Tyler Perry’s Quiet Success
As a screenwriter ever interested in the entreprenurial spirit of our industry, I must confess admiration for Tyler Perry. Though his work is critically panned, his legion of fans is amazing, and loyal to a fault. And the list of his successes, including Diary of a Mad Black Woman and Madea’s Family Reunion, is all of a type — easy, family humor with a positive message.
Perry writes, directs, produces, and stars in comedies — often in the role of a cross-dressing matron — and he has turned his corner of the Atlanta film industry into a powerhouse of success. His secret?What I always claim is the most important aspect of any venture: Tyler knows his target market and caters to it unabashedly.
Much of the success of these films stems from Perry’s background in the church. Most of his projects begin as church plays. The bugs are worked out in front of and by the key demographic — church goers, primarily woman and families — who consistently show up at the cineplex, too.
Like the Marx Brothers, who took their stage plays on the road to test which jokes worked best before turning on the cameras, Perry has found a sweet spot both in his method and his target. And while he may not get the credit he deserves, his lesson for screenwriters and filmmakers is obvious: Know thy niche!
How few studios have a brand! When you say “Pixar,” you are saying 4-quadrant family films and know what to expect. But more and more the niche marketing is left to individuals who deliver a “Judd Apatow film” or a “Quentin Tarantino movie,” and may indicate a future where we are carving out smaller, targeted groups for our own films.
What’s your target market? Be it the art house, 4 quadrant family, date movie, prestige film, YouTube Generation short or global marketplace Indie, knowing who you are writing for, and loving them enough to cater to them, is more important than ever.
P.S. We had a GREAT Beats Weekend in Seattle, what a fantastic group of writers — and what amazingly well-targeted movies they have going — of all types! Looking forward to the October 11 weekend in Los Angeles, which is almost sold out. Please contact [email protected] if you’d like to attend!
- madison (girl arsonist) mcgraw
I think Perry also lived for awhile in his car when he was flat broke and continued to write despite (or perhaps because of) his plight.
I think persistence and faith (in himself) is a huge key to his success.
- Steph in ATL
Glad to see you mentioning Tyler Perry, Blake–we’ve been hearing for months here in Atlanta that a major film studio was in the works for our city, and it was no surprise to learn that TP is behind it. Land is plentiful and inexpensive in Atlanta and overhead is relatively cheap–all in a town with deep corporate resources, an international airport, huge media conglomerates (Turner offshoots), great weather, and a strong-knit community that supports TP in all his creative endeavors. He has definitely hit a niche market, but has also garnered universal appeal cross-culturally–in that respect, he’s much like Bill Cosby, touching on what you refer to as “primal” themes in his movies and plays that everyone can relate to.
Meanwhile, on the Indie front, the Atlanta Film Festival (April) has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years. (Atlanta can also boast the incredible Kenny Leon, who founded the True Colors Theater Co. here in ATL and most recently directed ABC’s excellent Raisin in the Sun production.) Keep your eye on Atlanta’s burgeoning film industry!
- Mike Rinaldi
Tyler Perry is a phenomenon. Even if you’re not a fan of his movies, you have to respect him. A great example of how talent, persistence, and entrepreneurialism work for you. Those are the three acts of the screenwriting life. Act One: you’ve written a great script. Act Two: Hollywood is filled with obstacles. Act Three: finding that “third way”– the key to your successful career. Is their a more prolific filmmaker and playwright today than Tyler Perry?
Oh, and Christina… I think I’m increasing your audience for you. (They’re mostly still in their 20s, but they’ll be in their 30s eventually.)
- Stephen Todoro
Great blog, Blake! I find Tyler Perry’s success encouraging and, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my years in promotions & marketing, hitting your target is key. It’s not always the size of the audience, but clearly knowing who they are and having a plan to reach them that matters! I also think that’s when you do your best work because you’re not concerned with being a Jack of all trades, so to speak.
AS WRITERS, THE FOLLOWING IS SOMETHING YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY KNOW ABOUT TYLER PERRY. (Perhaps your level of respect will dip a little.) From WGA’s website.
