MIAMI — The creators of the (nearly) $100 million box-office blockbuster Think Like a Man, Rainforest Films co-founders Will Packer and Rob Hardy, spoke about the arduous and ultimately satisfying journey to making one of the most successful commercial black movies of all time during the 16th annual American Black Film Festival in South Beach.
Speaking to a packed house of filmmakers at the Crown Royal Black-sponsored panel and party at the ABFF host hotel, the Ritz Carlton, Hardy and Packer handed out a plethora of invaluable tips, many via anecdotes of learned experiences and failures, about how to get their products into the theaters.
“If you can produce a really, really unique project and you can put it out there online — it don’t even have to cost you much or any money; you can even shoot it on an iPhone — but if it’s well done, well conceived, you now have a leg up on the person trying to do the same thing who just says ‘I have a great idea’ but he doesn’t have 1 or 2 million YouTube hits,” Packer said.
“Anything that you can do to separate yourself from your peers, separate yourself from everyone and everything that is out there gives you a leg up. There are people out there that I watch — and they don’t know that I’m watching — and I will watch their YouTube web series to see if anyone is responding. Because I want to see who that next emerging voice might be out there. And I can take them to the ‘good ol’ boy network’ (in Hollywood) and say, ‘here’s a cat you’ve got to take a look at. He’s got a brand, he’s got a YouTube video, he’s doing his thing, he’s got a ton of followers, etc.’ And now it makes that much easier to sell to them.”
Rob Hardy, who splits his time between his home base in Atlanta and Los Angeles, where he directs TV shows like “Criminal Minds” for about half the year, said you don’t necessarily have to have a zillion Twitter and Facebook followers to make it big, but your product has to stand out prominently in order to get it recognized.
“People ask me about how many Twitter followers do you need? Sometimes it’s not about that. Sometimes, it’s about your voice. There’s a lady who has a successful YouTube series called ‘Confessions of an Awkward Black Girl,’ and her concept is ‘I do all these auditions and you guys pass up on me every time. So I’m going to make a web series about stuff that appeals to me,'” Hardy said.
“And now I go to these Hollywood meetings, people are asking me, ‘hey, do you know who this is?’ We’ve been tracking her and following her. We want to give her a deal and so on and so forth.’ So … she may not have the same number of Twitter followers as the stars of Think Like a Man. However, when we go to meetings at Warner Bros. and Fox and Sony, her name comes up because all she did was take her experiences and put it out there for other people who can relate to that on YouTube.”
Added Packer: “She has an agent and projects now. She is a person who made herself relevant through the Internet. You can do it. Go get it, dammit, for real,” he said to applause and laughter.
“The only reason why we are here on this stage with (director) Tim Story and Terrence J today is because no one in Hollywood would return our calls. (ABFF founder) Jeff Friday gave us a chance with this festival when we were starting out. We didn’t have the Internet like you do now. We drove from city to city and convinced people to go see our movie. And we made a million dollars completely independent of Hollywood. That’s the only reason why we have a deal with Sony. That’s it. It’s not because they liked us or we had talent. Now you have the internet and YouTube. So go get it. Just … go … get … it.”
Terrence J, the outgoing host of BET’s popular “106 & Park,” was turned down during an audition for the show and was even homeless for a short time as he ventured to another city to audition for the hosting job again. He finally got the job and talked to the packed room full of filmmakers and actors about “willing desired goals into existence.”
“When you walk into a room (for auditions), it can be the most humiliating thing you can go through. They are going to tell you that you that are no good. They told me that I suck. I’ve been told that I’m too small, too skinny, everything. You have to develop thick skin and you have to will things into existence. I tell people that I’m Will Smith. He may not know it, you may not see it, but that’s how I feel,” Terrence J said to appreciative laughter. ” The woman I’m dating now I was dating mentally six years ago.”–terry shrosphire