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

by Tambay A. Obenson
May 15, 2012 11:43 AM
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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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  • Igbo | May 23, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    I've been familiar with Tim Story since his first feature film, "One of Us Tripped." Since then I've seen several of his films including, "Think Like a Man," which was okay. I'm sure he's a nice guy and deserves the same opportunities to direct megabudget escapist films as his white counterparts, but there's nothing about his work to write home about. What great film is lurking inside him that demands to be told? He's a journeyman.

  • EVERETTE | May 21, 2012 12:49 PMReply

    Who directed, GONE WITH THE WIND? The producer of that film positioned himself in the market place to garner just what he got. Spike Lee did the same with the shameless marketing of himself and his film.

    Tim, perhaps, is more layed back and does not want to engage in that type of hype and marketing hysteria. We will know him by the quality of his work. I suspect that that is his rule.

    If he has a publicist, that person ought to be released. Shadow Act needs to present a spread on Story.

    I have only been made aware of Tim Story last year. A friend of another ethnic persuasion mentioned him during a pitch. I had heard of his work and I have had friends who worked on his films and they had never mentioned him.

    Hey, Tim, jump in the mix!!! :-)

  • Bl13 | May 18, 2012 4:07 PMReply

    That's whats wrong with a lot of us know, all hype and no substance. The same media that hypes you up, will at every opportunity, run you into the gutter. I say, be careful Mr. Story...let your work speak for itself.

  • Sithembiso | May 18, 2012 6:38 AMReply

    Hollywood was created by individuals so i guess if we want to celebrate and sustain black arts, we must create our own art-bueiness value chain, the problem though is that the black society around the globe is not in sync, there are too many cultures and heritages, so its kinda difficult to make stories that are universal to the black market. Big up to Tyler. We can't expect the white population to watch our stories based on sympathy, movies are meant to be entertaining, educational!

  • Sithembiso | May 18, 2012 6:31 AMReply

    It's my first time to hear about him, well now i know. maybe Story doesn't want to be on the lime light if he wanted to be, I'm sure most audiences will know about him by now.

  • lilkunta | May 18, 2012 5:40 AMReply

    I didnt read TLAM nor see TLAM. Steve harvey needs to stfu. he isnt funny as a comic, his 90s show was bufoonery, and he shouldnt be giving relationship advice when he is in his what 3rd marriage to a former drug dealer go to girl.

    i think many do associate TLAM with Will Packer bc he prmoted it.
    I agree that Tim needs a hype man.

    Also to the list of directors of singleton, gray, lee, perry,fuqua where is ROBERT TOWNSEND?

  • david banks | May 20, 2012 2:08 AM

    this is one of the dumbest posts i've ever read. you really think WILL PACKER (even with the great track record that he has) pushed this movie to 100 MIL?

    And The Book TLAM as you so eloquently put it, is about the BULL#$#$ that guys pull to keep stringing women along. So although it may not be "new" advice, it has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with how many marriages and who's married to who now.

    So as it turns out "LILKUNTA" YOU need to STFU! I just argued with a dude named "lil kunta" I'm sorry yall...