LOS ANGELES — The Writers Guild of America, West is taking on the fight for justice of writers who were fired when they tried to get a union contract with Tyler Perry’s production company, House of Payne, LLC. The Guild today filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging that House of Payne unlawfully fired four writers in retaliation for their union activity. The charge also alleges that the company bargained in bad faith with the Guild, which is seeking to negotiate a contract covering the writers on Perry’s cable television series House of Payne and Meet the Browns.
The four writers, Kellie Griffin, Christopher Moore, Teri Brown-Jackson, and Lamont Ferrell, as well as supporters from the Writers Guild and the community, will be picketing during Saturday’s opening of Perry’s new studio and they’re asking invited guests to respect their picket line. Together, these writers have written over one hundred episodes of House of Payne. Since April of this year they have been involved in a union organizing campaign with the Writers Guild of America, West so that their work on that show and the upcoming Meet the Browns would be covered by a Guild contract. Despite the enormous success of House of Payne, Perry has refused to agree to a contract that would give the writers health care, pensions, and residuals. On Tuesday of this week he fired the writers, after warning them some weeks ago that they should “be careful about pushing the WGA deal or you could be replaced.”
“We’re asking all those who had planned to attend the opening of Tyler Perry’s new studio not to cross our picket line,” said writer Christopher Moore. “It’s very disheartening considering that this is a studio run by African Americans. What Tyler Perry is essentially saying to us is that ‘you’re black and there’s not a lot of opportunities for you so you’ll take what I give you’ – whether it’s fair or not.”
“I feel like I was slapped in the face, like we were used” said writer and WGAW member Teri Brown-Jackson. “We were good enough to create over a hundred episodes, but now when it comes to reaping the benefits of the show being syndicated and having other spin-offs from it, he decides to let us go unless we accept a horrible offer.”
“Disrespected, betrayed, saddened…it’s hard to describe,” said writer and WGAW member Lamont Ferrell. “The actors and a majority of the production crew on the show were working under union contracts and they received the pay and benefits that you need to survive on in this business. But after all those episodes and success when it came time for us to get a fair contract, we’re told on a conference call ‘sorry, you’re fired.’”
The show’s head writer, Kellie Griffin, added, “A lot of people who fought for civil rights and social justice never really saw what eventually came out of their work. While I’d like to see something positive come out of this for us, if this fight helps future black writers get what they deserve, that’s a good thing.”
The writers and their supporters will be picketing at the grand opening of Tyler Perry Studios on Saturday, October 4, starting at 4 pm, and on Sunday, October 5, starting at 9 am.
The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) is a labor union representing writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries in entertainment and news. Founded in 1933, the Guild negotiates and enforces the contracts that protect the creative and economic rights of its members. It is involved in a wide range of programs that advance the interests of writers and their craft and is active in public policy and legislative matters on the local, national, and international level. For more information on the WGAW, please visit: http://www.wga.org.
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I’m glad you brought up Tyler Perry. A popular blogger panned Perry’s “Why Did I Get Married” last year. I asked him if he’d seen it and he admitted he hadn’t, but that he knew what it’d be like. It left a bad taste in my mouth that he’d criticize a film he hadn’t seen like that, so I decided to go see it and make up my own mind.
It wasn’t the best movie I’ve ever seen, but it was a lot better than many mainstream studio pictures. I enjoyed it a lot. It felt a lot like “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” in that there wasn’t so much visual storytelling (which I prefer – my favorite director being David Lynch) but more relational drama/comedy with a ton of HEART. He deserves the audience he’s getting. And, actors like Kathy Bates!
What’s amazed me is that the film community at large has behaved with a sort of closeted reverse prejudice towards him because he doesn’t fit into their expectation of what black filmmaker should be like (ie angry and liberal like Spike Lee). Perry’s films promote conventional, church going values, therefore Hwood doesn’t want to touch him. Even critics wouldn’t review his films. Well, NOW they do because they can no longer dismiss his box office as a fluke. Kudos to him.
BTW, my niche is writing movies for angry single women in their late 30’s…