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Producer talks about a 'Precious' project

By Lisa Respers France, CNN
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'Precious' Oscar quest
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sarah Siegel-Magness and husband Gary produced the film "Precious"
  • The movie is up for six Oscars, including best picture
  • Siegel-Magness and her husband also helped finance the film
  • They believed strongly the movie; ignored advice that it would flop

(CNN) -- Sarah Siegel-Magness doesn't mind that you probably don't recognize her or her name. You'd have to look carefully at movie credits.

Siegel-Magness and her husband, Gary Magness, along with director Lee Daniels produced "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," which is nominated for six Oscars, including best picture.

While executive producers Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry got their names above the title -- "Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry present," the posters read -- the Magnesses played a pivotal role in bringing the acclaimed film to screen, including investing millions in the project.

"We know what we did," Siegel-Magness said. "It's not important for us to be the face of this film. The story itself is the face of the film for us."

She and her husband have been involved in film and video for years. Gary Magness' family founded the cable giant TCI and he and Siegel-Magness founded Smokewood Entertainment, a production company. Siegel-Magness is also the founder of So Low, a fashion company.

She spoke with CNN about how she become involved with the project, why she and her husband put their own money into the reportedly $12 million film budget and how they are gearing up for the Oscars.

CNN: How long did it take to bring "Precious" to the screen?

Sarah Siegel-Magness: If you are speaking in terms of [director] Lee Daniels, he chased the rights for a really long time with [the author] Sapphire. She actually didn't want it made into a movie unless it was the very right person.

Lee finally convinced her after many years to give him the rights. Geoffrey Fletcher came in with Lee and wrote the screenplay.

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My husband and I came in sort of last minute on Lee's last film, "Tennessee," which just came out on DVD. While we were on that film, we knew that we loved Lee's creative vision and so we said, "We have to make another film with you because you are an amazing filmmaker. Your vision is on point with what our company vision is and we think we can do great things with you."

He showed us a number of scripts he had the rights to and "Precious" is the one that resonated with us.

CNN: Why did it resonate with you?

Siegel-Magness: I believe each one of us has a little bit of [the character] Precious inside of us. There are difficult feelings in life that all of us have. To see a young woman like that be dealt the worst cards and be a survivor, feel hope and become a winner was what resonated with me.

CNN: Given the subject matter of this film -- a morbidly obese, abused young black woman who dreams of a better life -- how risky was it to make this movie?

Siegel-Magness: Out of one to 10 with 10 being the most risky it was a 10.

We didn't have any support. Gary and I produced the film as well as financed it, which is very rare in this business right now. It's hardly ever that a producer puts their money where their mouth is. Usually they will take on a project for a fee.

In this case, we said we know this is amazing story and we were willing to back it fully and produce it and make sure it's done right.

CNN: So it sounds like you really did believe in the film.

Siegel-Magness: Especially when advisers in Hollywood were saying don't ever back a film completely, that's too risky.

Granted, the type of material this film had was such a niche that the chances in their minds of success were very poor. Nobody wanted us to risk it, but it didn't matter at that point.

We believed in Lee, we believed in the book, and we believed in Geoffrey Fletcher's adaptation of the book so heavily that it really never was a question in our minds that we should not be doing what we were doing.

CNN: How has it been for you now that the film has been so well received both critically and by audiences?

Siegel-Magness: Incredible on so many levels. Most importantly because we have a film that changes so many lives every time it's being seen.

We have people coming up to us all the time saying "This story has given me hope" or "This happened to me and I now can talk about it."

The fact that it's giving people who actually go to see the film a moment to reflect on issues they may have or people around them may have experienced is just a wonderful joy as a filmmaker.

CNN: There has been some buzz about the focus on the African-American cast members, the African-American director and the African-American screenwriter, but not a great deal on you and your husband, who are not African-American. Do you think that has factored in to why the two of you have not been more visible in terms of this film?

Siegel-Magness: I have no idea what people are thinking. Things happen the way they unfold naturally. It's not like anybody is planning on things to be the way they are. We are just existing and being.

The people in this business who know the real story of this film are completely aware of how it was made. We can't help that the general public isn't inside Hollywood and knows everything about it.

iReport: Which movie deserves to win Best Picture?

CNN: Do you have your Academy Award acceptance speech ready yet?

Siegel-Magness: No, are you kidding? I think that if we win, I might pass out before we make it up on the stage. And we may cause some other people to pass out when they see who made the film.

 
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