A conversation with Producer Will Packer on his next big hit GIRLS TRIP

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A conversation with Producer Will Packer on his next big hit GIRLS TRIP
Posted by Dominga Martin

July 19, 2017

When making movies in Hollywood, box office numbers matter.  However, when you have a winning formula that includes great casting, content, and a movie that is selling out theaters, you can pretty much write your own ticket.  Producer Will Packer has been steadily climbing the Hollywood ladder, one box office hit at a time, and this time he joins forces with Director Malcolm Lee to make a summer sizzle: Girls Trip.

As the nuts and bolts guy, we had a chat, in New Orleans, which is the back drop for this film, in addition to the ESSENCE Music Festival, which was in full effect as we sat down to discuss the logistics of putting together a film with a star studded cast, including Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett-Smith, who had not worked together since their 90’s classic: “Set it Off.”  It had been 20 years since the ladies came together in a film, and the first time Will has worked wth either.

As a Producer, he had to navigate the logistical challenges of shooting a fictional film, in a real time, star studded event, which will not pause for “takes.” Will Packer speaks candidly about casting, logistics, how social media plays a role in movie making, and why you should go see this film, about 4 women, reconnecting after work and life gets in the way of their friendship.  What he and Malcolm Lee have a created is a wild ride that captures the essence of black women in flight—-through ups and downs, finding themselves and each other, but most importantly they capture a real sisterhood that resonates on screen, paying homage to their love of black women and quirky movies like Hangover.

This film is a real trip!  Literally and I couldn’t wait to discuss how it all went down.  Check it.

Both you and Malcolm have franchise movies; what does it mean to you to be a brother in Hollywood creating that kind of value?  

Will Packer:  Well, it’s power and with power comes responsibility.  It means that it’s really, really important for us to be careful about the imagery we’re putting on the screen, especially when you think about the fact that we both have had movies that a lot of people have seen, and have been able to do sequels [that] a lot of people have seen.  I’m very fortunate to be in that kind of position, but it’s not a position that I take lightly.

So, with Girls Trip, what I wanted to do was to make sure that we told an authentic experience.  I didn’t want it to be exploitative of the black women’s experience going to ESSENCE.  I wanted to highlight it.  I wanted to make sure it was organic to how black women really are.  Malcolm and I as men, love black women and wanted to put these sisters in positions to succeed, to win and to tell their stories—-then back out of the way to let them go.

Every guy has their type:  It’s either, the home girl, the ride or die, the motherly figure…which character in Girl’s Trip would you say was your “type?”

Will Packer: Probably Jada, the “Lisa” character…the maternal one because I was such a mama’s boy, I still am.  Love my mom to death, would do anything for her, so probably that nurturing ability that Jada has would’ve been attractive to young Will Packer.  Tiffany (“Dina”) would’ve scared the mess out of me.  Dina would’ve just scared me off.  I wouldn’t know what to do with all of that as a young boy dreaming of becoming a man.  Dina would’ve scared me!  And then Jada’s character (Lisa) is maternal but she’s got a wild side, obviously [and] that’s what’s so true of real people.  There’s such a complexity.  Nobody is just one way or just another and we had to show some of that complexity.

It was very real, I howled watching the film, so what do you want us to take away from the movie?

Will Packer: Oh, man!  Euphoria.  Empowerment.  Liberation. I want audiences to leave this film having a really good time, thats what we made it for.  I also want them to feel invested in the characters.  I want them to feel the heart that was intended when we made this film.  I think right now, you’ve got an America that’s becoming more and more divided everyday.  As divisive rhetoric spews from out of the swamp that is Washington, DC right now, I think people need an escape from that, and as much content out there that you can consume at home, on line, on your devices, there’s still nothing like going into a darkened movie theater and disconnecting from reality for a couple of hours.  That is when the medium is at it’s best; when it allows you to disconnect and that’s what this film does.

What attracts you to ensembles, because most of your films have multiple characters?

Will Packer: I’ve done it all.  I’ve done some ensembles but I’ve done some two handers as well.  It’s fun doing ensembles because you can have so many different flavors portrayed, and so many different entry points for all audiences.  So with Girls Trip, I think their are audiences that will be able to relate to each of the different characters in different ways.  That’s pretty cool.  You can do that in an ensemble in a way that you can’t  with the two hander thing.

What was it about Malcolm that made you want to work with him, specifically on this film?

I’ve been a fan of his for awhile and…black Hollywood is as big as this room.  Everyone knows each other; so we knew each other and had talked about finding the right project to work together on but hadn’t found that right project yet, and he was coming off of “The Best Man Holiday” and I had this idea from my time down here at the ESSENCE Festival and I called him with that pitch—-and he was getting pitched a lot of stuff at that time because he had just had a big successful movie; but he responded right away.  He said, we gotta make this movie.  I said: ‘Let’s do it.’  I told him, ‘I’ll get the financing, we’ll figure out the cast and you go direct it.’  He said, “cool.”

That’s beautiful, so tell me about the next one, I hear you’re doing a film called “Night School” together…

Will Packer: Yes, we are.  I’m excited.  It’s actually Kevin Hart’s idea.

Oh Really?

Will Packer: Yes, he pitched me this idea when we were in London for “Ride Along, 1” press promotions, and he basically said, “what if you have a group of misfits and they all have to go to night school to get their G.E.D?  like an adult version of “The Breakfast Club” and I said, ‘that’s brilliant.’ and as things go, these things take time to get going because that was years ago but now we finally got it going and got Universal Studios on board, and I reached out to Malcolm [and ah] he had been wanting to work with Kevin Hart.

