I did wonder about this when, last year, it was announced that super producer Will Packer (the man behind countless films we’ve profiled on this blog over the last 4 1/2 years) had inked a 3-year first-look production agreement with Universal Pictures, that would see Packer develop new scripted projects for the studio under his newly formed Will Packer Productions banner.
Packer’s first film with Universal was the action-comedy "Ride Along," which starred Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, that the studio released on January 17, 2014.
The news came a few months after Packer had signed his very first overall TV deal, in the form of a two-year agreement with Universal TV (the television production arm of NBCUniversal) which wouldf see Packer develop TV projects for the studio.
The obvious question I had at the time of the above announcements was what it meant for Packers Rainforest Films Banner, which he shared with partner Rob Hardy – a company responsible for films like "Takers," "Stomp The Yard," "This Christmas," "Obsessed," "Think Like A Man," and others.
We have our answer. According to our friends at EURWeb, the duo and long-time business partners have dissolved Rainforest Films, although even though they’ve seemingly parted ways, they still very much plan to continue to be in support of each other.
“The two of us have been friends for over 20 years and will continue to support each other personally and professionally… Our respective personal careers have taken us in different directions, and we have decided it is necessary to dissolve Rainforest Films,” they shared in a statement.
And what a ride it’s been.
These two gentlemen have been at this for about 20 years, which is significant, considering how old they are. They got started early, eventually earning the attention and respect of studio executives who believed (and continue to believe) in their ability to deliver box office gold – especially when compared to budget. And with each outing they demonstrated that they were a duo not to be ignored, seemingly growing into a similar pair of superstar producer pants the Weinstein brothers have worn for years now.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Hardy and Packer 3 years ago, and found them both to be as astute, ambitious, and just down-to-earth as I’ve come to see them as, though from a distance. So my conversation with them was greatly appreciated.
Here’s a reprint of a summary of that conversation, if only as a time capsule, highlighting what once was, and was to be.
– On whether they consider themselves a film studio/production company/or whether it matters:
We consider ourselves a film production company that is diverse in what we do, whether it’s film, television, commercials, documentaries; as long as it’s mass media and content, we want to be producers and distributors of it.
– On finding projects to produce:
We have a really strong internal development process, that is collaborative between ourselves and our team at Rainforest, and it’s been like that from the beginning. One of the things we pride ourselves on is keeping our fingers on the pulse of real people, what their interests and tastes are, which helps make our projects viable. And as we broaden and mature as filmmakers, we also have our eyes towards critical acclaim, and success with our films; we’re very aggressive about internally developing our own projects. We’ve taken projects that were brought to us by others – TAKERS & OBSESSED, for example. And turned those into successful motion pictures. We are always looking for new content and material, though not always unsolicited.
– On deciding to adapt Steve Harvey’s bestseller:
That came as a result of being aware of the book, having read the book and being around a lot of people who were talking about the book; we thought it’d be a great idea, and then tried to position ourselves so that we could obtain the rights to the book; we met with Steve and talked to him, and got the rights; and then we met and talked with Screen Gems on how we could successfully bring something like that to life.
– On their involvement in the distribution process after a film is produced, now that they’re playing at the studio level:
We’re very active, involved and hands on. And that is borne of the fact that we initially distributed our own projects, like when we first came out with our early films like CHOCOLATE CITY and TROIS. We produced those films, marketed and distributed them. So, in forming relationships with studios, we don’t just hand over the films to them after they are made and wish them luck, because that’s akin to raising a child and then just giving them away, and not making sure that they’re OK. For us, we’re very involved with the marketing, and all the creative choices made, everything from ads to radio spots; that’s all definitely a part of the process of being complete filmmakers. Now, we’re able to do that because we’ve had success independently, and we’ve had success with the studios. That’s not always an option for independent producers, to have input on the marketing of their films. But we are very, very, VERY involved with the marketing of our films and wouldn’t have it any of other way.
