'Precious' director found courage to restart filming

You might think a blistering drama about an obese, sexually abused HIV-positive black teenager would have trouble finding financial backers. But you’d be wrong.

“People think it’s hard raising cash,” says “Precious” producer-director Lee Daniels. “But at the end of the day, every movie got made that I wanted to get made — even the bombs.” One such bomb, “Shadowcatcher,” Daniels’ debut film as a director, certainly didn’t make it any easier getting his sophomore effort off the ground.

All the studios passed, of course. But despite the lack of obvious commercial potential in “Precious,” Daniels says his financiers at Denver-based Smokewood Entertainment were always there for him, even at the film’s crisis moments.

For Daniels, that means the major hurdle with “Precious” wasn’t finding money but making the film itself. “It was the first week into production, and I didn’t like what I was seeing,” says Daniels. “I had a crew around me who didn’t know me personally, didn’t understand the film and thought I didn’t know what I was doing.”

With the encouragement of actress Mo’Nique and Daniels’ boyfriend, Daniels resolved to pull the plug. “Everyone was afraid to stop, because that would mean going back to get more money from the Magnesses,” he says, referring to Smokewood’s Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness. “But I said, ‘This is not my movie.’ And we shut it down.”

Daniels admits that it was an embarrassing situation, especially given the fact that the Magnesses hadn’t recouped on their first collaboration with Daniels, “Tennessee,” a drama he produced. “But they knew me,” Daniels says. “Had I gone to another investor, I don’t think they would have come onboard (the reshoot).”

Daniels’ intuitive sense for indie financing as well as his commitment to his personal vision paid off. Now he’s ready to move on and looks forward to collaborating with others rather than blazing his own path. “It’s time for me to grow up as a filmmaker and work with the suits,” says Daniels, who is partnering with Pathe Intl. on his next film, “Selma.”

“My entire career, I’ve avoided suits,” the director says. “I think there’s something to be said about a filmmaker who can make a great movie with suits.”

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