Oscars Aside, Meet Tim Story:
Hollywood’s Billion Dollar Black Director
Nothing wrong with bringing home an Oscar…or even just being nominated for one – every artist is honored to be recognized with the gold standard of their industry.
But there’s nothing wrong with bringing home the bacon, either, and Black Hollywood movie director Tim Story is perfectly okay with that, because he does it in spades. Pun intended.
Movies that Tim Story has directed have grossed well over $1 billion – giving him the number one worldwide position as the top grossing Black film director in history, and making him the only African-American director whose films have grossed over $1 billion.
The guy is only 45, and has made “only” eight major studio feature films, but seven of them have debuted at number one at the box office during their opening weekend, including Story’s latest – Ride Along 2, which when it just dropped on the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend back in January, knocked the new Star Wars movie from the top spot on the charts.
Story is the only African-American director to have seven films debut at number one at the box office during their opening weekend. The only major movie he made that didn’t debut at the top was Taxi, a 2004 actioner starring Queen Latifah and Jimmy Fallon, but Fox Studios appreciated his work on it enough that they hired him to helm what would become Story’s most commercially successful film the very next year.
When he took the reigns of that movie, The Fantastic Four, Tim Story became the first and only African-American director of a Marvel superhero movie and that 2005 picture went on to earn over $300 million. Marvel kept Story on to do the sequel and 2007’s The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer made another $289 million. That was more than half a billion dollars under Story’s belt after just two films.
The full distinguished pedigree of films Story has directed and their approximate earnings include:
- Barbershop, 2002, $77 million
- Taxi, 2004, $69 million
- Fantastic Four, 2005, $331 million
- Fantastic Four: Silver Surfer, 2007, $289 million
- Think Like A Man, 2012, $96 million
- Ride Along, 2014, $154 million
- Think Like A Man Too, 2014, $70 million
Add in the $118 million Ride Along 2 has already taken in worldwide since its release 45 days ago and Story’s bankroll moves into the neighborhood of $1.2 billion, and counting. That’s some high-rent neighborhood.
During its King holiday opening weekend, Ride Along 2 made $41.5 million – the entire move cost only $40 million to make – so it was profitable from day one.
The original Ride Along, starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart of course, debuted at the top of the box office in 2014 with record-breaking receipts totaling more than $48 million during the Dr. King holiday weekend opening of the film, making it one of the biggest January opening box-office tallies of all time.
The film stayed number one at the box office for three consecutive weeks and grossed more than $154 million worldwide. Ride Along only cost $25 million to make, so it made almost as much in profits as it cost to make in just four days and its profit margin was five-fold of its original cost.
Those are the kinds of numbers the Hollywood studios lik-ee, so Black Oscar nominations or lack thereof be damned, Tim Story is a brother that’s going to continue working in Tinsel Town.
“Actually, there have got to be at least a dozen or more (Black Hollywood directors) that are working consistently,” Story told N’DIGO shortly before Ride Along 2 opened. “We are a small fraternity, but if you include Black TV directors, there are a couple of dozen, probably more, in our group.
“It looks small from a percentage standpoint; it’s a small fraternity, but we just keep pushing. One of my friends – (Black director) F. Gary Gray – always says, ‘Just keep pushing through, man, just keep pushing through.’”
Black Opportunities In Hollywood?
That leads Story to give a “yes and no” answer to the question of whether opportunities are more available to African Americans in Hollywood than is generally considered to be the case.
“The opportunities are out there,” he says. “Once these films have started grossing the type of money that they have – and I’ve been a part of that and so many of my peers have been a part of that – when you start looking at these numbers, it is almost dumb, for lack of a bigger better word, to ignore the business side of this.
“When you can make a film for a small number of dollars and then come out and it has this profit upside, you can’t ignore it. Think Like A Man – we did that for $12-13 million and it made $91 million. (F. Gary Gray’s) Straight Outta Compton – it was made I’d say for about $30 million, I don’t really know the number, but it made over $200 million.
“When you look at the upside of that, I don’t see how any studio can ignore what the business of this is and I think the opportunities (for Black directors) come from the fact that this is a business. If you’re in the business of making movies, you’re an idiot if you’re not looking for the opportunity to take advantage of what’s happening right now.”
Movies Or Bust
It feels right that Tim Story is so successful at what he does because it seems he was basically born to do it. He was born in Los Angeles in 1970 and began directing at the age of 12 – “before I even knew what the word ‘director’ meant,” Tim says.
“There was never a Plan B. I’ve been doing it since I was 12, I went to film school for it and there was never an option. I was going to be a director no matter what. You can call it stupid, but I think in certain situations, it’s not a good thing to have a Plan B.”
At age 12, Story would do silent films with an 8 mm camera he got from his older brother. He produced talent shows at Westchester High School in L.A., where he was graduating class president and had as his classmates actresses Regina King and Nia Long.
