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Tim Story: The Top-Grossing Black Director Many Apparently Still Aren't Familiar With

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by Tambay A. Obenson
January 19, 2014 5:25 PM
37 Comments
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Will "Think Like A Man" Put Tim Story On Hollywood's A list?

That's what the Los Angeles Times asked in a piece that 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. His latest effort, Ride Along, opened this weekend to an impressive $41 million box office take, easily winning the number 1 slot of the weekend.

The short answer to the question posed by the Los Angeles Times, two years later? Probably not.

The long answer... 

Don't get me wrong, my short answer isn't a knock on the film or Tim Story's abilities as a director. 

Investigate the system within which he works, and its history, and you'll find all you need to know there.

Consider this: 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), is telling of how much work still needs to be done in terms of equal opportunities for black filmmakers compared to their white contemporaries. 

The 5 studio movies directed by story as of that LA Times 2012 piece, had then collectively grossed close to $900 million worldwide (around $1 billion if adjusted for inflation - although, the 5 studio pictures are now 6, including this weekend's number 1 movie, Ride Along, which added an impressive $41 million to that growing tally). I'd say that there aren't many directors of ANY COLOR working today who can boast those stats. And even still, he's the only director of African descent working within the studio system that can claim to be a member of that elite club - his main competition being the prolific Tyler Perry, who's made twice as many films (13) in about the same period of time, but yet lags behind Story in terms of total worldwide box office.

Yes, Story's total worldwide box office gross leads the short list of black directors working within the studio system today - more than Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, Spike Lee, John Singleton and others - a list that I'd be remiss if I didn't point out its lack of black women directors.

Granted Story's figures are helped thanks to the 2 Fantastic Four movies he helmed (I believe he's the ONLY African American director to be given a shot at directing a mega-budgeted superhero movie) - films that I found underwhelming, and certainly didn't rake in anywhere near Avengers- or Iron Man-style numbers; but I can't blame him entirely for the under-performance of both films; it starts with the script (neither of which he wrote), and the casting (which I thought lacked, starting with Jessica Alba). Both films felt more like Saturday morning series on some Kids TV network.

But, again, I can't put the underwhelming critical response to each film entirely on his shoulders. 

So let's talk box office: The first one grossed $330 million worldwide on a $100 million budget; and the second grossed $290 million on a $130 million budget. And I'd guess that both films have since done fairly well in the home video space (DVD/Blu-ray/VOD/Digital Download) for the studio.

Barbershop (the film that we could say launched his studio career - he'd made an indie or two prior) was a surprise hit, both critically and commercially; Taxi (Queen Latifah, Jimmy Fallon) didn't fair as well (it just wasn't a good movie) but it still more than doubled its budget at the box office globally; and Think Like A Man grossed over $96 million (globally - about 98% of that was in the USA alone), on a measly $12 million budget. 

Now add Ride Along's surprising $41 million opening weekend - en route to who-knows-what in terms of total box office.

I can't help but feel that if Story was a white director, the question posed by the LA Times would not be a question at all.

Ok, so maybe Story wouldn't necessarily be an "A-lister" if he were white (we'll never know obviously), BUT, at the very least, I think he'd have been given far more opportunities than he has been. The last time he'd been behind the camera to helm a project (prior to Think Like A Man) was in 2008, on the Forest Whitaker drama Hurricane Season, which The Weinstein Company pushed directly to DVD, skipping theaters. So, if you take that into consideration (that the film wasn't released in theaters), it means that it had been 5 years since Story's last big screen release, prior to Think Like A Man; 6 years if you're counting from the year the film was actually shot.

That's a lengthy time between projects for a director working within the Hollywood studio system.

And even with the success of Think Like A Man, and now, Ride Along, which is likely on its way to a decent box office return given its $41 million opening, it's uncertain what his next project will be! I'd assume he's at least getting meetings with studio decision makers, who are considering him for upcoming projects. And based on the LA Times piece, my assumptions appear to be correct. 

To wit:

The movie, released by Sony’s Screen Gems, has put Story back on the map. He’s taking meetings with top executives at studios including Warners, DreamWorks, MGM and Lionsgate. The good news is that the projects he’s being offered aren’t just black character comedies. Having made a pair of superhero films that required a lot of visual effects, Story has the credentials to helm an action comedy or a buddy picture, two of the most popular studio comedy subgenres.

