Unless you've had your head buried in the sand somewhere, I'm sure that, by now, most of you have heard that the ensemble dramedy Think Like A Man, routed the competition, taking this weekend's box office crown, raking in around $33 Million, based on industry estimates. I'm hearing that the actual figure could very well be higher once the official count is in, some time tomorrow.
Yesterday afternoon, after I posted the entry alerting you to the film's strong Friday opening, and projections for the weekend, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with the man behind the film – Mr Will Packer, who produced Think Like A Man via his Atlanta, GA-based Rainforest Films production company – a brand that continues to grow and impress with each outing. But more on that later.
My conversation with Will was obviously centered on the successful opening weekend release of Think Like A Man; as you will see below, I asked him specific questions about what this weekend's numbers mean in the grand scheme of things, what their marketing strategyy was given the impressive audience turnout across the USA, the film's crossover reach, expecations for next weekend, how studios determine the number of theaters to open a film in (given that, as previously emphasized, Think Like A Man opened on roughly 2000 screens, 1000 fewer screens than the film that opened at number 2), and finally, of course I couldn't let him go without asking about his next project – the Idris Elba, Taraji P. Henson thriller, No Good Deed, which has actually already begun production in Atlanta.
– What does this weekend's box office win mean in the grander scheme of things? Why should we be excited about this? What does it mean for you and Rainforest films?
It’s huge. I don’t think the significance of opening with the number 1 movie in America can be overstated. This isn’t the number 1 lower-budgeted film, or the number 1 African American Film, or the number 1 film for a particular audience; It’s the number 1 movie in America, period; and if those numbers hold, then we’re going to be in a great position that shows the power of a smart strategic marketing plan that takes advantage of social media, networking, grassroots and a great campaign; because we were up against films that were significantly larger than us. However, the great equalizer is the level of grassroots, social media, Twitter, Facebook support that we got; and the audience is saying, we want to see more films like this. And I think that when audiences start to realize their power in Hollywood decision making, you will see more films like this made and become more successful.
– Talk about the marketing strategy for the film; I spoke to Jeff Clanagan of CodeBlack Entertainment last week about the strong opening for his film, Woman Thou Art Loosed: On The 7th Day, and the marketing strategy for that film; and he said almost exactly what you said – essentially, a heavy emphasis on a social media-driven, grassroots effort. So is that ultimately where it is for films like this? Because I'm assuming the studio isn't spending a lot of money on TV ads, billboards and traditional forms of marketing.
We definitely had traditional marketing which was strong; we definitely had a lot of presence; we did a lot of advertising, for instance on the NBA games, and shows like Basketball Wives, for example; I like to call that the "aerial attack;" but you also need to have a "ground attack" to compliment it, and our ground game is really, really strong. Our cast got out there and really, really pushed it; like tonight [Saturday night], I’ve got almost every member from the film's cast going out to theaters and surprising the fans, thanking them for coming out, and for their support. Those are the types of things that you can’t really quantify, that create genuine buzz and appreciation for a project in a way that traditional advertising just can’t. There’s a ton of traditional advertising out there, but you have to do something more to make your project stand out, and that’s what we try to do.
– One of the questions that was raised in the press before the film's release was whether it would reach non-black audiences; can you share any figures on whether that happened, from what you've seen so far?
All the Hollywood studios do exit polling to determine what the audience was that came out to see a particular film, but those numbers aren’t yet available. What I do know is that a lot of people came out to support the film; it doesn’t matter whether they were white, black, green or brown; what matters is that they came out to support, and I feel really good about that.
– What are your expectations for next weekend? Or are you just not even looking that far ahead, and instead enjoying this moment?
I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that I was looking forward to next weekend; because as a producer I was looking forward to next weekend, last weekend. That’s just how I operate. You keep focused on the prize, and then you look and ask questions like, ok so it was successful, can we hold, how well can we do, what’s next week’s competition; but it’s not something I want to talk about; yet, strategically, you need to be aware of what you’re going to do opening week, and what you’re going to do to sustain it the following weekends. But for the most part, movies after opening weekend are all about how strong the word of mouth is; advertising is all geared towards opening weekend; but how well the film performs after this weekend, will be about whether people enjoyed the film or not.
– The film opened on some 2,000 screens; can you give us a brief education on how studios determine how many screens to open a film on?
A lot goes into that; they try to figure out what they think the audience for a film is going to be, and where the screens need to be to capture that audience. Studios are very careful to try to do just enough by way of advertising and distribution to capture an audience without over-spending. And yes, I’m involved in those conversations, on how many screens the film needs to have. We ended up having about 2000 screens which was over 1000 less than The Lucky Ones, which also opened up this weekend; but our per screenaverage was so much higher, which is why it looks like we’ll be coming in at number 1.
– And finally, I know that your next project is gearing up in Atlanta, with Idris Elba and Taraji P. Henson – both you're working with again; anything you can share with us on what to expect from the film, and when we can expect to see it in theaters?
I’m actually calling you from the set of that movie right now; and yes, that’s the next one. As a producer, it don’t stop, as they say. I’ve got one film opening this weekend, and now I'm in production on my next one; it’s a cycle, and I’m blessed to be able to be active as a producer. I don’t have a release date yet; I just want to first get through this current release [Think Like A Man], and then get through this new production [No Good Deed], and then I'll start looking at when’s the best time to release it; but yes, it’s a thriller with Idris and Taraji; it’s a script that I’m really proud of because it’s a film that wasn’t originally conceived with African American leads in mind; and I like the fact that it’s a universal film; but I wanted to put the best talent in front of the camera for this movie, and those 2 people happened to be idris and Taraji, who happened to be black. This will help us in building as well if, or rather, when it’s successful.
And so there you have it! Some very useful information there I'd say; and I thank Will Packer (and his publicist) for the time.
I should note that, despite the fact that critics were split down the middle on the film, this is the 4th Rainforest Films production to open at the number 1 slot domestically, on the opening weekends of each of those 4 films – Stomp The Yard opened at $21 million and ended up with a $61 million box office take; Obsessed shocked the world and opened at $28 million, and went onto make close to $70 million; Takers opened at just over $20 million, and grossed almost $60 million; and now Think Like A Man exceeds all expectations and rakes it $33 million; It's hard to argue with those stats, especially when you consider the age and size of the company.
Keep in mind that the production budget for Think Like A Man was in the $12 to $15 million range.
If the film has legs, as the saying goes – meaning if word of mouth is strong, going into next weekend, producer Packer and company might see it eventually become their highest grossing film to date.
We'll be watching…