From there, he attended the University of Southern California’s School for Cinema Arts and afterwards married his wife Vicky. The couple, who have three children, created The Story Company, where Tim was able to make two independent feature length films.
The first, One Of Us Tripped, was the 1996 winner of the Black Filmmaker’s Hall of Fame Film Festival. The second, The Firing Squad was completed in 1998.
Story actually first made a name for himself in Hollywood by directing music videos, but the two indies he made was the reason why.
“I was in debt from the independent movies. I had shot them and paid for them myself – well, actually my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, helped me pay for them,” Story explains.
“We went so much in debt. Music videos were coming up right at that time and a friend of mine in that field called me and said, ‘Dude, you better come over here and make some money doing this.’”
So Story began directing music videos. His cinematic style was showcased in videos of artists representing diverse music genres ranging from R&B to pop and including N-Sync, K-Ci & JoJo, R. Kelly, Tyrese and India Arie.
“I stayed in that for almost four years. I did the videos to basically pay my debt off and then hopefully raise more money to do more movies,” Story says.
“But it got good and I was making the videos and making the money and it was awesome and it was a great field to learn my craft in, but at some point I stopped and had to say to myself, let me get back to why I started this whole thing. So I started looking for movies.”
Fortuitously, his agents at William Morris had a script on their desk looking for a director. It was called Barbershop and they asked Tim to take a look at it.
All She Wrote
“I went after it and luckily I was able to impress the producers Robert Teitel and George Tillman Jr. and they let me do the movie. I guess you could say from there, ‘That’s all she wrote,’” Story recalls.
After the success of Barbershop, Fox hired him to helm Queen Latifah’s vehicle Taxi.
“It was a difficult movie to make in that we were shooting in New York and there were a lot of things against us in terms of weather and just trying to pull off a chase movie in New York,” Story says. “New York is not the easiest town to work in if you do not have the right support.”
Taxi cost about $25 million to make and earned almost three times its budget at $69 million, but just as important as the profits, Fox Studios appreciated how Story pulled off the shoot.
“Fox saw how I handled that and they were looking for somebody to kick off this new franchise of the Fantastic Four for Marvel, which would be a similar shoot. They saw that I could handle it with Taxi, so I was kind of in the right place at the right time,” Story says.
“It comes down to the fact that you do need a little bit of luck and the old saying is that luck is where opportunity and preparation meet, so you do need to be ready because if you’re in this industry long enough, there are going to be those times when you get the right call…or a certain director just dropped out of this project, or this actor just became big and they want to do this with them, and that’s your opportunity.”
Story explained that that was exactly the situation with the Ride Along movies.
“With Ride Along, we were at the point where Kevin Hart had just become Kevin Hart and to put him with Ice Cube was just a perfect pairing at the right time because Ice Cube had been a part of the Ride Along project for years,” Story says.
“Cube was going to do it with other people at certain times and it just wasn’t right. And then you look up and Kevin Hart shows up and you go, wow, that’s a perfect pairing. And it just happens that Kevin Hart became who he was and we had just done the movie Think Like A Man together, and Universal said, ‘Hey if you can do that movie with that team, let’s go for it,’ which is how that movie came together.”
Story has on his shades because his future is so bright. He has another movie with Ice Cube and a concert film with Kevin Hart coming out later this year. His Think Like A Man movies with super producer Will Packer are turning into a TV series.
Story is already working with the ABC Family network on a sitcom with Niki Minaj, based on her childhood when she was 11 – almost like an Everybody Hates Chris vehicle.
“Just trying to remain relevant and make things happen and stay out here working,” Story says.
But back to the Oscars, in addition to bringing home the bacon, Story is also in a position to try to affect the change necessary within the industry so that the Academy Awards are not so lily-white again that it causes the kind of controversy it did this year.
In 2013, the Academy invited Story to join its directors’ branch as a member, making him one of the few African-American directors in the historic organization.
And he sees good opportunity for African American-directed movies coming up on the horizon, mentioning specifically the announcements of Black directors Ryan Coogler, who directed Creed, helming the Black Panther movie for Marvel due in 2018, and F. Gary Gray directing the next Fast & Furious installment.
“I can’t wait to see what they do with those movies because they’re such talented filmmakers,” Story said. “I knew it was going to happen, it’s just a matter of time. Now it’s coming around and I think we’re going to see more Black directors getting these opportunities.
“I think those two films in those two filmmakers’ hands are going to be incredible because they’re so talented and people coming after them are going to start to see that, ‘Wow, you give these directors of color an opportunity, give them the right tools, and we can kick ass.’
“And that’s important. It’s going to just continue to open the doors for directors of color and actors of color to do bigger and better projects. It’s great!”