When Takers opens this weekend, some moviegoers in St. Petersburg will be heading to Muvico at BayWalk to support a successful filmmaker with local ties.
William Packer, 37, a 1991 graduate of St. Petersburg High School, could have a third No. 1 box office hit under his belt by week's end.
His previous No. 1 hits include Stomp the Yard and Obsessed, which features singer and actor Beyoncé Knowles.
So how did the former Mr. St. Pete High, who holds a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Florida A&M University, become a movie producer?
Speaking from his Atlanta office, Packer explained that he and partner Rob Hardy made the movie Chocolate City — about college life at FAMU — while they were still students there.
"We took it to Hollywood, but nobody cared about a film with that type of theme. So I took it back to where people would care — to Tallahassee," said Packer. Determined to distribute the film on their own, he said, "we started selling T-shirts and handing out fliers. In the end, we made more than $100,000."
After college, Packer and Hardy moved to Atlanta and founded Rainforest Films to make and distribute independent films that would resonate with African-Americans.
After sexy thriller Trois, Rainforest's first release, became the fastest million-dollar grossing film distributed by African-Americans, Packer brokered a deal with Sony's Screen Gems to produce and distribute urban films.
"I didn't really have a passion coming out of school," said Packer. "But after the success of the first film, I knew this was my passion."
Are there plans to shoot a film in the Tampa Bay area?
"Florida is home," he said. "I welcome the opportunity to film there. There are lots of great backdrops in the Tampa Bay and Orlando area."
What's next for the homegrown film maverick?
"I've got two No. 1 films under my belt, and I'm already claiming it (Takers) to be the No. 1 movie in the country this weekend."
He could be on to something. The film features Matt Dillon, Idris Elba, Chris Brown, Tip "T.I." Harris, Michael Ealy and Jay Hernandez, to name a few.
Packer said he just completed a sequel to Stomp the Yard, which will be released this fall.
He said he's also working on bringing comedian Steve Harvey's best seller Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man to the big screen.
He said his next big project is a film on the life of Kemba Smith, a college student whose relationship with an abusive drug dealer led to a 24-year prison sentence for drug trafficking. Her case drew national attention, and her sentence was commuted 6 1/2 years later by then-President Bill Clinton. Smith now runs a foundation dedicated to shedding light on society's ills and challenging young people to make good choices.
Packer's social card seems to be full this weekend.
He will participate in a conference at his childhood church, Bethel AME Church at 912 Third Ave. N.
On Saturday evening he'll host a special showing of Takers. "I am looking forward to buying out a theater," he said, adding that he'll treat family, friends and a local youth group Saturday evening at BayWalk.
Packer will also be the guest of honor later Saturday at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum at 2240 Ninth Ave. S.
Aficianados Enterprises is hosting a movie premiere after-party dubbed "The Takeover" in Packer's honor. The event is being organized by fellow FAMU alum Shawn Albritten, who met Packer years ago when they were participants in the Black History Pageant run by the late Peggy Peterman, a longtime St. Petersburg Times columnist and reporter.
Albritten said the event, which is open to the public, starts at 11 p.m. Admission is $15.
Sandra J. Gadsden is assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (727) 893-8874.