  • Malik Yoba | May 18, 2012 3:59 AMReply

    As an actor/writer/producer/director who has worked in this business since 1989, and seeing things from many perspectives, all you speak of is true..... still most importantly you speak to the universal and longstanding need for all of us who may not be as close to the "inside" of the Hollywood system as we would like, is has to be our mission to be proactive and create our own this website. The internet gives us an instant global audience for our ideas. I'm in It gives us all a voice. However small it is a place to start. Once personal example is...If you haven't checked out my webseries "SHOPTALK" I wrote,directed and starred in- I did that webseries based on a film I co-wrote and is my directorial debut called "WHATS ON THE HEARTS OF MEN" which started as a play I co-wrote with my brother in 20o0. We have been working to get this film made for over a decade. We have made our rounds at the studios and it hasn't been easy but we persist. So I did the webseries loosely based on it as a way to keep the dream alive of me directing my first feature..... Especially now more than ever the opportunity exists for folks to take their destiny in their own hands. My father always said "Build your own generator so when they turn off the power, you still have lights." That has served me well in my career. Most people know me as an actor but I have always been a multi hyphenate. The other thing in my opinion that we need to do is stop just thinking about ONLY telling "our stories" per se and focus on stories that have universal appeal and are multicultural as well. Look at the types of films that succeed at the box office. We need to do it all. And we have to find more effective ways of working together to do it, not just with people that look like us. I am often the only person of color in a cast. I have learned the reason for a lack of diversity in Hollywood is not always simple racism. It's more about the people who are producing, writing and distributing films and television are writing from the perspective of the person they see in the mirror everyday. They are thinking about things from the world around them. Unless one lives in a multicultural world they won't write from that perspective. I had a pretty cool moment on set tonite shooting my SyFy Channel series "Alphas". As the only man of color on the show, when meeting with the writers before the start of our second season(GOD BLESS ALL OF YA'LL THAT SUPPORTED SEASON ONE!!!!) I asked them to really be more diverse in the casting of the guest star roles this year. Tonite I turned to the executive producer and said "we have had more diverse casting in the first six episodes of this year than we had all of last season!" He said "We listened to you and kept our word" A small moment but huge!!! The fact that our show is in the sci-fi genre, also lends itself to diverse casting and universal appeal. I was recently in Europe promoting it to international press including Africa and again, I'm reminded of the need for us to think and live globally ....
    I also encourage folks to read a great book on the history of Hollywood called " An Empire Of Their Own: How The Jews Built Hollywood". It is a wonderful lesson on how a group of people worked together to create the very system of commerce and wealth building we all wish to be a part of. I have always used the lessons I've learned from that book and my experiences as an actor fortunate enough to work in this business for two decades to move my dreams forward. The truth is this business is hard for EVERYBODY!!!! Movies are very hard to get made no matter who you are. Movies are made to serve a global market from a studio perspective. "Can we sell it foreign?" is always the number one question because foreign sales is what makes a studio want to invest $50 or $100 million dollars in a movie in the 1st place. Because they know that they can sell the distribution rights before they even make the movie. When it comes to movies with all black casts, they generally don't sell internationally because audiences around the world often times feel they wont be able to relate. I hear this often when I travel abroad. I also know their IS an international audience for some of them especially if it's in the action genre. Just has to be cultivated

    I appreciate and applaud the work you folks are doing with this site, keep it up it keeps me informed !!!

    Bless Up!!

  • Dawn | May 27, 2012 1:15 PM

    Thanks Malik for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes to hear of your small/big victory of bringing greater diversity to your show. I do think there was a time in Hollywood when Black was the new black, but sadly that was short lived and way over. So now it is up to people like you to fight the fight and make inroads incrementally. I would love to see more films such as yours with all black cast especially if intelligent and well written, but I think seeing black people within the larger culture is also extemely important to our cultural pride.

    Of course this shouldn't be either or, but as you said there is an issue of unversaility. Not only do white folks fail to see our humanity, I think we fail to see it in ourselves. Why is it that the works of the long dead Shakespeare written in freaken iambic pentameter is still relevant while films about African-americans is considered too foreign? I think in part the issue is that by and large black films on the market today do not grapple with larger human themes, but are instead extremly limited in scope. There are, for example, many black films about relationships, but few about love, and the nuances and vagaries of genuinely trying to connect to another human being. Naw, we have settled for, broad strokes, bufffonery, and cartoonish portrayals. Not to say it would be easy for even the most well constructed black film to be made, but at least we would know that there is something out there that genuinely reflects our humanity. Shine on Malik.

  • Nadia | May 20, 2012 10:03 AM

    Co-sign what both Malik and Curtis said. This blog is vital to the progression of black cinema. You'd be surprised who's reading. Keep it up Tambay and co.

  • Curtis | May 18, 2012 6:45 AM

    Is this THE Malik Yoba? Good looking out sir. Thanks for the contribution to this discussion. Good information.

  • Roxe Jones | May 17, 2012 9:35 PMReply

    Seriously, this is Hollywood. What do you expect? Black filmmakers can't afford to be mired in some fantasy of a soft-focus, slow-motion, running through a field of daisies intellectual and emotional embrace on the part of an industry that has at best been begrudgingly accepting of black filmmakers when the bottom line left no other choice and at worst, continued to name the most prestigious directing award in the country after D.W. Griffith. To quote Spike Lee, "Wake uppppp!" We have to look to the future and an entirely new paradigm. The end.

