Atlanta based producer Will Packer has been steadily climbing the movie later as the go to guy for some of Hollywood’s most popular independent films. Taking the industry by storm with hits like Ride Along, Think Like A Man and This Christmas, Packer is a force that continues to create opportunities for African-American actors that wasn’t there before.
Before it hit’s theaters, BSO had a chance to speak with Packer about his latest offering Almost Christmas. Written and Directed by David E. Talbert and sharing production duties with star Gabrielle Union, Almost Christmas is a story about a dysfunctional family coming back together to spend the holidays with their father after the death of their mother.
BSO: It’s the Holiday season and most people slow down during the holiday season, but not you.
WP: What does that mean? What does “slow down” mean? I don’t understand those words.
Me: In a nutshell, eat far too much over several days and fighting with your relatives.
WP: [laughs] Now that is true, that I can relate to. I don’t have that in my family but one of the things I dug so much about this movie was trying to show a realistic depiction of a family that would make people feel better about their own dysfunctional family.
BSO: You have a wealth veteran talent in Almost Christmas with Danny Glover leading the way not to mention Gabrielle Union, Monique and up and comer DC Young Fly. How difficult, or easy, was it to assemble this crew.
WP: You know, the first call I made was to Gabrielle Union. We’ve worked on a bunch of projects together and we’ve talked about producing together and I really felt like this was the one.
When I got the script from David Talbert, it was a Thanksgiving movie at the time, I told him my one note was to make it Christmas movie. So I called Gab and she was down and part of my job as a producer is to put all the right elements and people in place and make a movie work and I really feel like we did that with this one.
BSO: After Almost Christmas hit theaters, it will look to take it’s place among the great holiday ensemble movies. How do you keep the formula fresh in such a time honored tradition.
WP: One of the things that’s different about this movie, than a lot of the other holiday movies, is you usually have a matriarch character holding it all together and that’s what happens in real life. We all know the mom is the one that holds the family together…it’s certainly not the dads. So, in this one, you have a family that has actually lost their matriarch and they have to figure out for the first time how to survive all the pitfalls of Christmas without Mom. You have a Dad in the center played masterfully by Danny Glover. That’s a different take on the usual Holiday genre.
BSO: Was having Danny Glover at the helm in the original script? As you said, we are so accustomed to seeing ‘Big Mama’ as the center of the family not to mention the continued depiction of the black home with the absentee black father.
WP: It was definitely purposeful. When I got the script from Dave that was an element that I responded to. That really resonated with me. I made ‘This Christmas” and it’s a movie I’m really proud of and it did really well and people tell me they want to see more movies like that but I wanted to make sure that while we had some of the tried and true elements of holiday movies that you had something different and that’s one of those elements that I first sparked to like AH! There is a different way into the family holiday movie especially the black holiday movie.
BSO: Gabrielle Union and Danny Glover were both great in the film but it was really Monique that stole the show for me. She reminds me of so many of my Aunts. If she that funny all the time?
WP: Wait, you have more than one Aunt May in your family? I need to come spend some time with y’all and write.
BSO: Chile, I’m the youngest of 8 and my parents are both the oldest of 8, we have a huge family.
WP: Oh Wow! You got the real family holiday movie over there. I just need to bring cameras and let them roll at your house.
BSO: Let me now when and I will assemble the crew.
WP: [Laughs] What was so great about this cast was they really jelled, like a family. Each person had their own perspective and their own skill-set. Like Monique, when the camera turns on, she’s ready. Her improvisational skills are second to none. Then you would have DC Young Fly who’s a young talent on his first feature film and this was like a dream come true. So between takes he’d be on Snapchat and taking selfies and just happy to be on set. Having fun being with Gaby Union and Danny Glover so that was fun to watch.
BSO: It’s always great to see a young talent get a shot. Younger viewers will recognize him from Wylin’ Out and his social media, totally different from shooting a film. How easy was it to put him into this type of setttng with less improv, an actual script all the other moving pieces that come with making a film.
WP: It’s an adjustment but he’s definitely a guy we will be hearing a lot more from in the years to come. I knew him from social media and had a chance to see him perform. We both live in Atlanta, so I got a chance to see him do his thing in live form and I told him, ‘You know what? I’m going to put you in a movie’ and he said ‘STOP LYIN’ and not soon after I introduced him to Dave Talbert and we put him in. He’s a hard worker and fast learner. I’m excited to see what the future holds.
BSO: What is it about holiday movies that keeps people coming back? No matter what color you are, its something about a Holiday movie that brings people together.
WP: You know what? It’s the reliability if you do it right. Holidays are like the best of times and the worst of times. You’ve been ducking people all year long but come Christmas time, you gotta see that sister/aunt/cousin that you’ve been beefing with all year long. You can’t avoid it because EVERYBODY is meeting at so-and-so’s house. These kind of movies make you feel better about your own family and if you have a relateable, dysfunctional, family it gives you hope. People want to see a family that has challenges and over come them because that’s something we all understand. This family has real challenges and eventually they over come them.
This holiday season with all that’s going on in the world, all the devisive rhetoric that’s being spread around, not only with just the election but also with the brutality cases that have been happening, people need escapism. They need something so they can exhale, and laugh, and feel good about humanity and that’s what I think this film aspires to do.
BSO: Before I let you go, it’s almost Christmas, what does Will Packer want under his tree this year?
WP: I have to honestly say that I don’t want anything material this year. I am so blessed and I’m healthy and my family is healthy. What I want is continued success and health for those around me. I wish I could say ‘I want a Maserati’ but I truly wish that.