Producer Will Packer says living, working, and filming in Atlanta is one of his secret weapons—and one he’s not giving it up anytime soon.
The filmmaker behind Girls Trip, Little, and Straight Outta Compton (whose combined box-office grosses exceed $1 billion) spoke at the Fast Company Innovation Festival on Thursday, and shared that his projects often start by thinking about the “end user,” or the audience he expects to fill theaters (or stream from their couches). Living in Atlanta, he said, is one of the key ways he keeps up with the interests of those fans. “The reality is that L.A.—where I have a lot of amazing relationships, and great people live and work there—is definitely a bubble where we’re all pitching to each other,” Packer said. “It’s got nothing to do with the people you’re trying to sell it to in D.C. or Charlotte or Miami.”
Packer said that he’ll continue working in Atlanta despite the state’s recent passage of HB 481, a controversial “heartbeat” anti-abortion law that would make most abortions after six weeks illegal in the state—despite subsequent calls from Hollywood to boycott the state because of it. “Atlanta is an interesting city in that from an ideological perspective, it is a very progressive blue state in the middle of this very red state,” Packer said. “I know that the people working on the film and television shows created there are not the people that put the legislators in power that passed this bill. The people that would really be affected on the ground are not the people who would ever vote against a woman’s rights.”
Beyond personally affecting the crews and employees he works with, Packer also believes that pulling out of Atlanta would send the wrong message to the state’s conservative voters and legislators—an opinion he formed with the input of Stacey Abrams, the lawyer and former state legislator who made a national splash in 2018 when she ran for governor of Georgia. Abrams, whom Packer backed in the race and considers a close friend, told the producer: “Tell your Hollywood friends to hold up a second, because what happens is if Hollywood pulls out of Georgia, this governor will use that as an empowerment thing amongst the base.” Packer elaborated: “So even though [Republican governor Brian Kemp] was definitely cutting off his financial nose to spite his face, it didn’t matter. Because his base would say, ‘Yes, you ran Hollywood out of town, kick those liberals out of here, we shouldn’t have been giving them the tax cut anyway.'”
Packer went on to say that while he enjoys the fact that the entertainment industry gives him and other voices a platform to talk about important political issues, the spotlight is sometimes stronger on his own business than others in the state. “Nobody said, ‘We’re not going to fly Delta,’ or ‘Forget Home Depot.'” For his part, he’ll continue backing the “hardworking people in that state who are the lifeblood of [the entertainment] industry.”