  • a jeanus director | May 17, 2012 7:06 PMReply

    First I would like to say for the record their are black female directors out there working as hard, but can't get in the door. I for one, can justify that directors are people and not male or female. We all work hard at this and as African American directors we deserve just as much attention as the white directors (males and females). Now, Story is a great director and I follow his work as well as the other directors. I feel he does need a better agent to sell him more, yet definately he needs to sell himself. Obviously, he doesn't care to much about reports. I'm a film director and writer, I look forward to being critiqued about great films I've made. I don't write black films, instead I write films that I would like to see on the big screen. My films will relate to every persons race, color and creed. I look at films as art not as a pay check, although the future holds great for me. Do your thing Story forget about the politics involved. Spoken from a lover of the film noir.

  • Malik | May 16, 2012 1:19 PMReply

    Maybe I am completely off base, but when I read these type of articles I am often confused by Black people's approach to entertainment and the arts. It seems like we are always asking for permission, recognition, or validation from "the industry" i.e. our white peers. But, truly, when Black filmmakers concentrate on their target market they experience great success. Love him or hate him, TP is not waiting on permission. Spike makes what he wants to make. Singleton and The Highes Brothers have a clear vision. I haven't heard of Story because I can't hear (or see) his voice... Who cares what his numbers are? What is he saying? I don't know who he is because he is not showing me. One of the best Black Directors is actually a woman, Kasi Lemmons, and I can only name 2 of her films. But those films are that I connect with. I appreciate this article because it reminds me not to fall victim to the same thing that has my people lost right now: I don't need MY ART integrated into your system- so that you can bleach all the Black from it. If I find my audience and my voice, and speak directly with them... the world will follow. Hip-Hop taught us that... And they also taught us: "Burn Hollywood, Burn"

  • Kia | May 17, 2012 5:06 PM

    Ditto to your post Malik. I'll add that I will not knock the man's ability to get work on large budget studio films, because black directors and block buster are two words that you may see once/twice a year--maybe.

  • Rog in Miami Gardens | May 17, 2012 10:41 AM

    Thank you, Malik. I hear the shoutin' music in the background and the choir cuing up to sang! Lol. You are on point about this issue. Enough is truly enough. There are Black folks doing all sorts of ish artistically AWAY from the hum-drum and white noise of mainstream, and as more and more Black folk start to "see the light" and turn to the web, for example, for their entertainment, it is only going to increase in profits for the Black creators and quality for the Black consumer! Halleluyer! Lol

  • Priss | May 16, 2012 12:36 AMReply

    I wonder what would happen if one surveyed average black Americans and asked them to name 10 black directors currently directing feature films, meaning ya can't sneak in out Melvin Van Peebles and Robert Townsend! Could most of our people name even 5 black feature directors who've made a film in the last 5 years by name - not by film? By name. Our directors aren't branding themselves like Spike did. That is part of the game and it's up to them. That is nobody else's fault. And to your point, would there be any women on the list that the average black American knows by name? I challenge that the customer service rep in Cleveland and the hairdresser in Oakland wouldn't even know Antoine Fuqua by name, much less Tim Story or any of our other directors besides Spike, Singleton and Tyler Perry. Damn shame. Anyhow, good article!

  • CareyCarey | May 17, 2012 12:22 PM

    No Cherish, you're correct, I don't believe it's any different in White America. But wait, I am not around many whites when they're discussing movies so I am merely assuming they are no different. I was simply addressing Prisses point that there's some alleged fault that Tim Story has to accept. First, I do not believe he really cares whether or not he's the topic of "black" discussion. The Los Angeles Times and Tambay posed the questions -- the issue was not Tim Story's concern.

  • Cherish | May 17, 2012 11:39 AM

    But Carey, is that any different from White America? Does the average White American know anymore about White directors and their projects? How many average white folks can name directors other than Scorsese, Spielberg or Coppola? Hope we're not expecting more from black folks than we should.

