Tyler Perry: The Creative Mind, Philanthropist, and American Legend Gets Recognized at the Oscars

By Melody Yuan
Apr. 19, 2021
Tyler Perry

Tyler Perry’s vision of building an entertainment empire and the decision to film during a pandemic

Tyler Perry is an American icon who has written, acted, produced and directed many of Hollywood’s definitive hits. With 17 feature films, 20 stage plays, seven television shows and a New York Times bestselling book under his belt, Perry is celebrated for his rich contribution to the world of entertainment.

Known for his creation and portrayal of a nationally beloved character, Madea, Perry was instrumental in proving to Hollywood that there was a demand for urban African American comedies and stories.

In October 2019, Perry marked a new milestone by opening Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. The studio is the first to be fully owned by an African American, and the 330-acre lot is equipped with 12 sound stages that are named after other exemplary Black stars such as Denzel Washington and Halle Berry. The studio itself is historic, having been built on what was formerly a Confederate army base called Fort McPherson.

Tyler Perry, on the 330-acre Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo credit): Tyler Perry Studios

With big blockbusters such as “Black Panther” and hit AMC series like “The Walking Dead” among some of the heavy hitters filmed at Tyler Perry Studios, they had a full production schedule underway for 2020, even as the COVID-19 pandemic was unraveling. Because they took unprecedented safety measures and had a 30-page list of conditions for anyone who entered the bubble, Tyler Perry Studios was one of the few that managed to resume filming after the first shutdown and maintain jobs throughout the pandemic.

Perry is slated 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 over the past year with East West Bank.

Tell us about Tyler Perry Studios—what is your mission and vision?

Atlanta always felt like the promise land to me, and I’m grateful I’ve been able to open Tyler Perry Studios in this city. For me, this was not only about creating entertainment and what I want my legacy to be, but it was also always meant to create a place for others to have opportunity. It was about opening the door and then laying it down as a ramp for others to journey across. I look back at the history of this land as a Confederate army base…to see it now house a major studio owned by a Black man—that is poetic. My hope is that this is a place where new and important voices will be discovered for generations to come.

What production challenges did you face when COVID-19 first hit?

At the beginning of the pandemic, we were about to start shooting one of my television shows. But when we realized the severity of the situation, we made the difficult decision to immediately shut down, even before the state required it.

You were one of the first studios to resume production after the initial shutdown in spring 2020. How did you make the decision to do so?

I’ve been fortunate enough to be in a position that I could have stopped shooting and sat this out until there was a vaccine. But thinking about my team and my crew and what it takes for them to maintain their lives and provide for their families, I knew I had to do something.

It was early in the process of production resuming, and we were without an official blueprint. So with the help of a village of studio staff, medical doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers, union reps, talent and their reps, crew members, insurers, and a lot of other great thinkers, we came up with a comprehensive plan. We called it “Camp Quarantine.” The measures included flying in cast privately, having them test before the flight and upon arrival, testing and quarantining cast and crew upon arrival, and then testing regularly while on set. We also created enough housing on the lot, had a food safety team, a housekeeping staff, and extensive personal protective equipment for everyone in the quarantine bubble.

How did you decide on implementing safety measures? Did that increase your cost of production?

After speaking with a wide variety of experts, we knew that these extensive measures were what it would take. And yes, it was costly. For our first few productions, it added about $18 million in costs, which BET and I covered. Ultimately you can’t put a price on everyone’s safety, health and wellbeing, so it was worth it.

Production crew working on set at Tyler Perry Studios. (Photo credit): Tyler Perry Studios

What role did East West Bank play in financing the initial shows you shot this summer—“Sistas,” “Ruthless” and “Bruh”?

We’ve been partnering with East West Bank since 2011, and East West Bank was able to move quickly to assist us with financing. We needed to start production in a timely manner due to the additional logistics needed to bring production back in this environment, and meet a demanding shooting and delivery schedule.

My company and production team move really quickly, but it’s been difficult to have giant corporations move at the same pace, so East 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 you can tease for us?

I’m going to be shooting more of my television series for BET and BET+ this year, and I have a really personal film project that I’m working on and hope to shoot sometime this year. The studio also continues to be available for outside productions, many of which have been able to continue shooting during the pandemic, with all COVID protocols in place. All good things to come!

Read more about Tyler Perry and other clients in East West Bank’s Annual Report.

Contact East West Bank Entertainment and New Media Financing Team

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