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Tim Story: How the Billion-Dollar Director Scored Big With ‘Ride Along’

Tim Story has helmed seven feature films that have grossed nearly $1.1 billion worldwide. Six of these films debuted at No. 1 at the box office, including Universal’s 2014 action-comedy juggernaut “Ride Along,” starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, which netted more than $41 million its opening weekend and has grossed over $155 million worldwide. Two years later, its in-demand sequel, “Ride Along 2,” opening Jan. 15, is bound to bring in a hefty box office haul (“Our expectations are very high based on the strength of the movie,” says Donna Langley, chairman of Universal Pictures). To boot, Story and his wife, Vicky Mara Story, run the Story Co., an entertainment production house they jointly founded in 1996, and Story has recently inked a deal to direct the upcoming Nicki Minaj comedy project for Freeform (formerly ABC Family).

In short, to say that Tim Story is having a “moment,” would be an understatement. He’s had several. But there was a time when Story, a Los Angeles native who grew up “in the northern part of Inglewood” and graduated from the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC, was stuck in a professional rut, unable to get his phone calls returned and lingering in what he calls “film jail.”

“Basically, you’re not the go-to choice for products,” says Story of the lackluster period following his 2009 straight-to-DVD release sports drama “Hurricane Season.” “There are a lot of times where artists — directors, writers, whatever — you just lose the confidence to do what you do and I needed to find a way to get that confidence back.”

And so, in a move that could easily form the basis of a compelling big-screen comedy, Story “put down everything that had to do with the industry” and turned to his childhood love of cheesecake to regain his emotional footing.

“I got my swag back. It helped me enter what I like to call the ‘second act’ of my career. I reentered it with a vision.”
Tim Story

“I looked at recipes and I started baking cheesecakes,” he says. “What was great about that from a psychological standpoint was that I could make a cheesecake and if it came out terrible I could throw it away and redo it. It was symbolic (of) filmmaking. The crazy thing is I got good at it (and) people would ask me where I got the cheesecake. ‘Well, I made it.’ There is a confidence that came with that, that makes you start sticking your chest out a little bit more. At some point when I started thinking about working again I was coming from a place of ‘Well, at least I know how to make cheesecake.’ The confidence of me making these cheesecakes allowed me to walk in the room and say ‘This is my movie.’ I got my swag back. It helped me enter what I like to call the ‘second act’ of my career. I reentered it with a vision.”

With that vision intact, Story embarked on a string of commercial hits, including the 2012 romantic comedy “Think Like a Man” and its 2014 sequel, “Think Like a Man Too,” both of which were produced by William Packer, Story’s financial and creative partner on the record-breaking “Ride Along” franchise. From a commercial standpoint, the duo appears unstoppable.

“He’s got an amazing track record on his own and mine is not too shabby either, so whenever we work together all we’re doing is putting those great track records at risk,” Packer says. “We can only go down. But so far, fingers crossed, it’s been good. We haven’t missed yet on any of our collaborations and that’s the challenge, that’s what drives us to continue to produce successful films.”

Together, Packer and Story have cemented a reputation for possessing not only a keen understanding of modern urban culture in America, but also an intrinsic knack for making movies with mass appeal, regardless of the audience. Per Packer, who’s based in Atlanta, their ability to tap into the entertainment needs of different segments of society is what has helped catapult their films to the top of the box office food chain.

“Tim being an L.A. guy and me being a Southern guy, you’ve got two different sensibilities,” Packer says. “I always think if you have two people who see the world exactly the same way in a partnership, then one of them is useless. So I like the fact that he and I have varying perspectives because of our different backgrounds.”

“His specialty is that he knows the sentiment of all audiences,” says Cube, whose company Cube Vision was developing the script for “Ride Along” for 10 years before Story was attached.

“He knows what the mainstream audience wants, he knows what the urban audience wants, he just knows moviegoers and what they’re going to respond to and he makes sure it’s in there.”

Blockbusters at the Box Office
Director Tim Story’s seven feature films have grossed a collective $1.09 billion.
$77.1m “Barbershop” (2002)
$68.9m “Taxi” (2004)
$330m “Fantastic Four” (2005)
$289m “4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007)
$96.1m “Think Like a Man” (2012)
$70.2m “Think Like a Man Too” (2014)
$154m “Ride Along” (2014)

And while, per Packer, Story “has a very clear vision for the movie he wants to make,” according to actors with whom the helmer has worked, he’s also one of the best one could hope for in a director.

“What I love about working with Tim is his keen eye, sense of humor, and high level of organization,” says Gabrielle Union, who starred in both “Think Like a Man” titles. “He makes creating blockbusters akin to sleep-away camp — it’s fun on top of fun.”

“He’s a creative genius,” Hart adds.“He knows how to get the best out of his actors. You want a director that can make you better, and Tim Story does that. He makes us better.”

Where some directors employ a totalitarian attitude when it comes to making movies, Story “creates an environment where it always feels like a collaborative effort,” says Cube, who will produce Story’s next directorial effort for Universal, “Humbug,” a contemporary retelling of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
“You know, some directors only see things their way so it’s hard to convince them you should try it a different way, but with Tim he’s always open to try it,” he says. “He always makes you feel like you have the freedom to do what you need to do and what you think your character needs to do and it’s cool to have a director to be open to that and not shut you down. If you’ve worked with Tim before you’re going to work with him again because the experience is gonna be so chill and kickback and pleasant and collaborative.”

For Story, the feeling is mutual and working on “Ride Along 2,” which he calls “bigger and better” than its predecessor, has meant continuing a partnership with such players as Cube and Hart that extends far beyond the movie set.

“We just have a lot of fun,” Story says. “Sometimes we have to stop the fun so we can go in front of the camera and shoot the scene. It makes it basically like hanging out with your family and we’re just so blessed that the family hangs out and they also get paid for it. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborative group of people to make movies with. It’s absolutely a dream come true.”
Yet despite the accolades and box office returns, Story still has a difficult time grasping just how commercially successful his brand has become.

“I only ever had a plan A — I was going to be making movies,” he says of those formative film school years. “There was no other plan. But when you talk about the movies totaling a billion dollars? Not in a billion years.”

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