DEMO Spot On
Producer Bob Teitel ’90 knows a good story when he sees one.
When Bob Teitel ’90 and director George Tillman, Jr. ’91 HDR ’13 came across the 2017 young adult novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, they knew it was a story that needed to be told.
“It was an amazing story, and unfortunately timely,” says Teitel. He was interested in the unique perspective of the novel, in which a young woman finds her voice after losing her best friend to an act of police brutality.
The film adaptation of The Hate U Give, starring Amandla Stenberg, produced by Teitel, and directed by Tillman, was released in 2018 and received widespread critical acclaim. It is only the latest of cinematic successes for Tillman and Teitel, who teamed up at Columbia College Chicago in the 1980s, formed the company that would eventually become State Street Pictures, and released hits such as Barbershop, Men of Honor, and Soul Food.
Teitel recently sat down with DEMO to discuss his career and approach to producing films.
What originally interested you in working in film?
Growing up in Chicago as a kid, my father would take us to the movies every Sunday, and I just fell in love with cinema. Didn’t know what I was going to do in that field, but I knew I wanted to be a storyteller somehow. When I went to Columbia, it really formed my decision to become a producer in that field.
How did you meet George Tillman?
We were neighbors in the dorms. I remember him coming up to me and saying, “I heard you’re a producer.” And I said, “Yeah, I guess I am.” We just started talking about movies and we clicked. We both had the same work ethic of wanting to do things and trying to go above and beyond. If we were supposed to do a short 10-minute film, ours would be 30.
What inspired you and George to start State Street Pictures?
I graduated a year before George because I was a year older, so I was PA-ing a lot of commercials in Chicago while working for my father in the automotive business—just trying to shoot as much as I could all the time. We were always thinking about the next thing, and we started with this film called Sings for the Soul, which was shot in 1993. Our first company was [originally] called Imaginary Films. There were five of us in the company, but after we found out we were the only two really doing all the work, it was more of a stepping stone to grow. We whittled down to two rather quickly and we just stuck with it and worked our asses off.
How do you decide which projects you want to pursue?
There’s no rhyme or reason to it; it’s just kind of what your gut tells you. It changes constantly. If somebody asks what I’m looking for, I say I’m looking for something good and characterdriven, but I’m not looking for a particular genre. I could fall in love with any story, but it’s always got to be character-driven and have a lot of heart. That’s our strong suit.