In the upcoming comedy “Little,” Regina Hall stars as the alpha adult version of the character and Marsai Martin (“Black-ish”) is her 13-year-old bespectacled inner nerd. The movie is already garnering attention because it turned Martin into Hollywood’s youngest executive producer. Will Packer, another exec producer on the film, helped Martin make history and is no stranger to success. His Will Packer Prods. has a cluster of blockbusters — including 10 that premiered at No. 1 — with a combined gross of more than $1 billion worldwide.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about audiences and holes in the marketplace for those who aren’t being served,” says Packer, a jaunty old soul whose wise smile and natty collection of hats and pocket squares belie his age. He turns 45 this month. “That’s the manifestation of me spending a lot of time instinctually being involved with creating stuff that’s going to speak to people that others aren’t speaking to in the same way. I haven’t made my billion-dollar hit yet, my billion-dollar global franchise, but it’s coming.”
“Will is the greatest kind of filmmaking and marketing partner,” says Michael Moses, Universal Pictures president of global marketing. “He knows his audience very well and expertly curates films for them. He rolls up his sleeves and works as hard as anyone through the promotion and publicizing as well. He’s the kind of top-flight producer who knows the name of everyone in the marketing department because he cares about the work.”
The St. Petersburg, Fla., native’s industrious production company also houses a television division, which is churning out shows such as “The Atlanta Child Murders,” a docu-series on the Investigation Discovery Channel, and “Ambitions.” The latter is a nighttime soap starring Robin Givens that will premiere on OWN in June. The company also has a digital division that includes the interactive series “Power Star Live,” which streams on Twitter.
“I am constantly trying to make sure that I am evolving and trying to stay ahead of the needs and wants of my audience,” the husband and father says. Some of his insights and successes come from living in Atlanta, outside the Hollywood hubbub. “I’m always trying to grow that audience. People come to me with ideas, I talk to my kids, I’m on Black Twitter. I travel a lot and I think being outside of the Hollywood sphere is helpful to me when connecting with the audience.”
His ability to tap into what consumers want is one of the qualities movie director Malcolm D. Lee admires about Packer. The two worked together on “Girls Trip,” the highest-grossing comedy of 2017 with more than $140 million worldwide, and 2018’s “Night School,” starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish.
“Will Packer is one of the smartest, most in-tune-with-what-the-public-wants producers I’ve ever worked with,” Lee says. “He works hard, implements great ideas and consistently ups the ante when it comes to creating content.”
“He’s powerful and popular not just because he’s a consistent hitmaker, but because of the kind of person he is,” Moses says.
The funny thing is Packer didn’t go to college to become a producer. A math and science whiz, who earned a STEM scholarship, Packer graduated from Florida A&M U. with an electrical engineering degree.
“I got the scholarship and my parents said, ‘Listen, you’re going to take that money and then after, you can figure out what you want to be.’ It was the best decision I ever made,” says the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity brother.
“Even in a primarily creative industry, I approach problem solving from an analytical perspective and I honed those analytical skills while earning my engineering degree,” he says. “My HBCU background is amazing. I am a testament that there’s more than one way to get into this business.”
Hall, who worked with Packer on the 2016 ABC sitcom “Uncle Buck” and nearly a half a dozen movies including “Girls Trip” and now “Little,” commends the prolific producer’s work acumen and people skills.
“He’s easy to talk to and is always working to assure that everything and everyone is comfortable,” Hall says. “I love that we have a relationship where we can be honest with each other. Even if we don’t agree, we’re always able to talk about it and resolve anything.
“He always makes things feel collaborative. It’s such a great quality to feel heard and work with someone who makes you feel like your perspective and your opinion matters.”
Of course Packer is synergetic with creatives outside his company. His chief of staff, Shayla Cowan, is his most senior employee and has worked with Packer for 10 years. Packer’s company is also 60% women and he’s employed a number of female screenwriters. Tina Gordon Chism, who helmed “Little,” is the first woman he’s employed to direct, but won’t be the last. “Women get it done,” Cowan says.
Although Packer and his employees rarely if ever take vacations, he does allow time away for parents to attend games and events for their kids. There are also company bowling outings and margarita contests.
“So much of my success is about having a good team,” Packer says of his staff who man his L.A., Atlanta and New York offices. “Some people, because they’re feeling pressure, either from their financiers or the studio or actors and directors, pass it on to the people who work for them. I don’t do that.
“It doesn’t mean that I don’t expect a lot from the people around me,” he says. “I absolutely do. I put a lot of pressure on myself and I have high expectations of the people around me. It is not about yelling and screaming and being averse. It is about making them understand that together as a team, we can accomplish anything.”
This is how James F. Lopez, president of Will Packer Prods., says he feels. Prior to joining Packer, Lopez worked as Screen Gems’ senior vice president of production.
“Will is the ultimate leader and team player,” Lopez says. “When I first joined the company, he said, ‘You are my partner,’ and has treated me as such ever since. He listens to his troops and instills total confidence in all of us because that is how he carries himself. He makes you feel like anything is possible because of his unshakable confidence.”
Packer’s Greatest Hits
Will Packer has racked up over a billion dollars in worldwide grosses at the box office including in:
Straight Outta Compton (2015)
Ride Along (2014)
Girls Trip (2017)
Ride Along 2 (2016)