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Tim Story: The Top-Grossing Black Director Many Apparently Still Aren’t Familiar With

Tim Story: The Top-Grossing Black Director Many Apparently Still Aren't Familiar With

Will “Think Like A Man” Put Tim Story On Hollywood’s A list?

That’s what the Los Angeles Times asked in a piece that was published 2 years ago, after that film shocked the industry with an impressive opening weekend, en route to a near-$100 million box office cume. His latest effort, Ride Along, opened this weekend to an impressive $41 million box office take, easily winning the number 1 slot of the weekend.

The short answer to the question posed by the Los Angeles Times, two years later? Probably not.

The long answer… 

Don’t get me wrong, my short answer isn’t 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 the question was being asked in 2012, after Story had 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 as of that LA Times 2012 piece, had then collectively grossed close to $900 million worldwide (around $1 billion if adjusted for inflation – although, the 5 studio pictures are now 6, including this weekend’s number 1 movie, Ride Along, which added an impressive $41 million to that growing tally). I’d say that there aren’t many directors of ANY COLOR working today who can boast 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 (13) 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) – films that I found underwhelming, and certainly didn’t rake in anywhere near Avengers– or Iron Man-style numbers; but I can’t blame him entirely for the under-performance 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, again, I can’t put the underwhelming critical response to each film entirely on his shoulders. 

So let’s talk box office: The first one grossed $330 million worldwide on a $100 million budget; and 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 Think Like A Man grossed over $96 million (globally – about 98% of that was in the USA alone), on a measly $12 million budget. 

Now add Ride Along’s surprising $41 million opening weekend – en route to who-knows-what in terms of total box office.

I can’t help but feel that if Story was a white director, the question posed by the LA Times would not 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 had been 5 years since Story’s last big screen release, prior to Think Like A Man; 6 years if you’re counting from the year the film was actually shot.

That’s a lengthy time between projects for a director working within the Hollywood studio system.

And even with the success of Think Like A Man, and now, Ride Along, which is likely on its way to a decent box office return given its $41 million opening, 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? Not quite. After Think Like Man, he was offered another so-called “black character comedy” in Ride Along, despite all those meetings, because black filmmakers are apparently only *allowed* to direct “black films.” Not that there’s anything wrong with directing a “black film.”

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 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 success of Think Like A Man, and now, Ride Along. 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, and Ride Along, or even know who he is. Many of those same people (audiences mostly) associate the films primarily with their 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 social media 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’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 the director named Tim Story.

But really, I hope all those studio meetings Story was taking back in 2012 (and hopefully is still taking), and all the projects he was reportedly being offered, eventually materialize into something concrete, and that another 6 years don’t go by until his next film opens.

Up next for Story: not-so surprisingly, the sequel to Think Like A Man, titled Think Like a Man Too.

If Tim Story is reading this, we’d love to get an interview with you sir. This post is littered with assumptions on my part, I’d readily admit, based on available information, so it would be great to hear directly from the man himself. After all, maybe Tim Story is perfectly content with the career he currently has (which ultimately is all that really matters), and everything I’ve said here is needless.

You can read the full LA Times piece HERE.

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Comments

Mitch

I agree with ALL the comments about this guy. He really is an AWFUL DIRECTOR. Barbershop was the ONLY decent movie he’s made, the rest of his films are GARBAGE. Actually this article really makes me question the writer. You really DON’T KNOW FILM AT ALL. You’re ignorant for even posting some Garbage like this. I use to think Shadow Acts had a little creativity, now I know, you guys don’t know Sh*t. Learn the Art of Cinema and learn more about your "black directors" before you post some more garbage like this. SMDH. BLACK PEOPLE WE HAVE TO DO BETTER!

jc

this is one of the most poorly written articles ive ever read

Ken Davis

It amazes me that that Keenen Ivory Wayans is routinely omitted from most lists of successful African American directors.

Teresa Coppock

Mr. Tim Story Congrats on "Ride Along!" It was a really good movie and I want to say that through every great person comes success and failures however it is determined by your ability to keep trying no matter the outcome or what people say. I wish you the best in your future endeavors!!!

Sincerely,

Mrs. Coppock

sherry edwards

Congrats to Tim Story!!!

TSW

What jobs do you all have? Can we get your last evals posted? I bet they wouldn't be much better than the crap you put in your comments about Tim Story. Most of you are probably wanna-be actors and actresses who can't land a role as an extra in any of Tim Story's films. Poll the directors you mentioned and I bet they would blow your opinions up.
He works hard and what business of it is yours that he's unlike the other people ya'll mentioned. Ain't you got better things to do. Probably not.

slb

There could be any number of reasons Tim Story isn't a bigger name. It's likely a combination of many things (some of which have already been discussed in this post). To say it's because of this or that is oversimplifying the issue. It could be:

1) Because he's black.

2) He's not a self promoter like Spike or Tyler.

3) He does not have a signature film that defines him as a director. You know what you're getting with a Spike Lee film. Fuqua is defined with Training Day. You have some idea of the kind of director you're dealing with. With Tim Story, I'm not sure what's there. Yes those movies made money, but none of them are remotely distinctive. I've seen all of his films pre-Ride Along (other than Taxi) and I can't really say any of the stand out to me.

