You’ve collaborated with a lot of powerful women
over the years, including Tiffany Haddish, Queen
Latifah, and Taraji P. Henson. Little showcases the
talent of 14-year-old Marsai Martin, both behind
and in front of the camera. She’s now the youngest
person ever to have produced a Hollywood movie.
What made you want to work with her? This next
generation of creatives is more comfortable with its
voice than previous generations. They are more aware
of their reach and their power. With the right leadership
and guiding hand, the sky’s the limit for them. Marsai
PRODUCER WILL PACKER’S FILMS, SUCH
as the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton,
Tiffany Haddish’s breakout vehicle Girls
Trip, and the dance drama Stomp the Yard,
have generated more than $1 billion at the
box office by making blockbusters that
appeal to black audiences and beyond.
His latest film, Little, starring Issa Rae and
Black-ish’s Marsai Martin, was coproduced
by 14-year-old Martin, whom he worked
with to develop and pitch the idea for a
Creative Conversation N
PAC K I N G
THE HIT;MAKING FILM AND TELEVISION
PRODUCER TALKS ABOUT BREAKING
INTO ENTERTAINMENT, THE CULTURAL
IMPORTANCE OF ATLANTA, AND
“THE NEW AMERICAN MAINSTREAM.”
BY KC IFEANYI
is a great example. She’s amazing in that she listens to me and al-
lows me to give her advice. But she has a very clear idea of what
she wants to do, and what her talents are. My job is to put her in a
position to win.
You broke into film in 1994 as an undergraduate at Florida A&M
University by producing Chocolate City, a drama about a young
man attending a historically black college. You spent $20,000
on the film, which became a local hit. What did you learn from
that experience? There is a benefit to naïveté—you try everything
and you’re fearless. As an industry veteran, I think you still have to be
fearless, even when you know that certain things may not work. You
have [to remember] that you wouldn’t be where you are if it wasn’t for
bucking trends and doing things in a nontraditional way. I still have
the philosophy that I have to attack this industry every day as if it’s
my first movie and I’ve got something to prove.
With Chocolate City, you tapped into an underserved audience
that was hungry for films that spoke to their own experiences.
Do you think the industry has changed its outlook on tailoring
content for specific audiences? Being somebody who started off
creating content for a niche audience, I was always feeling pressure
from financiers, studios, distributors to bring the budgets down. But
I understood how to get in under the hood and where to move the
chips around in order to make [my films] palatable for a financier.
This is before people realized how big and fruitful my niche could
be. I don’t think anybody would say the urban—or new American
mainstream—audience is some tiny niche now. Everybody knows
that audience is a force to be reckoned with.
Lately, your movies, like Girls Trip, and your shows on OWN—
which include the reality dating show Ready to Love and the
family drama Ambitions—have focused on black women.
You also acquired the popular black women’s lifestyle site
xoNecole. How do you identify content that appeals to this
segment of the population? In today’s environment of oversaturated content, if you’re not making a movie for a specific somebody
then you damn sure better be making it for everybody. But that’s
really, really hard to do. So I think about [a specific] audience member. I think about what she does, what she likes, what she wants to
see, what she hasn’t seen, and how she likes to see herself. I think
about how I can make something that feels really specific and organic to her. And the stories usually evolve
from that. Girls Trip was based on Essence
magazine’s annual music festival celebrating African-American culture and music.
That was a real festival with real people, so
it had a real texture to it.
You are based out of Los Angeles and At-
lanta, a major hub for black culture. Does
having roots in Atlanta help your career?
Living in Atlanta means I interact with my
consumers daily. It gives me a leg up over my
peers who don’t leave the Hollywood bubble
COMPANY Will Packer
YEARS AT COMPANY
FIRST JOB Producer,
PHOTOGRAPH BY BEN ROLLINS FASTCOMPANY.COM 19 MAY 2019