All gravy right? Not quite. After Think Like Man, he was offered another so-called "black character comedy" in Ride Along, despite all those meetings, because black filmmakers are apparently only *allowed* to direct "black films." Not that there's anything wrong with directing a "black film."

And then I read this part:

But he’s still working at a disadvantage because he’s a black filmmaker at a time when the people who run today’s studios are overwhelmingly white and not especially well-versed or even particularly curious about African American culture. After “Think Like a Man” opened at No. 1, one studio president decided not to mention the film during the studio’s Monday morning production meeting, curious to see how long it would take to surface as a topic of conversation. Fifteen minutes into the meeting, no one had mentioned the film. When the studio boss finally brought it up, asking who had seen it over the weekend, the room was silent. None of the all-white staff had bothered to go see it.

Now, those who've been reading this site long enough know that I'm not one of those who likes to whine about this kind of thing; I find it all unproductive, and would rather invest my time in ideas, causes, initiatives, etc that I think offer potential for the kind of change many of us have been crying for over the last century - especially at the indie level. Forget the insular nature of the studio system.

However, I also realize I have a job to do in informing you all of what I learn about the goings-on within what we call *the industry* that most of us are just not privy to. We're not in these meetings; we hear about them. Sometimes the stories are so beyond the ridiculous that one would think them fiction, and can only blink.

So here we are... as I continue to ask... now what?

One thing I will add is that, I wonder if Tim Story needs to be more of a presence; by that I mean, whoever his publicist is should be branding and parading him any and everywhere possible - especially with the success of Think Like A Man, and now, Ride Along. You'd be surprised by how many people I've come across (black people too) who don't know that Tim Story directed Think Like A Man, and Ride Along, or even know who he is. Many of those same people (audiences mostly) associate the films primarily with their producer, Will Packer (Rainforest Films), than Tim Story. Obviously Packer seems to know how to work the machine we could say (you should follow him on Twitter, because he can be quite active in that social media space), and ensure that there is an awareness of his name, as his face becomes the face of the films he produces, and he starts to get the same kind of "super-producer" props like others already on that level - Jerry Bruckheimer, Brian Grazer, and even Harvey Weinstein to name a few.

Humility is certainly welcomed, but a little braggadocio can go a long way. I'd say that most of us are likely much more familiar with the 5 directors I mentioned above (Tyler Perry, Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, John Singleton, Spike Lee) whose worldwide box office grosses are beneath Story's, than they are with the director named Tim Story.

But really, I hope all those studio meetings Story was taking back in 2012 (and hopefully is still taking), and all the projects he was reportedly being offered, eventually materialize into something concrete, and that another 6 years don't go by until his next film opens.

Up next for Story: not-so surprisingly, the sequel to Think Like A Man, titled Think Like a Man Too.

If Tim Story is reading this, we'd love to get an interview with you sir. This post is littered with assumptions on my part, I'd readily admit, based on available information, so it would be great to hear directly from the man himself. After all, maybe Tim Story is perfectly content with the career he currently has (which ultimately is all that really matters), and everything I've said here is needless.

You can read the full LA Times piece HERE.

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37 Comments

  • Ken Davis | May 26, 2014 11:50 AMReply

    It amazes me that that Keenen Ivory Wayans is routinely omitted from most lists of successful African American directors.

  • Teresa Coppock | April 17, 2014 1:03 PMReply

    Mr. Tim Story Congrats on "Ride Along!" It was a really good movie and I want to say that through every great person comes success and failures however it is determined by your ability to keep trying no matter the outcome or what people say. I wish you the best in your future endeavors!!!

    Sincerely,

    Mrs. Coppock

  • sherry edwards | January 22, 2014 1:55 PMReply

    Congrats to Tim Story!!!

