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Mounting A Career Comeback, Director Tim Story Fills In Yesterday's Blanks

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 23, 2014 at 6:57PM

Mounting A Career Comeback, Director Tim Story Fills In Yesterday's Blanks
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tIM sTORY

It was in January when I penned and published a piece for this site titled "Tim Story: The Top-Grossing Black Director Many Apparently Still Aren't Familiar With," in which I tackled a question posed by the Los Angeles TimesWill "Think Like A Man" Put Tim Story On Hollywood's A list? 

That Los Angeles Times article was published 2 years ago, after that film shocked the industry with an impressive opening weekend, en route to a near-$100 million box office cume. 

In short, to summarize my response, I made a case for investigating the system within which Story works, and its history, for answers, adding that, the fact that the question was being asked in 2012, after Story had made 5 studio pictures, all of them relatively successful in the long run (compared to budget), was telling of how much work still needed to be done in terms of equal opportunities for black filmmakers compared to their white contemporaries. 

In that piece, I made a number of assumptions (and I emphasized that they were just that - assumptions, based on information publicly available - since I don't exactly have Tim Story on speed dial); and I ended stating that it would be great to hear directly from the man himself. After all, maybe Tim Story is perfectly content with the career he'd had up until then (which ultimately is all that really matters), and everything I said in the piece was needless.

Well, thanks to a DGA (Directors Guild of America) profile of Story, newly-published on their website, titled "The Whole Story: After the early success of Barbershop and Fantastic Four, Tim Story has experienced the ups and down of a director’s life. Now with Ride Along and Think Like a Man Too, his career is on the rebound," Story fills in the blanks for us, and, in essence, answers the question posed by the Los Angeles Times, as mentioned above.

Specifically, he has been in the driver's seat that is his Hollywood filmmaking career, and the results we all see are due primarily to choices he's made, and not entirely anything systematically out of his control. 

To wit, in explaining what, to the outsider, have seemed like career stops and starts over the years, with no consistency, he had this to say:

“I know my career seems weird, and people wonder what I’ll do next [...] But I find now that I love all these worlds [raucous comedy and effects-laden action]. I love moments when it’s just an actor in a room with another actor, but I also love speeding cars and stuff blowing up, and at some point creature makeup and visual effects.” Story shrugs, “I guess we’ll see.”

And after the surprise box office success of Barbershop...

... Story went on to what a friend of his dubbed “the water tour”- an endless series of meetings with producers and studio executives in which he filled up his trunk with the water bottles he’d been given at each meeting. “I’d made this small black movie,” he says, “and given the way it was made, I guess people saw more than just an urban movie. I was being offered all types of movies, everything from romantic comedies to sci-fi.”

And all those meetings would eventually lead to Taxi, the Queen Latifah/Jimmy Fallon action comedy that I'd say is the weakest link on his resume to date, which, despite being a critical and commercial flop, then led to the Fantastic Four movies, which he got, as the piece suggests, because he'd demonstrated he could handle a blend of comedy and action.

And while the 2 Fantastic Four films he helmed did well globally (compared to budget), they weren't quite the mega-blockbusters that other superhero movies released since then, would become, and both films were critically panned by both critics and fans alike, leaving something of a sour taste in the mouths of the studio executives behind the project, enough that, years later, the franchise is being rebooted with a different director, and cast.

Story addresses the fall-out over those movies by stating:

“With those types of big movies, you’re directing three movies,” he says. “There’s the movie you’re shooting, there’s the second-unit action stuff, and there’s the visual effects movie. You’ve got to learn how to deal with all of them.” But at times, he admits, he accepted too much help. “The other thing I learned from those two Fantastic Four movies, is that sometimes you can be too lax on how much control you give to the visual effects team, or the production design team, or whoever. If you end up in situations and you’re not happy with certain things, it’s because you didn’t stay on top of them.”

Essentially, he seems to be putting any and all *blame* entirely on his shoulders. 

But he certainly wasn't deterred; although it would be another 5+ years before a film he directed would be released in theaters. In between the 2nd Fantastic Four movie (2007), and what would eventually be Think Like A Man (his comeback of sorts, 5 years later), he directed a *smaller* character-driven drama titled Hurricane Season in 2009, which starred Forest Whitaker and Taraji P. Henson, but The Weinstein Company (its distributor) released it directly to DVD, skipping a theatrical run. Why? Story explains below, additionally sharing reasons for the hiatus between the Fantastic Four movies he directed, and Think Like A Man:

In the aftermath of his two superhero movies, Story wanted to get back to actor-heavy character pieces. “Doing the big movies with the special effects—that’s not 100 percent what I set out to do,” he says. “I wanted to get back to what I knew was in my heart. I think as a filmmaker, there’s the bigness of Hollywood, but if you come from small, personal pieces, you want to get back to that at some point.” His small, post-Fantastic Four movie was Hurricane Season (2009), which starred Forest Whitaker and Taraji P. Henson in the true story of a New Orleans basketball coach and his team in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The Weinstein Company backed the movie, but then opted to scrap a theatrical rollout in favor of a direct-to-video release. “I think if released, it probably would have done fairly well,” Story says. “But it was caught up in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis, and the Weinsteins decided it just wasn’t a movie they wanted to release.” 

And, unfortunately for him, that move hurt his desirability factor as a director, and potentially cost him projects:

The result, he said, effectively stymied his career. “In Hollywood, you’re only as good as your last film,” he says. “And there was a stigma: ‘He does movies that go straight to DVD.’ It hurt career-wise, and the one thing you have to do is just lick your wounds. But I knew, because I studied Hollywood’s past, that Hollywood loves a comeback story.” 

But before he could start mounting any kind of a comeback, Story had to take inventory of his life and reasons for becoming a director, and effectively "downsize" so he could make the kinds of films he wanted to make, and not simply working just to earn a paycheck to pay bills:

Before he could enjoy a comeback, though, Story had to find a way to downsize. “My family was getting bigger, my wife was pregnant and we were losing value on our home, so you do start to stress out,” he said. “I got out of the big house that I had, we moved to a smaller home, and I tried to make it so I could create again. When you get caught up in doing projects to pay bills, you’re in trouble.” 

Indeed. 

He did consider directing a few movies just for the money, but he didn’t get the projects, unfortunately. 

He told his longtime agents to find him the kind of film he knew he could do well: character-oriented films with comedy, whether urban or not. “I thought, ‘I’m not going to go out on any other stuff that’s just a pipe dream,’ and I told them: ‘Here’s what I’m looking for, this is what I know I can do, find me this.’ And they brought me Think Like a Man.”

And of course, his "comeback" began with that sleeper hit - a directing job, the piece states, he had to convince producer Will Packer, he was right for, thus beginning a relationship between the two that has produced two hit movies (including Ride Along most recently, which surged past the coveted $100 million gross mark), with sequels to both on the way, and likely more in the future.

Since Ride Along's release earlier this year, he's been attached to 20th Century Fox's comedy, Diplomats, which is a pitch said to be inspired by Dennis Rodman's trips to North Korea in the last year (once to play in an exhibition basketball game to celebrate the birthday of dictator Kim Jong Un). In what has come to be dubbed "hoops diplomacy," Rodman is seen as a path to mending relations between the United States and North Korea - very public trips that Rodman has been widely criticized for. 

Tim Story is attached to direct what could be a smart satirical look at international relations between two countries with antithetical socio-economic-political systems.

This article is related to: Tim Story


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