Editor’s Note: Welcome to part one (of four) of our exclusive online series about Colorado filmmakers at the Oscars. Check back every Friday until the big show on February 24 for a new Q&A.
University of Colorado Boulder alum Sarah Siegel-Magness is best known for producing the award-winning film Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (2009) with her husband, Gary Magness. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. It took home two: Best Adapted Screenplay (Geoffrey Fletcher) and Best Supporting Actress (Mo’Nique). I caught up with the filmmaker to talk about working with her husband, cockroaches, and how uptight the Oscars are.
5280: How did you first come across Precious?
Sarah Siegel-Magness: [Director] Lee Daniels had been involved with the film for about 10 years, trying to get the rights from [the book’s author] for a long time. But it just wasn’t a movie that people wanted to make. When our company got together with him, he gave us five scripts to read and Precious just happened to be the one script that resonated with all of us the most.
Lee slept with the novel underneath his pillow for three months after he read it the first time. When you have someone who is that passionate and understands the material from their heart, you know they will do an incredible job directing it. Lee was pretty much the only person that could have made that film.
5280: What do you remember most about the production?
SSM: It was an anti-glamour film. We shot around apartment complexes where you’re surrounded by dog feces and in some of the toughest spots in Harlem and the Bronx—exactly where Sapphire wrote her scenes for the book. We had cockroaches and rats running around us and it was really cold, but it was authentic to what we were doing. As a filmmaker, that’s what you want. You want authenticity with your story and the power of film is that it takes you to places you wouldn’t normally go.
5280: Where were you when you heard about the Oscar nominations?
SSM: We were in L.A. doing press for the film. I was so excited. I remember calling Gary and Lee and we were all jumping up and down. It was so surreal. We thought we might get one, but definitely not six.
5280: What sticks out about the Oscar ceremony?
SSM: The honest truth? It was the most boring event of all our award ceremonies. If you go to the Critic’s Choice Awards or the Golden Globes, it’s such a fun atmosphere sitting at a table with your cast and crew, having drinks and laughs. But the Oscars are so serious. You’re all dressed up in a theater sitting in theater chairs and everyone is so uptight.
5280: Have the Oscar nods impacted your career?
SSM: As Oscar-nominated filmmakers, it’s given [my husband and I] access to opportunities and scripts that we wouldn’t have had before. And it’s also given me the confidence to pursue directing and the encouragement to continue making positive movies.
5280: What’s it like working with your spouse?
SSM: It’s nice to be able to work with him. We complement each other very well. I’m more of the nitty-gritty type, and he’s more of the macro finance/business guy. And that works out really well for us because we’re not competing or always working on the same stuff.
5280: Colorado isn’t an obvious home base for a filmmaker. How do you view the industry here?
SSM: The landscape in Colorado is amazing. Visually, it’s one of the most beautiful places to make films. But unfortunately, because of the tax incentives, we haven’t been able to make a film here. New Mexico has done a really good job and, quite frankly, I don’t think it’s as beautiful a state as ours. If we passed something better in Colorado, I think you’d see lots and lots of people taking advantage of it. I’d be the first one to make a movie here! But it has to be something the state believes in. Even so, I’m always on the lookout for something that matches the landscape of Colorado so I can film here because it would be so nice to work in the same environment where you live.
5280: Any favorite films from 2012?
SSM: I think Argo is fantastic. It’s just unbelievable how well that film was executed, from sound mixing to directing. Ben Affleck is incredibly talented. And the fact that it was based on a true story gets me really excited. I’m also hoping Zero Dark Thirty does well because I love Kathryn Bigelow and I want to see more women directors. She’s the reason I’m directing today. I was very inspired by her when she won for The Hurt Locker and after seeing her success, decided to try it for myself.
Next Up: Crazy Kind of Love (out May 31st), directed by Sarah Siegel-Magness, produced by Gary Magness, and starring Virginia Madsen and Sam Trammell.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock