In 2016, Universal and Will Packer teamed up to produce a small movie called Girls Trip. The budget was only 20 million dollars, and it told the story of a group of girlfriends who head to the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans to blow off steam and rekindle old friendships. 

The movie debuted in the summer of 2017 and blew the doors off the box office. It elevated Tiffany Haddish to superstardom as the wild comic relief, and the movie grossed over $140 million worldwide, including over $100 million domestically. It was also the first time a film written by a Black female screenwriter had crossed the $100 million mark at the box office. And it showed once again that Hollywood needed to tell more Black stories. 

I wanted to look at eight lessons we can take away from this movie and how they can apply to your own endeavors. 

Let's take a look. 

Girls-trip'Girls Trip'Credit: Universal Pictures

8 Great Filmmaking Lessons from Girls Trip

1. Write the movie you want to see. 

Whenever anyone asks for writing advice, this is what I tell them: "Write the movie you'd go see." I am not a genius, I just am someone who was told this, like everyone eventually hears these words. They live on because they are true. With Girls Trip, those words ring true. 

Screenwriter Tracy Oliver told The Hollywood Reporter that one of the reasons she wrote the story was that she wanted to break down the barriers of respectability politics and portray "Black women being carefree and having fun just like everybody else. I think we need to show all aspects of Black lives. I love Moonlight, I love Hidden Figures, but I also want to see some people who are having fun and just showing female friends hanging out."

That was a movie that many other people wanted to see as well. 

2. Create a red band trailer 

I genuinely think red band trailers are usually overrated, but the Girls Trip red band changed how the general audiences viewed the movie. And I think it helped bolster an audience they were not expecting.

Sure, a movie about four middle-aged Black female friends hanging out seems like it may have a small market, but a fun, R-rated comedy about behaving badly while dealing with growing apart displayed a universality that got me excited to see this movie. If you're cutting a trailer for your film, make sure it puts the most marketable aspects on display. 

3. Establish conflicts early.  

I really loved the script for Girls Trip. It was really efficient and hilarious. Those are two of the hardest things to achieve in writing!

Upfront, we know the conflicts in this movie. Once we have those, we know that the main crux of the story will be moving forward. We can also see how these conflicts will inform comedy and drama with the Flossy Posse. Right off the bat, we know Stewart is cheating on Ryan, and her friends are reluctant to tell her. We know Lisa needs to get laid, Dina is crazy, and Sasha is trying to keep them all together.

So ask yourself, does the audience understand what your conflicts will be in the movie? Are you setting this up early so the hilarity can happen? 

Tiffany-haddish'Girls Trip'Credit: Universal Pictures

4. Be bold with your tone. 

Time to talk about the famous zip line scene. This is a raunchy comedy, and there's nothing raunchier or funnier than someone peeing on people crossing Bourbon Street. That's just one scene, but this movie was never afraid to go big with the story. That made for moments you had to tell your friends about and allowed the word-of-mouth box office to gain a lot of momentum. Do you have scenes people will talk about? Are you going for broke or being too scared? 

Lean into your tone! 

5. Find a sponsor.

Movies are about the intersection of commerce and art. Sometimes, the best idea you have can be teamed up with a brand or experience to offset the cost of the story.

As reported in Essence Magazine, director Malcolm Lee and producer Will Packer approached Essence in 2014 about the film. Staci Hallmon-Bazzani, Essence’s VP and Brand Sales Director, said, “[Will] wanted to have a story where Black successful women kind of fell apart and got messy and got back together all through the power of girlfriends. He felt like that’s what he had experienced at the festival. Not so much the falling apart, but seeing the strength of girlfriend power at the ESSENCE Festival.”

That immediately got the festival interested, and they approved the partnership, which greenlit the script. 

Are there any partnerships out there for you? It doesn't have to be huge, but it can offset the cost and help you with marketing your ideas. 

00-lede-girls-trip'Girls Trip'Credit: Universal Pictures

6. Let your cast and crew have fun.

This might be a crazy idea, but you don't have to be a dictator on set. This was a movie that was filmed during a festival. People were there to have fun, and it hit the screen. The chemistry of the cast was palpable, and it made the movie feel an extra sensation of warmth that you cannot manufacture. Since they were there during the festival, the cast and crew got to partake in activities and love being at work.

Figure out ways to foster team environments within your cast and crew. 

7. Keep the gag reel!

It's kind of ridiculous, but I love when a movie ends and we see the gag reel in the credits. When Girls Trip hit home video, they expanded on that. You can see there was a comfort level trying takes different ways and letting the actors take swings. Having that loose feeling on set, especially with a comedy, allows people to create within scenes.

So shoot like you're making a gag reel. Allow people to take chances, and get coverage of what you need too. There are a lot of opportunities to collaborate and improvise. 

8. It's all about the memorable set-pieces.

When the movie came out, Peter Debruge wrote in Variety, "When it comes to Hollywood studio comedies, most of the time, we are lucky to get one unforgettable set-piece, whereas Girls Trip screenwriters Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver deliver at least half a dozen. And rather than simply letting an effective joke stand, they double down, milking it for all it's worth." 

This is really what made this movie so special. I mean, I don't even think I can write about the grapefruit scene on this website! I want to but... I would be fired!

Think about the memorable scenes in your movie. Do you have stuff that feels unique and exciting for an audience? What will people talk about when they leave? 

What's your favorite part of Girls Trip? Tell us in the comments!

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