By Felicia Pride
“We’re looking for that sweet spot of commercial viability and critical acclaim,” Will Packer says of his and his partner Rob Hardy’s strategy for Rainforest Films, their production company. Working within Hollywood’s fickle studio system, their track record speaks for itself. There was Stomp the Yard, an unlikely success that grossed more than $65 million. Then there was This Christmas, which was made on a budget in the high teens and raked in$50 million. And Obsessed, which virtually tripled its low twenties budget. All projects helped prepare them for their biggest to date: the action flick Takers. The Atlanta Post spoke with Packer about what it takes to produce a thirty million dollar film.
Walk us through the production process for Takers.
It started about a year and half ago. This was a project that was brought to me by Screen Gems. So in terms of script development, not a lot had to be done. The lion share of what I had to tackle was casting, then physical and post production, and distribution. It was a very ambitious project.
We shot in LA. We had multiple film crews working at the same time. We would block off sections of downtown LA for production—one crew doing stunt and action sequences and another crew primarily doing dialogue and human interaction.
How long was shooting?
About 45-50 days.
What were you looking for in terms of casting?
My vision for the film was always a cool, slick, hip, heist film. I wanted guys who could deliver. And I wanted a good looking cast. Action is primarily a male-dominated genre when you talk about audience, so I thought if we put together a really good looking cast, women, who are not traditional action fans, would come on board as well.
How did you settle on the director John Luessenhop?
It’s about looking for the best storyteller. Scorsese has a different skill set from Rob Hardy, Spike Lee, and John. Some directors are great and can do a variety of genres. As a producer, you’re trying to put the right pieces together and that includes the director, cinematography, wardrobe, and everything else.
From a business standpoint, did you do anything differently with Takers than you’ve done with your previous films?
Every film is different in terms of the budget, casting, and marketing. This was our biggest budget and a new genre, so it required a lot of hands-on execution for me in a world where I didn’t have a ton of experience. But at the end of the day, managing the filmmaking process is still managing the filmmaking process. The mechanics of filmmaking don’t change that much from film to film.
You have a specific strategy for working within the Hollywood system. How did you apply that to Takers?
It’s about getting in the system, working within it, and progressing each step of the way. Takers represents that progression. You only get to do thirty million dollar films by first doing three, then fifteen, then twenty. But it’s not always about how big the budget is, but how you can deliver. This was our opportunity to show that we can handle and execute—on time and on budget—a film of this size.
What challenges did you face trying to do that?
There are always challenges. This project was no different. Because it was so ambitious, we continuously had to reevaluate what we were doing, why we were doing it and how. In filmmaking, things are always changing, and this was no different. For example, when we had to film our aerial shots throughout downtown LA, because of weather challenges and cast availability, we had to make schedule changes which dominoed and affected how we shot some of our action sequences. When you’re working with a large budget, you have to be that much more meticulous with your attention to details.
What’s your marketing strategy?
I wanted to ensure that our marketing emphasized the slickness of the film. We wanted to make sure we went after women, a nontraditional market for action. We also did grassroots outreach, which we do for our all films. I’m very hands on. We flew to about eight cities with the cast to get the word out.
Technology is altering the distribution model. What did you have to consider in terms of distribution?
In regards to commercial studio films, the model is still fairly traditional, although that’s going to change. Digital distribution is on the rise for mainstream films. But right now, you have to ship film prints around the country, at an exorbitant cost, in order for people to see the film. For Takers, it was about ensuring that we selected the right theaters and enough theaters so that the film is available to a huge audience nationwide.