  • TSW | January 22, 2014 1:31 AMReply

    What jobs do you all have? Can we get your last evals posted? I bet they wouldn't be much better than the crap you put in your comments about Tim Story. Most of you are probably wanna-be actors and actresses who can't land a role as an extra in any of Tim Story's films. Poll the directors you mentioned and I bet they would blow your opinions up.
    He works hard and what business of it is yours that he's unlike the other people ya'll mentioned. Ain't you got better things to do. Probably not.

  • Dave's Deluxe | January 22, 2014 4:37 AM

    Take it easy there, TSW, this here's an open forum. Go on back to Mother Russia where you belong if you like to censor freedom of speech. And say hello to Tim for me because you're obviously related to him.

    HAW! HAW! HAW!

    *opening beer*

  • slb | January 21, 2014 3:27 PMReply

    There could be any number of reasons Tim Story isn't a bigger name. It's likely a combination of many things (some of which have already been discussed in this post). To say it's because of this or that is oversimplifying the issue. It could be:

    1) Because he's black.

    2) He's not a self promoter like Spike or Tyler.

    3) He does not have a signature film that defines him as a director. You know what you're getting with a Spike Lee film. Fuqua is defined with Training Day. You have some idea of the kind of director you're dealing with. With Tim Story, I'm not sure what's there. Yes those movies made money, but none of them are remotely distinctive. I've seen all of his films pre-Ride Along (other than Taxi) and I can't really say any of the stand out to me.

    4) He might have the reputation of a "hired gun" director and studios aren't willing to give him meatier jobs.

    Who knows? That said, there are definitely much worse directors out there than Tim Story getting higher quality/more prominent gigs. I personally think that #1 and #2 are the largest contributors to his "under the radar" status. For years I have seen white movie directors who cut their teeth doing commercials and videos have their first motion picture be a big budget Hollywood production. (See David Fincher with Alien 3 or Joseph Kosinski with Tron Legacy). That NEVER happens with Black Directors. You have Black Directors who have toiled for years making smaller movies and literally have dozens of television directing credits on their resume and never get anything of substance with respect to full length motion pictures.

    I'm digressing here, but one situation that sticks out to me is Clark Johnson. Clark Johnson starred on Homicide: LOTS and had a dozen of television directing credits on his resume when he got the Samuel L Jackson/Colin Farrell movie, SWAT. SWAT was a box office hit. Clark followed it up with The Sentinel starring Michael Douglas and Keifer Sutherland during the height of Keifer's '24' fame. The Sentinel was a flop. But that was it for Clark. Didn't get a theatrical movie to direct again. Why is that? Wasn't SWAT a big enough hit to give the guy another chance after The Sentinel flopped? He has been absent despite the fact that since The Sentinel he's directed dozens of television show including The Wire, The Shield, and Homeland. Some of the most popular shows of the past 15 years. For The Wire and The Shield, he directed the pilots of both shows which is important because the pilot sets the tone on how the show should be directed through it's lifetime. Dude has put in work. But he can't get a sniff at a theatrical release.

    The point of all that is to say that, I think there are many factors keeping Tim Story under the radar, but I think his race is the most prominent as it happens to numerous other Black directors.

  • Eddie Who | January 22, 2014 5:43 AM

    I made it. When I think 5 Heartbeats, I think director Robert Townsend first.

  • CC | January 22, 2014 3:14 AM

    Mr. Eddie Who, what's your point?

  • Eddie Who | January 21, 2014 11:00 PM

    Everyone knows Robert Townsend directed The Five Heartbeats. It's Townsend, Leon, Harry Lennix, and "oh yeah whats that main guys name?"

  • CareyCarey | January 21, 2014 5:40 PM

    SLB, your comment along with Charles Judson's closed the door. In other words, y'all killed it. It IS all about having a signature film, the color of his skin and the personalities attached to the films whose names ring louder than his. And, probably, more importantly, we're talking about a director of black films.

    In reference to having a signature film, would the world be talking about the director Antoine Fuqua (a black man) if Training day wasn't a hit in the white world? That reminds me, in the black community I don't believe a director and/or who directs a film is the first thing that comes to mind when a movie is the topic of discussion. To that point, if I mentioned the movie "Friday" whose names would stand out? I think Ice Cube's and Chris Tucker's would hit first, not the director. If I said "Think Like a Man", I believe Kevin Hart's name would appear long before it's director. If I said "The Five Heartbeats" (another black classic) I don't believe the general black audience would mention it's director before Eddie Kane Jr. Btw, who did direct that film? I know the answer but I'm just saying, I can list the most popular black classics (of which Barbershop has a seat) and I doubt the directors of such would be known by the average moviegoer. So Tim Story being under the radar is very understandable. And, imo it has nothing to do with whether or not Barber Shop sucked.

