“I’m not the person to ask about racism in this town, coming from where I came from I never had to go through what I’ve heard a lot of people had to go through in this town,” said Tyler Perry today at the Produced By conference. “I got into this town and I didn’t understand it,” Perry told Ava DuVernay of his move from a very successful theater career in the early 1990s to meeting with agents and studios in Hollywood. The duo were talking before a jam-packed Sherry Lansing Theatre on the Paramount lot as a part of the 2-day PGA confab.
“I’m from the South where they tell you they don’t like your ass if they don’t like something,” he bluntly remarked to a big laugh from the crowd on the Tinseltown tendency not to be straightforward. “This town, with so much madness inside, it will talk you out of what you feel is your instinct, what you feel you should do,” the Madea and The Haves And The Have Nots creator asserted. “The key is to learn how to be malleable and fluid inside a system that will constantly battle your instinct.”
“The great thing is I’m telling everyone in this world is if you get a deal where you are underestimated, that is a sweet thing,” he noted on keeping his projects under his control and ownership. “We put the film out on Oscar weekend and it made $25 million on opening weekend on this $5 million film,” Perry said as an example with his first movie the Lionsgate released Diary Of A Mad Black Women back in 2005. “The biggest thing I found about my audience is it is not about race but about class,” the multimedia multitasker added, on what he sees among his fanbase domestically today.
“I get people saying how much they love my DVDs in places I ‘ve never heard of and that I know I’m not selling there,” he also noted, hitting back at the notion that African-American focused productions don’t travel internationally. “My greatest battle is getting people to understand that these stories are universal and play around the world,” the film and TV producer, director and actor added.
“I don’t know Tyler well, I know him Hollywood well,” the Selma director joked at the start of the session. “I see him at a party and its like he knows my name,” she said generating the first of many laughs in the wide-ranging discussion about how Perry built his now $2 billion dollar multimedia empire.
And inevitably, Empire itself came up.
“In order to have the success with Empire you have to have Fox, you have to have huge P&A, you have to have huge budgets for the show” Perry said of the blockbuster Lee Daniels- and Danny Strong-created primetime drama. “I’m pretty confident that the budget of Empire is six times what I’m spending on Have And Have Nots,” he added, noting the 3 million viewers that THTHN has drawn on average over its two seasons on OWN. “For me all my thinking has always been own it, own it, own it.”
With shout outs of praise to Daniels and Shonda Rhimes, DuVernay herself ventured into the small screen world by reminding the audience not to go too crazy over “this lovely period where we have more than two shows on television with black people in them.” She paused, before adding, “there’s seven …let’s keep that in perspective.”
“I just want to tell the stories of the people I know, I want to tell those kinds of stories,” Perry said later in response to an audience question about depictions of Black America on the big and small screen. Nearly 20 movies and counting from Diary Of A Mad Black Women, a studio complex in Atlanta, and shows like The Haves And The Have Nots and If Loving You Is Wrong helping to fuel viewership records for OWN, Perry’s storytelling shows no signs of letting up — at least for the man himself. “I don’t want to leave this planet until I achieve everything that I was put here to do.”
The more than one-hour talk with DuVernay started off discussing Perry’s beginnings in the legit theater circuit over 20 years ago and building up his brand around the country. “I started putting my name on the title, so people knew it would be better than the other stuff out there.” Perry gave advice on how to hide your car from repossession, getting 17 jobs between trying to get his plays off the ground and the lessons of learning from his audience. “In 1998, I tried the show one more time, sold out … because I stayed true to myself.”