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Tim Story: The Highest Grossing Black Director Many Still Aren't Familiar With

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act May 15, 2012 at 11:43AM

Will "Think Like A Man" Put Tim Story On Hollywood's A list?
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Tim Story

Will "Think Like A Man" Put Tim Story On Hollywood's A list?

That's what the Los Angeles Times asks in a piece that was posted on their website late last night. 

Short answer? No.

Long answer... 

Don't get me wrong, as I already noted on this site, I've seen the movie, and I enjoyed it - light, frothy entertainment that knows what it is, and really doesn't try to be anything but; a kind of update on the *rules* featured in Mark Brown's 2001 comedy Two Can Play That Game that didn't do nearly as well; so it's not 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 this question is being asked now, in 2012, after Story has 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 have collectively grossed close to $900 million worldwide (close to $1 billion if adjusted for inflation). I'd say that there aren't many directors of any color working today who can claim 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 (10) 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) - movies that I found underwhelming, and certainly didn't rake in anywhere near Avengers-style numbers; but I can't blame him entirely for the underperformance 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, the first one grossed $330 million worldwide on a $100 million budget; 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 now Think Like A Man is on its way to $100 million (domestically), on a measly $12 million budget. 

I can't help but feel that if Story was a white director, the question posed by the LA Times wouldn't 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's been 5 years since Story's last big screen release; 6 years if you're counting from the year the film was actually shot.

And even with the success of Think Like A Man, 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? Right. 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 one 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 current success of Think Like A Man. 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, or even know who he is. Many of those same people (audiences mostly) associate the film primarily with its 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 online 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 say Mr Story. I'd say he needs a "hype man." 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 Tim Story.

But really, I hope all those studio meetings Story is taking in Hollywood, and all the projects he's reportedly being offered, eventually materialize into something concrete, and that another 4 years don't go by until his next film opens.

You can read the full LA Times piece HERE.


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