On its opening weekend Girls Trip made $30 million, solidifying it as a box office hit in relation to its $19 million budget. Little did the average audience member know what it took to make the hilarious hit comedy come together.

Set in New Orleans during ESSENCE Festival, the film’s production was able to replicate the annual event to a tee. Producer Will Packer’s concept of a feel-good comedy about four friends reuniting came to life beautifully on screen. To find out all the behind-the-scenes facts of filming Girls Trip during the largest live event in the country, we talked to Staci Hallmon-Bazzani, ESSENCE’s VP and Brand Sales Director. Find out what she shared about the making of Girls Trip.

1. Director Malcolm Lee and producer Will Packer approached ESSENCE in 2014 about the film

Without a script, Lee and Packer presented the concept of a comedy centered around friendship and love with the three-day festival being the backdrop. “[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,” shares Hallmon-Bazzani. “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.”

2. Packer has an intimate relationship with the festival

The Think Like A Man producer met and proposed to his wife at ESSENCE Fest, sparking the idea of doing a film in the same setting. “If you look at his Instagram page, it’ll show him proposing to his wife on the main stage of the Superdome,” says Hallmon-Bazzani. “It was a big moment. He gave ESSENCE the exclusive.”

3. Movie producers didn’t want festivalgoers to be too distracted by filming

It takes hundreds of staffers to make ESSENCE Festival feel and look seamless. The additional factor of filming a movie made the festival all the more interesting. “Our venue partners in New Orleans, like the Superdome and the Convention Center, gave us a heads up,” says Hallmon-Bazzani. “They had to re-hang banners. Some of the scenes have festival backdrops but weren’t shot at the festival, but you can’t tell.”

4. Iyanla Vanzant wasn’t filmed at the festival

The beloved inspirational speaker suffered a ruptured colon in 2016 and couldn’t make the festival so her scene in the film was recreated as if she was in the VIP lounge. “That was just awesome, because she’s a staple,” says Hallmon-Bazzani. “A regular festivalgoer ins’t going to remember that Iyanla wasn’t there, because Iyanla’s always there.”

5. All the joy you feel in the film is real

From the minute Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Dina (Tiffany Haddish) and Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) step into the Big Easy, an air of fun and celebration is felt. “The feeling that you get when you are at the ESSENCE Festival is of one vision, one destiny, one audience just having a great time,” says Hallmon-Bazzani. “That having a great time is the integration of the concerts and the entertainment, the empowerment, the inspiration and just the camaraderie.”

“It is very much about, ‘I see you. Hey, girl, I see you. You better work; you better do that. You better come through in those heels.’ You get that all weekend.”

Adding, “The convening power of ESSENCE and the festival is —as Pharrell said— he wanted to bottle it up and just spread it across the country.”


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