Tyler Perry: the American legend is recognized at the Oscars
By Melody Yuan
April 19, 2021
Tyler Perry’s vision to build an entertainment empire and the decision to film during a pandemic
Tyler Perry is an American icon who has written, performed, produced and directed many definitive Hollywood hits. With 17 feature films, 20 plays, seven television shows and a New York Times bestselling book to his name, Perry is celebrated for his rich contribution to the entertainment world.
Known for his creation and portrayal of a nationally beloved character Madea, Perry was instrumental in proving in Hollywood that there was a demand for urban African American comedies and stories.
In October 2019, Perry marked a new milestone by opening the Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. The studio is the first to be fully African American-owned, and the 330-acre grounds are outfitted with 12 soundstages named after other exemplary black stars such as Denzel Washington and Halle Berry. The studio itself is historic, having been built on what was once a Confederate Army base called Fort McPherson.
With big blockbusters such as “Black Panther” and hit the AMC series as “The Walking Dead” among some of the big hitters filmed at Tyler Perry Studios, they had a full production schedule underway for 2020, even as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded. Because they took unprecedented security measures and had a 30-page list of conditions for everyone who entered the bubble, Tyler Perry Studios was one of the few who managed to resume filming after the first shutdown and to maintain jobs throughout the pandemic.
Perry is set to receive the 2021 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at this year’s 93rd Academy Awards. Ahead of the Oscars, Perry shares his vision and experiences from the past year with East West Bank.
Tell us about Tyler Perry Studios – what is your mission and vision?
Atlanta has always felt like the Promised Land to me, and I’m grateful that I was able to open the Tyler Perry Studios in this city. For me, it wasn’t just about creating entertainment and what I want my legacy to be, but it was always meant to create a place for others to have opportunities. It was to open the door, then set it up as a ramp for others to walk through. I think back to the history of this land as the base of the Confederate Army… to see it now housing a large studio owned by a black man – it’s poetic. I hope this is a place where new and important voices will be discovered for generations to come.
What production challenges did you encounter when COVID-19 first appeared?
When the pandemic started, we were about to start filming one of my TV shows. But when we realized the gravity of the situation, we made the difficult decision to shut down immediately, even before the state demanded it.
You were one of the first studios to resume production after the initial shutdown in spring 2020. How did you decide to do it?
I was fortunate to be in a position where I could have stopped shooting and remained seated until there was a vaccine. But thinking about my team and my crew and what it takes for them to live and support their families, I knew I had to do something.
It was early in the process of resuming production and we didn’t have an official plan. So with the help of a village of studio staff, doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers, union representatives, talents and their representatives, crew members, insurers and many other great thinkers, we have come up with a comprehensive plan. We called it “Camp Quarantine”. The measures included flying in a private cast, having them tested before the flight and on arrival, testing and quarantining the actors and crew on arrival, and then regular testing on set. We have also created enough housing on the ground, have a food safety team, housekeeping staff and full personal protective equipment for everyone in the quarantine bubble.
How did you decide to implement security measures? Did it increase your cost of production?
After speaking with a wide range of experts, we knew that these extensive measures were what would be needed. And yes, it was expensive. For our first productions, that added about $ 18 million in costs, which BET and I covered. At the end of the day, you can’t put a price on everyone’s safety, health, and well-being, so it was worth it.
What role did the West Bank play in funding the first shows you shot this summer – “Sistas”, “Ruthless” and “Bruh”?
We have been working in partnership with the Eastern West Bank since 2011, and the Eastern West Bank was able to act quickly to help us fund. We had to start production in a timely manner due to the additional logistics required to bring production back to this environment and to meet a demanding filming and delivery schedule.
My business and my production team are changing very quickly, but it has been difficult to keep the big companies moving at the same pace, which is why the West Bank has been the help and the bridge to keep my production schedule moving.
What’s next for Tyler Perry Studios? Any exciting projects that you can tease us?
I’m going to shoot more of my TV series for BET and BET + this year, and I have a really personal film project that I’m working on and hoping to shoot this year. The studio also continues to be available for outside productions, many of which may have continued to shoot during the pandemic, with all COVID protocols in place. All good things to come!
Learn more about Tyler Perry and other clients in the East West Bank Annual Report.