Make us your home page

Hollywood producer Will Packer comes home to St. Pete for BurgBorn

ST. PETERSBURG — Will Packer heard "no" plenty of times on his unlikely path from St. Petersburg to Hollywood. He just never listened.

The producer of Straight Outta Compton, Ride Along and the recent remake of Roots urged other dreamers to do the same at Thursday's inaugural BurgBorn, showcasing a dozen homegrown businesses known far outside city limits.

Packer, 42, revisited his birthplace to deliver BurgBorn's keynote address, setting an inspiring tone for the day's panel discussions of grass roots success stories.

It's something Packer would have appreciated back in the day.

"It would've been huge for myself as a young filmmaker," he said, "to have somebody who looks like me, is from where I'm from … without a lot of Hollywood connections, say, 'You can do it. Never give up, don't take no for an answer.'

"Those kinds of things would really have resonated with me. … It would've been great to hear somebody say all this hard work isn't in vain; it's going to pay off."

An experienced motivational speaker, Packer traced his experiences as a fledgling filmmaker without money or industry connections, using a barnstorming strategy of distribution, defying Hollywood's conventional wisdom.

The journey began at Florida A&M University, where Packer and fraternity brother Rob Hardy produced the campus drama Chocolate City for $20,000, then persuaded a pothead discount theater manager to show it on weekends, turning a healthy profit.

Regional success with 2000's erotic thriller Trois led to studio deals and eventually the founding of Will Packer Productions, creators of four movies that debuted atop the box office charts, and on television, BET's Being Mary Jane and ABC's sitcom Uncle Buck.

"Although I got told 'no' an awful lot, I didn't let that define me," Packer said in an interview before his speech. "I continued to push against those walls and ceilings and barriers that were trying to keep me in a box. … I've always been resolute that I determine what success is for me, not somebody else."

Similar sentiment could be expressed by any of the 12 businesses BurgBorn highlighted in four panel discussions moderated by former Times editor Sandra Gadsden.

Divided into four categories — art, tech, online business and craft beverages/food — the panels reflected the city's diverse population and values.

"Our local businesses are the ones who give us our character, our feel," St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman said during a VIP breakfast. "It's one reason people like to come visit here.

"While big retail chains serve a function and are important, what sets us apart is how many local, small businesses that are so unique to this community."

About 100 people turned out to the event. Businesses singled out at BurgBorn included digital illustrator Chris Parks of Palehorse, artist Johnny Vitale of Vitale Bros., Studio@620 artistic director Bob Devin Jones and Pilot Moon Films co-founder Joel Malizia. Technology entrepreneurs Marxent, content strategist Joe Bardi and Intrinio CEO Rachel Carpenter shared a panel, while Andrew Harlan (iLovetheBurg), Monica Leonard (Molly's Suds) and Kyle Nardo (Nardo's Naturals) discussed online business practices.

BurgBorn concluded with Matt Sokolowski (Great Bay Distributors), Mike Harting (3 Daughters Brewing) and chef Jeffrey Jew (BellaBrava, Stillwaters Tavern) discussing their craft products.

"In light of St. Pete's renaissance," said Olga Bof, executive director of Keep Saint Petersburg Local, sponsor of Thursday's event, "we're celebrating these wonderful success stories that might have started here smaller but are thriving and have reached national or international levels.

"People may not even know that's what is growing in their hometown."

Packer knows well what St. Petersburg can harvest, the talents that can develop, the ambitions that can be realized.

"Control your own destiny and give your power to no one," Packer said, concluding his remarks. "Know that a challenge, an obstacle, is an opportunity to go out and do something great.

"I know this because I've done it for myself. I know because I'm blessed to be BurgBorn. I know because from Maximo (Elementary) to Baypoint (Middle School) to St. Pete (High School), I had people around me who encouraged me, who told me what I could do, who I could be. And I had people who told me what I couldn't do or be.

"But at the end of the day, there was one voice louder than all the rest, one voice that mattered most. And that voice is mine. And that voice is yours."

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

St. Petersburg native and filmmaker Will Packer hugs Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at the Mahaffey Theater on Thursday.


St. Petersburg native and filmmaker Will Packer hugs Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin at the Mahaffey Theater on Thursday.

Hollywood producer Will Packer comes home to St. Pete for BurgBorn 06/16/16 [Last modified: Thursday, June 16, 2016 11:02pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 5 things to do under $5: Type artists, shuffleboard, toy train show, Wildflower Walk


    1 Letterheads Typefest: The muralists who run Illsol Space, a gallery in Tampa Heights, said their respect for handmade fonts and sign painting techniques moved them to curate this exhibit featuring type-based muralists, hand-style lettering designers, sign painters, letterpress studios and type designers. …

    Colm O’Connor, a Dublin sign writer, is among the 22 artists featured in the Letterheads Typefest exhibit at the Illsol Space gallery.
  2. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Aug. 23


    The Art of the Brick: An elaborate display of more than 100 pieces of Lego artwork including the life sized sculpture of a man ripping open his chest, a 20-foot-long T. rex skeleton, a giant skull and replicas of famous works including Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night and Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona …

    Nathan Sawaya with a sculpture from his The Art of the Brick exhibition coming to Tampa June 23- Sept. 4. It will be open for free Wednesdays through Sundays,  from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 802 E Whiting Street, Tampa. No tickets are required.[Courtesy  of the Art of the Brick]
  3. I give you a fish, you give me back my man


    The B-52s are a band with such a distinct visual look that you could tell it was them with just a glimpse of a picture. But was it always beehives and bright clothes for the hipsters from Athens? You can find the different looks of the B-52s in their video for the irresistible Give Me Back My Man.

  4. Joss Whedon's ex-wife accuses him of cheating, being 'hypocrite preaching feminist ideals'


    Joss Whedon made his name directing cult television shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and big-budget action movies, which often featured women in empowering roles. Many applauded him for being a champion of women, a feminist in an industry accused of misogyny and sexism.

    Joss Whedon at the screening of "Much Ado About Nothing" in 2014. Whedon's ex-wife Kai Cole alleged in an essay published by The Wrap on Sunday that Whedon had multiple affairs during their 16-year marriage. (Associated Press)
  5. For James Blunt, life is still 'Beautiful,' especially on tour with Ed Sheeran

    Music & Concerts

    Here's how much You're Beautiful still weighs on James Blunt: He specifically references his biggest hit twice on his new album, The Afterlove.

    ISCHGL, AUSTRIA - NOVEMBER 29:  James Blunt performs live on stage during the ‘Top Of The Mountain Concert’ on November 29, 2014 in Ischgl, Austria.  (Photo by Jan Hetfleisch/Getty Images)