He and I just had this success with GIRLS TRIP—which we hope will be successful in the box office, but no matter what it does, we’re very proud of it.  So I connected Kevin and Malcolm because they hadn’t worked together before and didn’t really know each other, so I connected him and I told Kev, ‘Listen man, Mal’s the guy’…I showed Kevin an early cut of Girl’s Trip, and he LOVED IT…loved it, and he said. “Let’s do it…let’s do it with Malcolm.”

You both have worked with Regina, who’s idea was it to cast her as the leading lady?

Will Packer: Actually, I was doing some promotion with Regina for another movie that we had done and we were on a plane, and before I had even formulated the idea, it’s just a journal of an idea—and I said: ‘Gina, what if there was a movie about a group of girls, and it was like THIS, against this backdrop?!  She said, “That would be cool.”  I said, ‘alright, I’ll get back to you.’ and then I went and pitched Malcolm and I told him; ‘what about Regina?’ He said, “ABSOLUTELY.”…so then we got Regina in.  The next two were Latifah and Jada, and they hadn’t worked together since “Set it Off”…it had been 20 years and they had been wanting to work together again, so that was awesome…so we got those two, then it was about finding the wild card…finding the “Dina” character.

Tiffany was amazing…

Will Packer: She is, this was her break out.  A star is born.  She auditioned multiple times.  She beat out some great actresses, named actresses, but this was her role.  This is the role she was meant to play.

This is a beautiful time for Black Film because  there’s so much black talent, so you must have tons of movie ideas for all of them, but you can’t play with them all at once, so how did you narrow down the cast for this particular project?

Will Packer: Well Regina first because I am familiar with her and such a fan of hers.  I think that she can do comedy, she can do drama, she is just so talented.  She’s one of my favorite actresses and I needed somebody to anchor this project that could be funny, yet, you would invest in and believe their struggle and the challenges they have to overcome.  You needed someone who you could believe that, and that was Regina.

And then I always wanted to work with Latifah and Jada, and I knew Latifah but I didn’t know Jada until this project…but getting the two of them was like a dream…you know?  And they both liked it because their characters were a little bit different than what you would expect…Jada’s always like the strong woman character, so to play somebody that was a little vulnerable, a conservative mom…she responded to that.  For Latifah, as big as a celebrity that she is, she’s playing a messy celebrity blogger, who celebrities hate—that was interesting [and] I think she enjoyed that, and then like I said, it was that final piece which was Tiffany Haddish.  We were really fortunate to get this cast.

When you’re making a movie, there’s usually…especially in an ensemble—-4 or 5 different combinations that could come together, and I’ve been fortunate that when I think about “Think Like a Man, when I think about “About Last Night”, when I think about “Ride Along” I look at the combination of characters that the actors brought to life, and I’m always like ‘boy, did we get that right.’, you know?  I’ve just really been fortunate in terms of the casting of my pictures, just when  there’s another one that I can not imagine another way.

Do you think that social media metrics has a role in casting movies?

Will Packer: Sure, absolutely, my job is to make the best content I can and to get as many people to see it as possible, part of that is having a cast that can reach out beyond the marketing that the studio will do, so that’s important.  I definitely take that into account.  It doesn’t outweigh the right person for the role, but in today’s marketplace, you have to be able to compete with projects that have more money than you, bigger stars than you, and one easy way to do that is to have stars that can connect directly with audiences.

Girls Trip movie cast Malcom Lee, Queen Latifah, Tiffany Haddish, Larenz Tate, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kofi Siriboe, and Will Packer posed on the red carpet during the Girls Trip movie screen at the Theaters At Canal Place in New Orleans on Friday, June 30th, 2017.

Yes, and it did connect…when bringing Latifah and Jada together again, did you know that you had to pay homage to “Set it Off?”

Will Packer: Of course…absolutely!  I told Mal early on…I said, ‘somehow…some way, we gotta have a wink in this movie to all the Set it Off fans that are out there and we pulled it off pretty cool.  The audiences have responded in a big way when that scene comes up.

What was it like working with Preston Holmes who is a legendary producer of Black Film content?

Will Packer: Preston is great.  Preston is a legend. He’s the “OG” he’s been doing it forever.  He was really the heart of helping this production navigate the logistical challenges.  Malcolm and I, in our roles get a lot of credit, but you need a really, really strong line producer who can come in and figure out ways to navigate challenges; so for instance—-with all those actors that we were shooting at the ESSENCE Festival , Preston is the one who came up with the idea to say: “Let’s insulate our actors with extras that we pay and then, we’ve got a layer,” because there are 1000’s and 1000’s of people at the ESSENCE Festival, and we had a couple of 100 extras that we paid to put around our actors, so the layer made it so other people couldn’t get to them (actors) when we shot a scene, it looks like there’s a big crowd [but] people right around our actors are usually our extras, and then everybody else are regular people that are there for ESSENCE.  That’s all Preston.  He’s one of the best.  He’s gonna work with us on Night School as well.  So we’re bringing the team back together.

Well, that’s the trinity.



Clip – Lisa meets Malik in the hotel lobby

Clip – Ryan gives her agent some advice

Clip – Dina explains where she hides her drugs

Clip – Lisa shows the girls the vests she made

Clip – The absinthe starts to kick in at the club

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