suppose to be handling (pay to see a film because black faces are on the screen???), there's only so many "black" dollars to go around. Consequently, I applaud the business minds behind this venture, however a man errs when they believe this blub of a "success" story is going to change the viewing habits of the movie-going black audience, or that of the general white audience. TLaM, hit the scene at the most oppurtune time. Their advertising campaign was on spot, but I believe black folks were simply starving for something to cheer about. They were much like the alcoholic standing outside a liquor store, waiting for the doors to open.

  • Tieuel Legacy! in Motion | April 25, 2012 12:03 AM

    I'm not picking on you CareyCarey but I want to make a point.

    Why not consider Inside Man "black cast"? Two of the leads are black and it was created by a black director. Historically, I know that studios don't consider Denzel, Eddie, and Samuel "black" actors anymore. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't especially when they still consider Spike a "black" director.

    History has proven in film and politics that black people (i.e. african american, lightskin, africans that happen to be american or whatever the person identifies with) have the ability to sway the numbers even to the point where corrupt business has to occur to sway those numbers back in their favor. I have to research this for more info but last week I heard in an interview that OUR dollars are ranked at about 15th in the world. This means that we spend just as much or more than most cultures in the world. Where are those dollars going? If a bootlegger was to count how many people he sold to in each neighborhood, would it show that our dollars were going more to the bootlegger than the theater? Probably so. I mean who can beat a 3 fo $10 sale. Bottomline is that we can sway the numbers without worrying about what our counterparts are doing. For some reason, many of us don't choose to sway the numbers. We are more concerned with a deal. I GET THAT. However, in the end, we can't point the finger at others just because we don't handle "bidness". I have a $1.50 movie theater near me that gets the hit movies after the main release. They should at least get 10s of thousands in business before the bootlegger does. Pretty sure that's not the case.

    Ex. We begged for more films that showed blacks in historical or clever roles. Spike did Miracles at St. Anna for about a $50 mil (from what I read). It opened at less than $10 mill and last I checked the gross was around $15mill. That's not the fault of anyone but us. Even if it only showed at 1,000 screens, there's a place called Wal-Mart that sold the DVD and blu-ray post theatrical release. Like Shawshank Redemption, the dvd sales could've made that a financial success.

    Tieuel Legacy! in Motion
    Writer and Filmmaker

  • Donella | April 23, 2012 2:28 PMReply

    How very wonderful. I'm thrilled for both Rainforest and Codeblack. I believe a great deal of attention has been paid to how President Barack Obama's advance team dominated the political landscape leading up to 2008 and how Tyler Perry's managed to thrive in the movie industry. I love a good ground game. Great interview.

  • richard | April 23, 2012 1:12 PMReply

    Great interview Tambay, if you have a follow up conversation you should find out what their P&A cost was. I know the grass roots campaign is important but people should know they probably spent at least 20 million on TV ads, radio spots, billboards, etc. So eventhough grassroots is important, the millions of impressions comes from a fairly large spend by the studio. Either way, kudos to all involved.

  • Gary C. | April 23, 2012 12:55 PMReply

    It's a comedy. It shouldn't be a huge surprise that it's the number one movie. I applaud Rain Forest for it's marketing campaign but I'll see it as a cap in our filmmaking feather when a black drama of signifigance substance (Non Perry relationship drama) routinely challenges for number one box office positioning. A non threatening, non socially inspiring black comedy has less obstacles to climb in hollywood to be successful.

  • Dankwa Brooks | April 23, 2012 11:13 AMReply

    I totally agree with everything IllThoughts said. I've enjoyed Rainforest's films for the most part and am interested to see what's next from them.

  • Tepnlex | April 23, 2012 2:13 AMReply

    I was in Lee Hall in 1996 when the brother premiered Chocolate City at FAMU. God bless him, and his hustle. One brother I definitely tip my cap to, in this industry.
    Now, wash your hands next time, homeboy!

  • Adam Scott Thompson | April 22, 2012 10:29 PMReply

    The movie far exceeded my expectations. That said, I'm in agreement with Illthoughts. They'll never let us have free reign of all the genres until we prove 1) that we can be about horror, sci-fi, western, experimental, etc. and 2) that we'd actually show up to see ourselves playing John Carter of Mars or the last black man on earth (sci-fi/experimental, and not a bad premise at that).

  • illthoughts | April 22, 2012 9:33 PMReply

    I went to see it. It was entertaining but I'm waiting for us to open up our creativity with different
    films. I want some sci-fi, thrillers, action, historical and political movies too. I can't wait to see No Good Deeds.

  • Gigi Young | April 23, 2012 11:20 AM

    Definitely agree, but look at the book world--ifl audiences aren't there for SFF or thrillers featuring black characters (and I've heard some black readers call SFF and paranormal stuff as from the devil), movies are even more of a longshot. I'm really curious to see how the next Alex Cross film will do bc Perry's audience can't seeem to shake their love of laughter and Madea.

  • Nicole | April 22, 2012 7:43 PMReply

    Great interview. I'm happy for Will and the entire cast. I can't wait to see No Good Deed.

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