Will Packer may have produced the recent Oscar show now-famous for Will Smith’s slapping of host Chris Rock, but his influence goes far beyond some unanticipated stage antics.
After two decades of big and small screen film-making excellence, his leftfield diversion to the wilds of South Africa, for the Idris Elba-starring Beast, creates a shift that’s definitely worthy of exploration.
RSNG.com takes the opportunity to ask the experienced producer how film is changing, how one person can make or break a movie, and about working with Elba on his latest project.
RSNG As an experienced producer of a variety of movies and TV series, how do you sense the landscape, at present, is changing?
WILL PACKER, A-LIST PRODUCER “It’s changing all the time and I’m not sure even those at the very top know which way it will go next.
“A few years ago I think we all came across the reality that we would be putting together movies for streaming as well as theatrical, and any producer who focused on just one was probably going to come unstuck.
“It was a nervous time, and covid only complicated it further.
“I think we are a bit clearer now in terms of which way it’s going to go, but then you look at Netflix struggling in the same way as some of our cinemas have struggled. Ultimately, everyone has got to bring their A-game. The pressure is fully on the actors and the producers and directors, because mediocrity won’t sell anymore.”
RSNG Was there ever a time when it did?
WILL PACKER “Definitely. We went through a phase where the dilution of the product was real, and I actually find it very cool that the challenge has been put forward to change things.
“My fear is distributors looking for the easy option – and that may be in the form of a reboot, or a superhero/action movie. Real, intuitive, considered drama is the most valuable, but only from an emotional perspective. Commercially, it’s valuable when it works but so often it doesn’t pay back, and this is the gamble a lot of financiers in the industry are confronted with.”
RSNG But good drama and good film-making will always shine through?
WILL PACKER “It should do! Haha!”
The story of a father trying to reconnect with his girls, in the wilds of the jungle, battling the odds, really needed Idris Elba – and I told him that
**RSNG Beast fits the brief of being a big, visual, impactful project that deserves a big platform, right?
WILL PACKER “That’s certainly the way we have viewed it, and this is the drive we have to put it on the big screen.
“This is more about the cinematic experience than anything else. It’s not about box office numbers or return on investment; we place the trust in that anyway – it’s about enjoying a piece of drama in the right environment.
“It’s a movie about dynamic, spectacular scenery – it’s a beautiful production that drives impact and represents the ‘wow’ factor.”
RSNG What was it like working with Idris Elba?
WILL PACKER “Well, with Idris you know what you are going to get. Both on screen and in person, he is someone who drives quality, authenticity, passion and professionalism.
“He is almost uniquely positioned in the way he works across multiple audiences, and Beast, the story of a father trying to reconnect with his girls, in the wilds of the jungle, battling the odds, really needed him… and I told him that!”
RSNG It goes without saying, the right (or wrong) person can make or break a movie, yes?
WILL PACKER “Yes – and in many ways. In the sense that how that person translates on screen is obviously vital and what people think of first; but beyond that, how that person is on set, how he or she relates to co-actors, crew and everyone else, can really shape and form the feeling of a movie and the product you end up with.
“Obviously it’s the job of the producer, the director and those influential people who are involved to keep the thing moving in the right direction, but it’s easy on set for the blueprint to move out of line, and when your degree of deviance starts to shift, it can carry on doing that, and that’s dangerous.”
RSNG Beast is a step into a new genre for you – did you have any doubt it could work?
WILL PACKER “No, because I have confidence in myself. That’s not always enough, I know, but I have been doing this long enough.
“Ultimately, I feel any good producer should be able to move themselves out of their comfort zone, and make that new space comfortable. The genre is really just the top lick of paint on the overall structure that any movie or series is built on.
“Naturally you will shape, feel and impact a drama/action movie in a very different way than you will a rom-com, but the basics are always things you subscribe to.
“Certainly I was very excited to make this progression. It’s not a genre I had avoided in the past – it was just a case that the opportunity never came along at the right time.”
We were trespassing on the natural habitat of animals we had never seen before
RSNG Are you still learning all along the way?
WILL PACKER “Of course. You could keep doing the same genre with the same actors in the same space, and you would still be learning every minute of the day.
“What made Beast so important to me was the fact the learning curve was so steep, because we were purely on location, purely out in the wilds of South Africa, and really putting ourselves in a place where actually we were trespassing on the natural habitat of animals we had never seen before.
“So all those things combined and made this an incredible experience. Those things also put pressure on you to ensure you represent the people and the place in the best possible, most accurate light. We owe it to ourselves, but we also owe it to the location and the culture to get this experience across.”
RSNG For 20 years now you have been pacing through projects, making difficult tasks appear very easy. That’s no mean feat given how much the industry and our take on entertainment has changed. What drives you?
WILL PACKER “Thank you. To go back to the start, I think the necessity is to keep moving with the times. You’ve got to be alert and willing to evolve, even into things you don’t ever see yourself as.
“You’ve got to work in a way that respects the changing wishes of the public and the way we move our consumer habits along.
“The interesting thing is that, even as a producer, people forget you are that very same consumer of entertainment. You are not removed from it in totality – you are the subject!”
WHAT NEXT? Are you an Idris Elba fan? Then don’t miss out on the RSNG.com interview with the Brit star, where the DJing and fashion designing movie heavyweight talks about more than just acting…
Photos: Shutterstock, Moviestillsdb