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Interview: Checking in with Producer Will Packer – ‘The Wedding Ringer,’ Career and More

Interview: Checking in with Producer Will Packer – 'The Wedding Ringer,' Career and More

We’ve spoken with producer Will Packer a few times for this
site, but with a healthy slate of projects that includes the recent “No
Good Deed,” “Think Like A Man Too,” the upcoming “Ride
Along 2″ and “Straight Outta Compton,” as well as a group of TV
projects under
his deal with Universal
, there’s always something to talk about. 

Packer recently spoke with Shadow And Act about his latest,
The Wedding Ringer” starring Kevin Hart.

JAI TIGGETT: You and
Kevin Hart have worked on a few films together. At what point did you start to
feel that he was a star and someone you’d want to continue to work with?

WILL PACKER:
Kevin’s been around for a while. He’s having a moment now, within the past few
years, where he’s definitively on everybody’s radar. He’s a fixture in the
American pop culture landscape right now, and deservedly so. But he’s been honing
his craft, working within the industry for a very long time.

So I was aware of him and started to take notice even before
Hollywood at large did because he was generating such a buzz among his core fan
base with his standup routines and social media presence. The timing was right
when I had “Think Like A Man” because it was a great cast, but I
needed somebody that could be the comedic force in the center, to be the
heartbeat of the cast. And it was shortly before then that he and I formally met
and struck up a personal and professional relationship that’s still going
strong.

Although weddings are
a big part of “The Wedding Ringer,” it’s really about the buddy
relationship between the two main characters. Were you looking to do that kind
of film, or what attracted you to this project?

There’s no question that it’s a bromance. On its surface
it’s a movie about a guy who runs cons at weddings, but along the way the
hijinks are no-holds-barred and that’s one of the things that really attracted
me to the project. It was the fact that it didn’t try to be politically
correct, it goes there in certain moments.

And I think that the timing is great for a film like this
because there are so many heavy things going on in the world right now. They
need to get attention, and at the same time you need a break from that
sometimes. You need levity, you need lightness, and that’s what entertainment
is here for. This is something very different for myself and for Kevin, and
that’s one of the other things that drew me to this project – it’s unlike
anything I have done before.

You mention the heavy
issues happening in the world right now. What do you think is the role of
filmmakers in social issues, whether by content creation or direct activism?

Social change and perspective can be influenced by the
content that we create, and that’s not something that should be taken lightly.
You look at a film like “Selma,” which I think is one of the best
films of the year, and it’s so timely right now.

By no means is “The Wedding Ringer” on that level
of weight, but it does serve a purpose and that is a bit of escapism. You need
these types of films to allow the public consciousness to shift from some of
the heaviness of reality. But what’s most important, without a doubt, is the
fact that we as filmmakers do have a responsibility and we do have power.

You started out making
small independent films, as did DuVernay and many others. In your current
position, have you been able to help shepherd in many new voices coming up in
that same vein?

No question, it’s a cycle, but in a positive way. The
journey to success in Hollywood is cyclical in nature because everybody needs a
hand to reach down and pull them up, because it’s a very challenging industry
to gain entrance to. So I try to be an entry point for other filmmakers,
writers, directors, and actors. I think that’s one of the things I’m most proud
of and why I’m here, not just so that I can make my films but also so that I
can help the next generation of filmmakers.

Tell me about how
your vision and your approach to producing has changed over the years. Are you
where you thought you would be?

A lot is different and a lot is the same. The drive, the
hustle, the reliance on my own instincts is the same. The methodology has
changed as I’ve had greater access to greater resources. The way that I go
about making, marketing, and promoting my films has changed. But when I first
started it was about doing whatever was necessary to get the story told and figuring
out a way to get it to an audience and make it appealing for them, and that’s
exactly what I’m doing now.

“Chocolate City,” my first film with Rob Hardy, was
on a shoestring budget of less than $20,000. “The Wedding Ringer”
obviously had a much larger budget, but there were challenges along the way to
getting each of those stories told. A lot of the drive is the same.

I’m emboldened by the fact that there still is a purity to
what I’m doing. I’m not jaded. My vision and my mentality are the same and even
though it’s a very difficult industry, it hasn’t made me different in terms of
who I am and why I’m doing it.

You’re one of a few
producers that have made mainstream films starring black leads that have
consistently done well at the box office. Is that making a difference for you,
in the way that your projects are received, or would you say it’s the same
struggle that it’s always been?

It’s different in that films with African American leads are
making more money now than they ever have before. That bodes well for people
like me that make those kinds of movies. At the same time, it’s still
challenging to get any film made with a sizable budget within the studio
system. So I’m not immune to that but I embrace that challenge and I don’t use it
as an excuse, because my peers and counterparts who may not be making films
with African American leads, they’re having a tough time too.

So what’s happening is that, it’s giving an opportunity for
other filmmakers to walk in and say “this film will be successful because
it’s like ‘Think Like A Man’ or it’s like ‘Ride Along.'” That’s how this
industry works – you need comparative models in order to get financiers involved.
So I’m able to open some doors simply by having success with these films.

I think about
something like “The Equalizer,” which made over $190 million and
nearly half of that overseas, but you still had people saying that maybe
Denzel Washington’s blackness would hinder the box office
for that film.

Make no mistake, the overseas marketplace is still a
challenge especially when you have a film with a person of color in the lead.
Very few have debunked the myth that films with [black] leads don’t sell
overseas. I’m one that chooses to believe it’s an uphill battle, but it’s a
battle worth fighting and a battle that ultimately we will win. So I’m more
optimistic about it and I look at where we are now with those types of films
and where we were five or 10 years ago, and that gives me great hope for the
future.

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