After working side by side with Tyler Perry for nearly seven years, Roger Bobb wanted to spread his own wings.
So in late May, Bobb opened his own office with five employees in a space he saw while filming a car crash on the road for “Why Did I Get Married 2.” With high ceilings and exposed HVAC units, it’s a magnet for creative types.
Bobb was involved with every Perry film and both TBS sitcoms as a supervising producer, absorbing all the knowledge and insight Perry had to offer.
“I learned several things from just watching him,” Bobb said. “Have faith and confidence in yourself. Work hard. And know your audience. He’s the hardest working person I’ve ever encountered – besides myself.”
He sat in his “inspiration room,” a bright yellow conference room with vintage movie posters (or copies of the originals since he considered them too fragile) of films by African Americans he admired over the years. Among them: “The Color Purple,” “Lady Sing the Blues,” “Claudine,” “Shaft,” and “They Call Me MISTER Tibbs.” He spent upwards of $500 buying the original posters. His idol: Sidney Poitier, who he got to meet at the opening of Tyler Perry Studios in 2008.
“He’s still suave and sophisticated, just as you’d expect,” he said. “He is an incredible gentleman.”
Born in London but raised in Brooklyn, Bobb said at age 20, he became inspired to do film after seeing Spike Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have It” in 1986.
“I thought it was incredible,” he said. “This young African American from the neighborhood not even a mile from me did that!
This was followed by films by Robert Townsend (”The Hollywood Shuffle”) and Robert Rodriguez (”El Mariachi”). They all wrote books, Bobb said. He read them. “I learned a lot about the practical applications of film making,” he said.
He made his first stab at a short film, the only time he starred himself. Called “Confessions of a Dog,” it’s a day in the life of a womanizer on Valentine’s Day. It won a few film festivals, he said, but he isn’t releasing it to the general public.
Bobb entered film school, directed low budget music videos, then joined a directors training program through the Directors Guild of America. For two years, he learned to be a producer, working in films such as Mike Nichols’ “Primary Colors,” Sylvester Stallone’s “Copland” and Woody Allen’s “Celebrity,” plus TV shows such as “NYPD Blue” and “New York Undercover.”
Over time, he made connections with Will Packer and Rob Hardy of Atlanta’s Rainforest Films (”Stomp the Yard”) and producer Reuben Cannon (”Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” “My Wife and Kids”). He did a few indie films, a couple which won a best film award at the American Black Film Festival. “First time, I won a Navigator. The second time, I received $20,000,” he said. “I always joked it paid for gas for the Navigator.”
At the time, Cannon approached him and said there was an up-and-coming filmmaker named Tyler Perry who needed some help. Bobb became assistant director of “Diary of a Mad Black Woman,” which paved Perry’s way to where he is today.
“I came down from New York to Atlanta thinking I was doing this one movie,” Bobb said. “I never left.”
He never got around to selling his apartment in New York City. “I am there maybe two weeks a year,” he said. “The tag is still on the sofa.”
He became supervising producer for Perry’s films and his two TV shows, “House of Payne” and “Meet the Browns.”
After seven years, Bobb felt the itch to be his own boss. Perry did not stop him. “He recognizes he creates a lot of opportunities for a lot of people,” he said, noting that he let Chyna McClain (”House of Payne”) out of her contract to work with Disney, where she now stars in “A.N.T. Farm.” “He doesn’t block people’s blessings.”
“Nobody wants to grow up to be vice president,” he added.
After three months on his own, he has several projects in the works. He is developing a food show with David and Tamela Mann of “Meet the Browns” fame. He’s working on sitcom ideas using a multi-camera style with no laugh track a la “The Office.” He said there are four or five viable networks that could potentially finance this show. (Without naming names, that probably includes BET, VH1, Centric, TV One and TBS.)
And he admires how Perry can do shows significantly cheaper than Hollywood without sacrificing quality. This includes taping multiple episodes at once and getting full creative freedom. (Critics generally dislike much of what Perry does but his audience does not care.)
Bobb is seeking reality show concepts, too, but wasn’t too specific of his vision beyond “more inspiration, less confrontation. I want shows that inspire and motivate people.”
And he’s producing his first film this fall for Bobbcat Films, a “raunchy R-rated urban comedy.”
“Where’s our ‘Friday’? Where’s our ‘House Party’? ” he asked.
Bobb also has invested in the Green Room, a coffee place targeting the artsy creative world in south Buckhead in the same complex as the upcoming Frank Ski restaurant.
“It’s important,” Bobb said, “to nurture and develop young filmmakers and young artists.”
By Rodney Ho, firstname.lastname@example.org, AJCRadioTV blog