Superstar Kevin Hart and producer Will Packer, who partnered for the hits “Ride Along” and “Think Like a Man” series, bring their signature style to “Night School.” The comedy from director Malcolm D. Lee (“Girls Trip”) follows a group of misfits who are forced to attend adult classes in the longshot chance they’ll pass the GED exam.
Co-stars Tiffany Haddish, Rob Riggle, Taran Killam and Romany Malco join Hart on-screen for the film that Hart produces for his Hartbeat Productions, and Packer via his Will Packer Productions. We caught up with Will to talk tricks of the trade, what producing really takes and of course working with his longtime friend Kevin Hart.
The Knockturnal: So you’re producing close to five movies this year that we know about. Where and how do you find time to crank these movies out?
Will Packer: Oh man, you know what, it is a privilege to create content that I love and I take it very seriously. And what I try to do is remember that it is a privilege and that, this opportunity, I didn’t always have it and I may not always have it. And while I do, I wanna take full advantage and I wanna tell stories, put great imagery out there, hopefully tell stories from a different theme and perspective than other people, and accomplish different themes and different perspectives than other people are doing. That means that I don’t stop. That I keep going, that means that I have to take full advantage of these opportunities that I’m given. And I do exactly that. I have a great team around me that allows me to work really, really hard, and really, really efficiently and I enjoy it. I enjoy what I do.
The Knockturnal: I’m sure your schedule must be insane. What about Night School made it so important to you?
Will Packer: I thought that it was a really great idea, a great concept, a commercial concept but also one that had some underlying themes about second chances, about being who you are, being true to who you are, it touches on learning disabilities. I thought that it had strong messaging in it as well. And I thought it was something that audiences would find interesting and engaging and a nice escape from the realities of the world in which we live right now. Which sometimes can be very heavy.
The Knockturnal: You and Kevin have this great ongoing relationship. Tell me about working with him all these years.
Will Packer: Let me tell you. Nobody works harder than him. That’s the most incredible thing about having a partner like Kevin, about having somebody that you know you can depend on to go the extra mile, to not just be a force in front of the camera but also behind the camera. Somebody that’s willing to put in the work even when it’s raining outside, or we work a fourteen hour day on set. Somebody that you know you can depend on to do whatever it takes to not just develop a great movie, execute a great movie in production but also promote and market a great movie. Market and produce and market and promote it in a way that audiences will gravitate to. There’s so much content out there, such an over saturation of content that we need to stand out and we need to do things to be proactive and to get audiences engaged. And to do that you need a partner, you need a star like Kevin Hart who’s willing to go the extra mile.
The Knockturnal: Tell us about working with Malcolm on this project.
Will Packer: Well you know this is our second one back to back. People don’t understand how hard comedy is as a genre. And they certainly don’t understand how hard ensemble comedies are. It’s one of the most challenging jobs out there, I think. Malcolm has had a consistent success doing ensemble comedies really, really well. He’s somebody that takes it very seriously. He has a rhythm with his filmmaking. He has a great rapport with his talent. And with his crew on set. And he’s really strong with developing the material and then editing the material. And so when I’ve got a project that I think falls into Malcolm’s wheelhouse I always go ask him.
The Knockturnal: Some people would argue that you single-handedly have been carrying black Hollywood on your back, talk about why it’s so important to tell our stories.
Will Packer: It’s not single-handedly. I certainly have some other peers and amazing storytellers and creators who are also doing a great job. Right now we’ve got more voices than ever that are out there telling stories from the black perspective and I love that. It’s important. You ask, why is it important?
The Knockturnal: Yeah, why is it important for you tell our stories?
Will Packer: Oh man, because I have an opportunity to do it. I have a responsibility to do it. Because [there are] a lot of images, that little black boys and girls have not seen of themselves on the big screen, on the small screen … Hollywood’s been around for a very long time and they have not been making imagery of people that look like me. And doing it in a positive way. And by positive what I mean is authentic and real. It doesn’t mean that they have to be people that are perfect people, because that’s a caricature too. That’s not real. I want to be able to show well rounded, real perspectives of real people going through real things. I have an opportunity to do it, therefore I have to. I have a responsibility to do it because they need to be told and because I’m in a position to be able to. I would be remiss if I didn’t use the power that I have within this industry to tell stories that I can be proud of and that my kids, kids that look my kids, and the next generation of Will Packers can see and aspire to.
The Knockturnal: What for you is the toughest part about producing?
Will Packer: It’s all a bit challenging. At the end of the day a producer is managing a project from a macro level trying to make sure that you’re including the right elements in order to guarantee success, whatever success may be from that particular project. It’s tough putting a movie together from a development standpoint. Getting the script is great, it’s tough getting the financing, it’s tough executing the film, it’s tough marketing and releasing. It’s all a challenge. The one that’s the toughest is the one that needs the most attention at that time. That’s kind of how I prioritize my resources and my time. I deal with the fire that’s burning the brightest. What needs the most attention at that time. All elements of producing are challenging in their own way. It varies and changes project to project. Every project is different, every project has its own rhythm, has its own challenges, has its own unique set of circumstances that you have to deal with.
The Knockturnal: Having worked with Tiffany Haddish on her breakout role in Girls Trip, what growth did you notice between these two projects?
Will Packer: Good question. Even though it’s only been a year since Girls Trip was released, she has been exposed to so much. And she’s had a true wealth of opportunities presented to her. It has seasoned her in a very short period of time. She’s exposed to a lot that she wasn’t before. I think that’s good because it continues her growth. Not just as an actor but as a person. I think that as a person is where I see her most growth, an individual. She’s more mature because so much has come to her so quickly. So many people have been coming after her in such a short period of time. Some of that’s really good and some of you have to kind of sort through because everybody doesn’t have great intentions. If you’re somebody that has such a meteoric rise you have some people that are trying to leech onto you and your success and some people that have intentions that are not the best. But she’s doing a good job, she’s got a good team around her of sorting through that and really enjoying the moment. But she’s matured as a person.
The Knockturnal: You were speaking before about ensemble comedies and you have such an all-star cast in this with Kevin, and Tiffany, and Bresha, Yvonne and Taran and so many more people. What was it like assembling all these talented people together for this project?
Will Packer: It was kind of cool because everybody brings something different to the story. You’ve got these comedy hitters. You got the all stars of comedy, and it’s pretty cool. And they each do something different they each have a different skill set. And Malcolm did a good job of weaving them together pretty seamlessly. But it was cool having Rob Riggle and Romany Malco, and Taran Killam, Anne Winters, Fat Joe, having them all on set, having them go toe to toe and have fun it was great. It was very cool. I have had success with ensemble casts in the past and it’s cool to be able to work with that level of talent and be able to have a script that you know is gonna get elevated with every character. We have good stuff on the page and each actor brought something different to it which augmented what we already had.