– On whether it’s still a struggle to get projects off the ground at the studio level, despite their successes:
Regardless of who you are, it’s hard to get projects developed in Hollywood in general; but, the good thing is that, because we have a proven track record in the business, it’s not difficult for us to get meetings, and it’s not difficult to get talent excited about working with us. And all that makes the process a lot easier.
– On the belief that Black films don’t sell in foreign markets:
It’s a combo of factors. It’s a reality. It’s a challenge. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy though. When you say something long enough, then it becomes true. And when you don’t have enough people that are working to change it, people meeting foreign agents to push these films and allow them to sell in these foreign markets, it becomes self-fulfilling. So that’s definitely another frontier, another challenge that we have to find a way, not just Rainforest, but African American filmmakers, and people who produce African American content; because when we block off the rest of the world, you are extremely limiting what your profit potential is for the film. And once you do that to your profit margin, it affects everything else – your budget for the film, your marketing budget, and your ability to produce that type of content.
– On plans to be completely autonomous:
Absolutely! We want to be able to put ourselves in a position to do more projects and have more say over what we do and how fast we do it; I think that’s the end goal for all story tellers, and the same is true for us.
– On projects on the horizon, in addition to Bounce TV:
We’ve got a really, really great slate of upcoming projects on the both the feature film and the television side; several of them have deals that are still pending and aren’t closed yet; but we can tell you that we’re working on projects in a variety of genres, from thrillers, to comedy, to horror, and we will very surely be able to realize some of those. But it’s exciting; we are continuing to evolve as filmmakers, and we are very glad to have enjoyed the success we’ve had, and we want to be able to continue to build upon that, and not only for the Rainforest brand, but also to bring other up and coming filmmakers into the fold.
– On general thoughts on the state of the business – shifting market trends, old models dying, proliferation of web based content:
Absolutely; We have to keep abreast of consumer viewing habits, attitudes and perspectives; and Hollywood, and the industry as a whole is very reactive, but we have to be proactive. We have to be ahead of the curve; And of the types of films we’ve had success with, one of the things that is challenging is the fact that the DVD market is down from where it was 3 or 4 years ago; so the way that affects us is that because there’s already a challenge with the foreign market place, and films that highlight African American stories, and also now that DVD is another ancillary revenue stream that’s been slashed, we have to find new ways for consumers who enjoy our content to find that content, and be able to monetize our interests in those films; For a long time, DVD was a life-preserver for African American-themed films, because African Americans over-index on home entertainment. And now that those numbers are down, we have to find new ways to manage the budgets of our films, and find other ancillary revenue streams.
– Predictions on what the industry will look like in 5 to 10 years:
If we knew that, then we’d be able to capitalize and monetize that to our benefit. There are some trends from 10 years ago that you saw coming, and some that you didn’t. But obviously the web, the immediacy of content, the immediate availability of content to consumers, whether at home, or mobile devices, or other devices, I think we’ll see more of that. The traditional methods will definitely be different and changed. You’ve got companies like Netflix and Google jumping into VOD, and I think you’d see more of that, and in much shorter windows. I think theatrical exhibition will still be there, since it’s the premium way for audiences to see movies. So it will survive but different.
Also, you’ll see start to see a variety of different kinds of filmmakers. As the technology advances and the cost of making and distributing films decreases, you’ll have a whole lot of different types of stories being told, which will shake up the way the industry goes, whether it’s feature film or network TV, because it’s going to dictate that things get done cheaper and faster.
– Any final thoughts or words of wisdom:
Filmmakers are encouraged to, by any means necessary, pursue your dreams, tell your stories. Start somewhere. The technology is there, the distribution avenues are there. It’s just the authenticity of your experience in your work that needs to come through.
Their library of films have collectively grossed over $600 million worldwide, which is quite impressive!
And while the seemingly more popular Packer will continue on with his Universal deal (he’s got "Ride Along 2" in his immediate sights, Hardy, who’s actually a director in his own right, has been directing – primarily episodes of TV shows like "Criminal Minds," "Bones," "The Originals," "The Vampire Diaries," and more.
Life goes one… business as usual. Continued success to them both!