A new generation of black filmmakers has been fighting to get their movies to the big screen. Through innovation, guerilla marketing, and new technology, this group of directors that has raised the curtain in Tinseltown

THE IMPRESARIOS Will Packer & Rob Hardy
Producer Will Packer, 36, and director/ producer Rob Hardy, 37, have produced a string of hits over the past decade based on one simple premise: knowing what studios want and how to give it to them without compromising their vision.

The two launched Rainforest Films while attending Florida A&M University in the mid-1990s. They shot their first low-budget movie, Chocolate City, for fun but landed a home video distribution deal. That initial success encouraged them to raise money from friends, family, and investors to produce and distribute another film, Trois, in 2000, which landed them a distribution deal with Sony’s Screen Gems for $1 million. As they further developed their filmmaking prowess, they got the opportunity to produce more movies for Sony, which led to the production of several studio films, including 2007’s This Christmas, a family drama with singer Chris Brown and Regina King that grossed about $50 million worldwide, and 2009’s Obsessed, a thriller directed by white filmmaker Steve Shill and starring superstar Beyoncé Knowles. It grossed about $74 million worldwide.

Packer and Hardy have managed to design a successful blueprint for directing, producing, and distributing profitable movies. They’ve also managed to effectively communicate their strategy to major Hollywood studios. “What Rob and I have done is [show research to studios on] how we can produce a film at a price point that helps to minimize the chances of failure,” says Packer, who has produced films with an average budget of $14 million. “We show them how similar themes with a similar cast have done [at the box office].”

Although a movie is basically a filmmaker’s concept, the duo advises a strategic review of all elements, including casting and subject matter. “Make your film for whoever you want to make it for. I think that is a filmmaker’s right,” says Packer. “Just understand if you plan to operate under the studio system, know that if you are able to make your film appeal to a broader audience, the business model for your film stands to be more successful.”

Sanaa Hamri, 35, wants to break down the walls of exclusion in Hollywood. Her plan: tell stories that anyone can relate to.

For years, Tinseltown has embraced movies about relationships with all-white leads such as Sex and the City. She wants to make room for a greater multicultural representation in mainstream fare. “There should not be any reason why we can’t have Sex and the City with either an all-African American cast or different ethnicities that represent the cross section of America. We are no longer the ‘minority.’ In fact we are the majority. There is not enough material that is really representing what is going on in this country,” says Hamri, who was raised in Morocco and came to the United States to attend Sarah Lawrence College when she was 17. “We need to have more scripts that talk about people of color in different, relatable situations, especially in the 21st century and now that we have Obama in office.”

One such film was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2.  Hamri’s 2008 movie showcased a multicultural cast including Latina actress America Ferrera and three leading white actresses, grossing $44 million worldwide, making her the leader in box office receipts among black female directors.

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