  • slb | January 21, 2014 3:45 PM

    @DD Slow day at work for me. I'm far from a Tim Story fan. I find his movies to be average at best to be quite honest. But that doesn't change the fact I don't think he's getting a fair shake relative to similarly skilled directors with worse track records. That's all.

  • Dave's Deluxe | January 21, 2014 3:32 PM

    SLB, that sure is a long comment. How long did it take you to write that thing? You must seriously be a Tim Story fan.

    But seriously, Tim's just a by-the-book hack making a good living. Nothing wrong with that. Beats working!

  • Marq Sears | January 21, 2014 9:45 AMReply

    It's just my opinion but Tim Story makes sh*t films that lack quality and depth...in my opinion he's only made 2 above par (and not that far above it) films (1) Barbershop & (2)Think Like A Man. He is not on the level with F Gary Grey, Antoine Fuqua, John Singleton or Spike Lee in terms of story & quality production. You can pick the plot of the movie Ride Along in the first 20 mins, you knew John Leguizamo character was the mole, Lawrence Fishburne's acting sent him back 30 years and when I seen the super noticeable fake fire (cgi) on the hood of Ice Cube's truck in the opening sequence --- I was done. You can celebrate the money he is making but for the fact that he is consistently feeding our culture bullshit under-produced product --- it doesn't matter. He needs to inspire the culture with quality work. Ride Along was not Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Rush Hour, Bad Boys. Stop "playing" director and go to work!

  • Gary Anderson | January 20, 2014 11:37 PMReply

    Why are you doing this? Tim Story is a director without vision. The reason we don't know of him is that his work is so forgettable. Equating box office success with artistic quality is a poor measuring stick. Using that reasoning RIDE ALONG is a better film than 12 YEARS A SLAVE because the former made more money this past weekend than 12 YEARS has made in the last 14 weeks. Actually, that fact says more about us than it does about these films. Too bad.

  • WUT | January 21, 2014 4:22 AM

    NOBODY SAID THE MOVIE WAS GOOD, JUST THAT IT MADE MONEY. NOBODY SAID BOX OFFICE SUCCESS EQUAL CRITICAL SUCCESS. EITHER TYPE OF SUCCESS MAKES SOMEONE NOTEWORTHY IN INDUSTRY. STOP F#CKING CRYING.

  • Miles Ellison | January 20, 2014 8:57 PMReply

    Directors who are household names direct better movies. There are lots of directors who do hack-level work and generate a ton of box office, and most people don't know their names.

  • wks | January 21, 2014 12:08 AM

    First, I want to congratulate Tim and Will on the success of "Ride Along" opening weekend. No matter what anyone says, for us writers/filmmakers out here not getting any play. This should be counted as beneficial for them as well as us. Sooner or later the industry has to take a closer look at what's being generated from the black film community. The bottom line is always the money! SO, I will not gripe, hype, ridicule or criticize their work at this time. Hopefully their success and the success of others, (where's John Singleton and Antoine Fuqua been lately?) will finally start opening up some doors for the rest of us.

    Although I have to say, living in the ATL, It's hard to see where Tyler or Will Packer have opened up their own doors for fellow writers/filmmakers. And believe me, there ideas are getting stale and they need to check out some new blood - seriously. What's up with that?

  • Uh Huh | January 20, 2014 11:28 PM

    O yea, like Michael Bay, Brett Ratner, Uwe Boll, Roland Emmerich, and Tyler Perry. Household names who do GREAT work!

  • Dr. Roosevelt "Clutch" Northern, Jr., EdD | January 20, 2014 2:42 PMReply

    I first met this talented young man and his twin sister Tammy in 1978. I asked to be stationed in Oxnard, California (Naval Air Station Point Mugu) to be near my mother's only sister and her family. Tim was always a hard worker and a very good athlete. However, his twin Tammy took all of the athletic accolades. These are my first cousins of Inglewood, California. I love and am proud of them all very much. GOD put some great blood in this Story/Williams union.