  • CareyCarey | May 16, 2012 2:13 PM

    Excellent point Priss. And the quandary has another head. I'd challenge the average black American to name black actors outside the most popular ones (i.e, Denzel, Will, Forrest Whitaker, Wesley Snipes, etc,). I'd even venture to say Idris Elba would not fall from their mouth, or at least he would not be in their top 25. So, going back to your comment that "it's nobodies else's fault but them" I don't believe that's true. I believe many people simply do not and/or have not found a need to know what others find so important. Fact is, most Americans cannot attach the correct director to his or her film. Ask a person what films were directed by Denzel, John Singleton, Carl Franklin, Antoine Fuqua, Sydney Poitier, F. Gary Gray, Kasi Lemmons, Forrest Whitaker, Lee Daniels or Oprah (trick question) and watch the looks on their faces as they scratch their heads in bewilderness.

  • Zeke | May 15, 2012 9:03 PMReply

    Tim's problem is he doesn't bring that extra layer of creativity to the work: he's a by-the-book director for hire. What you see in the script is exactly what he'll put on the screen, nothing more, nothing less. Works fine for some making a living (ahemBrettRatnerahem); unfortunately, as Tim is black, it works a bit against him. He should take a page from Spike's playbook and say something idiotic that will elevate his "pay attention to ME now" level.

  • sergio | May 15, 2012 9:50 PM

    But Ratner, though he's a total and compete hack, sells himself big in the industry. Studio execs love him because they think he's hip, all that and cutting edge. When he briefly dated Serena Williams they thought he was the coolest, hippest cat in town. Of course he isn't even remotely, but he sells himself like that and they believe him. What do they know? Story should do the same thing or as I suggested below start dating Rhianna

  • other song | May 15, 2012 4:47 PMReply

    I look forward to 2062 when this article will still be relevant

  • Orville | May 15, 2012 4:24 PMReply

    Tambay's article is well written and it does explore the struggle black filmmakers such as Tim Story experience in Hollywood. However, I still feel it is important to be positive.

    At least the LA Times actually gave print coverage to Tim Story and I think that's important and it all has to do with Think Like A Man's success.

    America is still racially segregated though so I am not surprised that some white people in Hollywood haven't seen the film. In the end does that really matter anyway? TLAM has done incredibly well and it continues to do so.
    Has the black media focused on Tim Story? I am just asking. Has Ebony or Essence or any of the big black media publications done articles on this guy?

    Story is doing well and I am sure he will get work in Hollywood. The success of Think Like A Man has forced the white mainstream American media to pay attention to African American actors. Why do you think Meagan Good got the lead on the show Infamous? I think Think Like A Man had a role in Meagan getting the job. Think Like A Man is definitely a very important film.

  • Ladybug | May 17, 2012 9:12 AM

    Big Black Publications suck for lack of a better description . . . I cancelled my subscriptions after years of seeing people I don't give two shits about featured on its cover and within its pages. It really is a shame!

  • sergio | May 15, 2012 6:05 PM

    Speaking from experience you'll be surprised how hard it convince black publications to do an article on black directors (Spike is the exception mainly because 1) he's been around a long time and 2) he makes a lot of noise - i.e. publicity for himself) You'll never see one about Story, Fuqua or Dees Rees. Maybe an interview if they have a film coming out, but that's the most they'll ever get. And even then you'll have to convince them. They'll tell you they're not big enough. No knows knows who they are. Tyler Perry is seen as a celebrity not a filmmaker. If he didn't act in his films they wouldn't care about him. The only way Story is going to get noticed by black magazines or blogs is he'll have to start dating Rhianna and even then he'll be cropped out of the photos

  • Micah | May 15, 2012 12:12 PMReply

    Since like others that frequent this I'm often searching for black directors that are doing well, I've known about Tim Story for years. It's sad but true that few know who Tim Story is. I'm sure, given his track record, if he was white they would be throwing movies at him. Perhaps he needs a better agent.

  • Miles Ellison | May 20, 2012 2:19 AM

    He doesn't need a better agent. He needs to be white.

  • cinexa | May 15, 2012 3:15 PM

    What he said.

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