Will Packer’s life these days is bouncing bicoastal, Atlanta to L.A. and back, “doing my Hollywood hustle, brother,” as a successful movie producer and black cinema pioneer. With one recent detour to his native St. Petersburg, as an appreciative son.
Mom needed a new car. Packer, 40, sneaked into town and surprised her with a shiny new Buick LaCrosse, bows, ribbons and all.
“It’s got all the bells and whistles,” Birice Packer said. “Everything I said I don’t need, he put on this car.”
The 1991 St. Petersburg High School graduate can afford to be generous, with the 2014 he’s having at the box office and beyond. While Tampa Bay basks in movie star connections like Channing Tatum, Patrick Wilson and Angela Bassett, Will Packer working behind the camera is at least their equal in Hollywood influence.
Packer’s year began with pulling the strings on Ride Along, grossing $134.1 million to cement a profitable friendship with breakout comedian Kevin Hart. The pairing continued with About Last Night ($48.6 million) and now Think Like a Man Too, opening Friday, a romantic comedy inspired by Steve Harvey’s advice book for women.
The latter project, a sequel to Packer’s 2012 surprise hit ($91 million), is the inaugural release of Will Packer Productions, after signing a first-look movie and television development deal with Universal. In other words, Mom, enjoy that Buick. Call it repayment for good advice to a bright 9-year-old son.
“I remember asking her,” Packer said, “okay, if I’m good at math and English, if I can give speeches, if I’m kind of good at a lot of different things, what should I be? What job is there for me?
” ‘CEO,’ she said, ‘That’s what you want to be, a CEO.’ I had no idea what that was but it shaped my perspective on what success was.
“For me, success was going to be having my own company that was mattering, making a difference, having an impact. And that’s where I am now.”
So far, four Packer productions — all under his Rainforest Films banner — debuted No. 1 at the box office, starting with 2007’sStomp the Yard, a step dancing story set at a black university in Atlanta. His filmography is marked by modest budgets — Ride Along reportedly cost only $25 million to produce — and savvy online marketing to urban moviegoers.