  • Dave's Deluxe | January 20, 2014 1:02 PMReply

    As long as this dude follows instructions on the script, he works. If he tries to bring any creativity to the table, he fails. But at least he's making a living. I suppose.

  • Dr. Roosevelt "Clutch" Northern, Jr., EdD | January 20, 2014 2:55 PM

    GOD Bless us all for being able to have our own opinions; likes and dislikes and humor or senses of humor. I do believe that Tim's genre is to entertain and not to be too social conscious right now. He has to pay his dues to become the director that he is evolving into. I pay for every one of my cousins flicks. I always enjoy his work and he never disappoints me to laugh or remain conscious of the moment. I can infuse myself in his work and feel his passion to create moments when I can enjoy a movie on a Saturday afternoon. Way to go Director Tim Story! Keep up Your great work! I Love You CUZ! GOD Bless! Chin up! "Clutch"^-^

  • tayler | January 20, 2014 8:20 AMReply

    I remember this guy. He had a lot of potential after Barbershop but then he made Taxi a movie the flop at the box office and with critics and then He became very hated after what he did to the Fantastic Four movies. Fans tore him apart for that. Happy he is back on his feet but Ride Along is not a movie i would go a round telling people I made if I was him. It's a hit but at what cost. Really hoping Think Like A Man 2 is way better.

  • Dr. Roosevelt "Clutch" Northern, Jr., EdD | January 20, 2014 3:00 PM

    Taxi was a good movie for a "night on the couch"to celebrate a cop and a vehicular hero in Queen Latifah partnering up with Jimmy Fallon to add humor in a real case of catching a group of sexy bank robbers. This was a good movie to show Latifah as a comical post "Set it Off" shero. Way to put it together Tim? Great Job and I wait to see many many more. GODspeed!

  • William | January 20, 2014 8:13 AMReply

    People don't talk about this guy because of two reason.


    1. Most of his films are awful. I mean who the hell will admit in public that they loved Taxi, Fantastic Four 1 and 2 and the boring mess he made with bow wow and Lil wyane the went stright dvd. Ride Along is a hit but so was Grown Up 1 and 2 yet they were nothing to brag about.

    2. Unlike Tyler Perry people.are not paying money to see Tim Story. They are paying money to see the people in his film. Tyler Perry name is what sells his products and that may be why he is very well known.

  • mo | January 20, 2014 1:14 PM

    People didn't pay to see Alex Cross. They don't pay to see Tyler, they pay to see the ridiculous stuff he throws together.

  • tim | January 20, 2014 2:43 AMReply

    This guy is really an awful director. Only barbershop was his only good movie.

  • W. Keith Sewell | January 20, 2014 11:55 PM

    I know people who love TP's movies, love to see him as Madea... I'm not going to lay all the blame for the lameness of Tim's work at his doorstep. You have to take into account the Studio intrusion, the Producer, and the lousy script they start out with. To me it's more evident of Will Packer as Producer. It's like, he wants to be J.J. Abrams or some white producer with a reputation for making action films with all the car crashes, explosions, etc, poor story structure - and then tries to throw in some lame comedy along the way. "I'm embarrassed to have given them $10.25 for this "Ride Along". I felt cheated. I had to sneak in to watch the rerelease of 'Gravity' to wash the sour taste from my mouth.

  • mo | January 20, 2014 7:39 PM

    Cuz it's telling. If people really paid just to see Tyler, they would have seen Alex Cross. They pay for his trashy brand, not for his acting talent. He's not in his TV shows or all of his movies. Dont you get it?

  • curtis | January 20, 2014 2:26 PM

    13 films. Over 600 million in box office sales. 5 hit TV shows and sold out plays all over the state and you really going to use one poor example to say people don't see Tyler perry. People pay to see Tyler Perry.

