Tyler Perry spoke about his audience and career trajectory at the Produced By conference on Sunday.
In conversation with Ava DuVernay on the second day of the Producers Guild of America's annual conference, Perry expressed his audience is defined more by class than by race.
"There's a certain class of people that I come from who know what I'm talking about, who get it," he said. "There's this other class who simply say, 'What is this shit?' "
He told DuVernay his career hurdles likewise have more to do with his unconventionality than his race. "I'm not the person to ask about racism in this town," he said. "I've never had to go through things others have to get things done."
He and DuVernay spoke about why he's less often considered a top diverse showrunner like Shonda Rhimes, despite his multiple series and millions of viewers.
"In order to have the success of an Empire, you have to have Fox. You have to have huge P&A, you have to have huge budgets for the show itself," he said. "I'm pretty comfortable saying Empire's budget is six times what I'm spending on The Haves and Have Nots."
He noted his series, including If Loving You Is Wrong, For Better or Worse and The Haves and Have Nots, specifically target black audiences. "It doesn't appeal to broad audiences, to a point," Perry admitted.
He and DuVernay spoke about his unusual entry to the industry: "I didn't come through the door," he said.
He discussed his start writing and producing theatrical productions in the 1990s. He explained his first experience with theater was sneaking into shows at intermission because he could not afford admission: "When the critics say, 'His movies look like it's just one act,' that's why. I would only see the second acts," he said.
He recounted how his theatrical productions failed for years: "The first one, I thought 1,200 people would show up, and 30 did," he said. A huge hit in 1998 led him to Hollywood and his partnership with Lionsgate for Diary of a Mad Black Woman.
"We put the movie out on Oscar weekend, and it opens with 25 million in 2005. I get the phone call going, 'Uh...' " said Perry. "[The audience] showed up, and they've been there ever since."
He addressed previous criticism of his films on the grounds they stereotype their black characters as drug addicts or obese. He responded the limitations on his storytelling were only because he's one individual filmmaker. "I got a lot of criticism because I was the only one, and people shot at the deer they could see," he said.
He and DuVernay discussed his recent roles in other filmmakers' movies, including his acclaimed performance in Gone Girl and his upcoming part in Paramount's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel. "When I'm on someone's set, I respect them," he said. "I really let go. If [Gone Girl's] David Fincher wants to do 500 takes, I'll do 500 takes, smiling the whole way."
He added to DuVernay, "You going to hire me for something? Is that it?" DuVernay just smiled.