Exclusive: Producer Will Packer on putting Ride Along together and starting new company

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Exclusive: Producer Will Packer on putting Ride Along together
by Wilson Morales

January 21, 2014

With the success of his latest film, Ride Along,’ which set a record MLK box office weekend take of $48M, producer Will Packer has put together his 5th #1 film opener on his list of credits.

Along with his Think Like a Man director Tim Story and actor Kevin Hart, and the combination of working with Ice Cube, who’s returning to leading man status after a few years, Packer is reigniting the careers of some while giving others a bigger spotlight on a major platform.

While Cube and Hart are the leads, also featured are John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen, Laurence Fishburne, Jay Pharoah, and Lil P-Nut.

After being involved with Rob Hardy and their Rainforest Films for several years, which included several hits such as “This Christmas,” “Stomp the Yard,” “Obsessed,” “Takers” and “Think Like A Man” Packer recently inked a three-year first-look producing deal with Universal Pictures under Will Packer Productions.

In speaking with Blackfilm.com, Packer talks about bringing Ride Along to the big screen, working with Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, and the latest changes in his career.

How did you put this film together and getting Kevin Hart to star in it?

Will Packer: He was ready. I knew that before ‘Think Like a Man,’ but I also knew that film was an initial project to introduce him to a wider audience. He did that and stole the show, like I knew that he would. When ‘Ride Along’ came about and I was sent the script by Ice Cube and his team, I had just done ‘Think Like a Man,’ and I brought it to Tim (Story) and Kevin and said, “Let’s do this!” I knew that Kevin was ready. It was an action movie that the studio wasn’t open to taking a risk to make it and giving us control and going to Atlanta, but they did.

Although Ice Cube sent you the script, was he attached to star in the film as well?

WP: Ice Cube was always attached to the project. They were trying to figure out who to pair with him. After ‘Think Like a Man’ and Kevin Hart was on the radar, they reached out to me to see if this would be something that Kevin and Cube can do something together. You think about them and that dynamic, the chemistry speaks for itself.

How is it that CubeVision would partner with another producing team on a film? It’s usually just them and the studio.

WP: Ice Cube is smart. He recognizes that everybody has a lane. He produces, he directs, and he acts. In this film, he definitely wanted to act. He wanted to focus on acting and be able to do that. He allowed me to do what I do as a producer and he was very respectful of my process as a producer and I really appreciate that because he didn’t have to. This was a CubeVision thing but he was open and he knew I had a relationship with Tim and Kevin. He said to come in and “Do my thing” and “Let’s see how great we can make this.”

How did Universal Pictures come into play as you have always done your films with Screen Gems?

WP: This was a project that was at another studio (New Line) and Universal bought it from that studio. Once they knew that there was a Will-Packer-Tim-Story-Kevin-Hart package to go along with Ice Cube, Universal said they wanted in. They were the highest bidder.

From Laurence Fisher to Lil P-Nut, you have a host of veterans and newcomers in the film, as well as those you have worked with before such as Tika Sumpter and Gary Owen. Does it make it easier when you have folks who are familiar with you and those who can work with you?

WP: I believe in investing in people. Gary and I have done three films together and he’s someone I believe in. I believe in his talent. Tika is the same thing. I love the idea of putting a brown skin African American sister in the female role. I always try have that balance in my films because I know how important imagery is, especially to African American audiences. I love that she represents that. With Lil P-Nut, to be honest with you, I discovered him on this film. I like to work with people who are hard workers and I know what their talent level is. It’s great. As a producer, I’m tasked with the responsibility of putting together a cast that has appeal. I need people to go see my movies and people go to the movies to see people who they think are stars. I have to have people that have an appeal. I can’t do a film with all newcomers. I like to sprinkle in some newcomers or some up-and-comers whenever I can.

This is a Rainforest Productions film and you’ve now started Will Packer Productions label. Where did the idea to separate and go on your own come from?

WP: I have been working with Rob Hardy for years and he and I have a great relationship, and will continue to have a great relationship. We decided to go our separate ways and it was very amicable. He’s concentrating more on directing and he’s doing some amazing things on the television. For me, this is an opportunity to expand my brand and to start a new shingle and Universal was the place where I wanted to do that. They were open to me to do that. They offered me the opportunity and it’s a chance for me as a filmmaker to continue to make great content and broader content. Rob and I were friends before the business. We’re fraternity line brothers and we will continue to be great friends. The business is just a bonus but never was the only thing that defined our relationship.

You have another film, that was actually shot before Ride Along, with No Good Deed, starring Taraji P. Henson and Idris Elba. It was pushed back to September 12. Why the long wait?

WP: It’s weird because when movies get pushed, people think that something’s wrong and that’s not always the case. A lot of times, there are studio business issues that come into play and for a variety of reasons those films get moved around. It’s too crowded or they don’t want spend money in a particular fiscal year or another film that has a similar theme moved up a couple of months ahead of you. No Good Deed is one film that has bounced around a few times, but I think it’s going to stick with its new date and be released this Fall. People will be pleased.

Will there ever be a Takers prequel?

WP: I wouldn’t be enthusiastic about it without Paul (Walker).

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