  • Dankwa Brooks | January 20, 2014 12:32 AMReply

    For real, for real whether you think his films are good or bad his films MAKE MONEY! At this point he should be afforded the opportunity to pick projects like JJ Abrams and such b

  • cary | January 19, 2014 9:44 PMReply

    He is not a household name because his films are awful. Think Like a man was decent and Barbershop was good but that was years ago. TP makes a lot of money yet you always trash him yet you want us to talk more about a guy that gave us taxi and the fantastic four. The sad thing is ride along is his worst movie yet. Happy he has a job but with all that money he need to get better project.

  • umadfawha | January 19, 2014 10:44 PM

    That's two solid movies vs Tyler's zero. You think they would ever let Trashmaster Perry direct a superhero or franchise flick? He will live and die in the multimillion-dollar gutter he's built for himself.

    Tim Story's worst is still better than Tyler Perry's best. Story's bad stuff may be stupid, but Perry's is stupid, gross, and incompetent.

  • Guy | January 19, 2014 9:08 PMReply

    He's made a lot of money, let's hope he also starts to make some good film.

  • Donella | January 21, 2014 11:29 AM

    @Charles, Story may prefer to play the back. Make the film. Make the money. Play the back. Make more film. Make more money.

    This strategy may help him in the long run. Or not. Sometimes cult of personality burns careers.

  • LOL | January 21, 2014 4:31 AM

    LMFAO @DA. TYLER PERRY WISHES HIS TRASH WAS AS GOOD AS MICHAEL BAYS TRASH. THERE'S LEVELS TO TERRIBLE MOVIES & TP IS AT VERY BOTTOM.

  • Charles Judson | January 20, 2014 3:37 PM

    D.A., you're over simplifying where Michael Bay came from. Bay won a Clio in 1992, and directed the Got Milk? campaign in 1993. Bay was also apart of Propaganda films, which included Antione Fuqua, David Fincher and Spike Jonze amongst their roster. When he took over Bad Boys it was supposed to be Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz in the roles. Making $141 million off a $19 million budget for his first feature set him on his way.

    Back in the 1990s, Antione Fuqua's name was coming up as much as Fincher, Jonze and Bay because he was coming out of that same group of filmmakers. It helps that Propaganda Films was putting out notable videos and at one point, almost a third of the music videos hitting airwaves. It was also in part because Seven and Bad Boys came out the same year. Studios were looking for the next wave of filmmakers and Fuqua was a part of that.

    Barbershop came out of nowhere. Tim Story didn't have any of that buildup. As I remember it, there was more focus on his being a director who had done two direct-to-dvd films than anything else. What also didn't help was that Ice Cube was the story for Barbershop, not Tim Story. Cube may have had some duds in there, but after combined critical and financial success of films like The Glass Shield, Friday, Anaconda and Three Kings, Cube was definitely the highest profile person of the two.

    Tim Story's problem is that there isn't much of a narrative to his career. Nothing post Barbershop has really built on itself. Truth be told, there still isn't. Think Like A Man speaks more to the career trajectory of Kevin Hart, Steve Harvey and Rainforest Films's Will Packer than it does Story. This Movie Web headline from April 2011 says it all: "Think Like a Man Gets Director Tim Story, Kevin Hart will star in this comedic adaptation of Steve Harvey's self-help book." Post Barbershop, Story is seen as mostly as a hired gun.. Is that a bad thing? Not really. Most directors never make it to the A-list level. Dennis Dugan's average gross per movie is $78 million, and no one is wondering about his status as an A-list director. He works because Adam Sandler continues to hire him. Twenty years of hits or profitable films aren't enough to elevate a director's standing.

  • D.A. | January 20, 2014 6:29 AM

    You two are fully aware that you don't have to watch a Tyler Perry film, he's obviously not in your target market so why even remotely complain about it. TP is in the same category as Michael Bay quality-wise, yet MB is known for making big budget pieces that OVER-over-compensate (not my opinion, critics), the difference: MB's white and has way more money. Critics can't stand Michael Bay's films, yet they still watch them pretty much knowing what to expect, and he's not made any real effort to make his films appealing to them. This talk of TP's films being terrible has gotten tired and unnecessarily drawn out, especially when we've seen enough to have low expectations. I'm not giving you the benefit of the doubt, your not idiots so I know you know better.

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