4) He might have the reputation of a "hired gun" director and studios aren't willing to give him meatier jobs.

Who knows? That said, there are definitely much worse directors out there than Tim Story getting higher quality/more prominent gigs. I personally think that #1 and #2 are the largest contributors to his "under the radar" status. For years I have seen white movie directors who cut their teeth doing commercials and videos have their first motion picture be a big budget Hollywood production. (See David Fincher with Alien 3 or Joseph Kosinski with Tron Legacy). That NEVER happens with Black Directors. You have Black Directors who have toiled for years making smaller movies and literally have dozens of television directing credits on their resume and never get anything of substance with respect to full length motion pictures.

I'm digressing here, but one situation that sticks out to me is Clark Johnson. Clark Johnson starred on Homicide: LOTS and had a dozen of television directing credits on his resume when he got the Samuel L Jackson/Colin Farrell movie, SWAT. SWAT was a box office hit. Clark followed it up with The Sentinel starring Michael Douglas and Keifer Sutherland during the height of Keifer's '24' fame. The Sentinel was a flop. But that was it for Clark. Didn't get a theatrical movie to direct again. Why is that? Wasn't SWAT a big enough hit to give the guy another chance after The Sentinel flopped? He has been absent despite the fact that since The Sentinel he's directed dozens of television show including The Wire, The Shield, and Homeland. Some of the most popular shows of the past 15 years. For The Wire and The Shield, he directed the pilots of both shows which is important because the pilot sets the tone on how the show should be directed through it's lifetime. Dude has put in work. But he can't get a sniff at a theatrical release.

The point of all that is to say that, I think there are many factors keeping Tim Story under the radar, but I think his race is the most prominent as it happens to numerous other Black directors.

Marq Sears

It's just my opinion but Tim Story makes sh*t films that lack quality and depth…in my opinion he's only made 2 above par (and not that far above it) films (1) Barbershop & (2)Think Like A Man. He is not on the level with F Gary Grey, Antoine Fuqua, John Singleton or Spike Lee in terms of story & quality production. You can pick the plot of the movie Ride Along in the first 20 mins, you knew John Leguizamo character was the mole, Lawrence Fishburne's acting sent him back 30 years and when I seen the super noticeable fake fire (cgi) on the hood of Ice Cube's truck in the opening sequence — I was done. You can celebrate the money he is making but for the fact that he is consistently feeding our culture bullshit under-produced product — it doesn't matter. He needs to inspire the culture with quality work. Ride Along was not Beverly Hills Cop, 48 Hours, Rush Hour, Bad Boys. Stop "playing" director and go to work!

Gary Anderson

Why are you doing this? Tim Story is a director without vision. The reason we don't know of him is that his work is so forgettable. Equating box office success with artistic quality is a poor measuring stick. Using that reasoning RIDE ALONG is a better film than 12 YEARS A SLAVE because the former made more money this past weekend than 12 YEARS has made in the last 14 weeks. Actually, that fact says more about us than it does about these films. Too bad.

Miles Ellison

Directors who are household names direct better movies. There are lots of directors who do hack-level work and generate a ton of box office, and most people don't know their names.

Dr. Roosevelt "Clutch" Northern, Jr., EdD

I first met this talented young man and his twin sister Tammy in 1978. I asked to be stationed in Oxnard, California (Naval Air Station Point Mugu) to be near my mother's only sister and her family. Tim was always a hard worker and a very good athlete. However, his twin Tammy took all of the athletic accolades. These are my first cousins of Inglewood, California. I love and am proud of them all very much. GOD put some great blood in this Story/Williams union.

Dave's Deluxe

As long as this dude follows instructions on the script, he works. If he tries to bring any creativity to the table, he fails. But at least he's making a living. I suppose.

tayler

I remember this guy. He had a lot of potential after Barbershop but then he made Taxi a movie the flop at the box office and with critics and then He became very hated after what he did to the Fantastic Four movies. Fans tore him apart for that. Happy he is back on his feet but Ride Along is not a movie i would go a round telling people I made if I was him. It's a hit but at what cost. Really hoping Think Like A Man 2 is way better.

William

People don't talk about this guy because of two reason.

1. Most of his films are awful. I mean who the hell will admit in public that they loved Taxi, Fantastic Four 1 and 2 and the boring mess he made with bow wow and Lil wyane the went stright dvd. Ride Along is a hit but so was Grown Up 1 and 2 yet they were nothing to brag about.

2. Unlike Tyler Perry people.are not paying money to see Tim Story. They are paying money to see the people in his film. Tyler Perry name is what sells his products and that may be why he is very well known.

tim

This guy is really an awful director. Only barbershop was his only good movie.

Dankwa Brooks

For real, for real whether you think his films are good or bad his films MAKE MONEY! At this point he should be afforded the opportunity to pick projects like JJ Abrams and such b

cary

He is not a household name because his films are awful. Think Like a man was decent and Barbershop was good but that was years ago. TP makes a lot of money yet you always trash him yet you want us to talk more about a guy that gave us taxi and the fantastic four. The sad thing is ride along is his worst movie yet. Happy he has a job but with all that money he need to get better project.

Guy

He's made a lot of money, let's hope he also starts to make some good film.

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