‘Precious’ producer switches genres

Siegel-Magness puts passion into 'Summer'

It’s hard to imagine following up the bleak teen mom drama “Precious” with the frothy young girl pic “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.”

But producers Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness have little interest in meeting expectations. The married industry outsiders took a huge chance when they sank $12 million into “Precious,” a movie encompassing incest, abuse, obesity and poverty that was a tough sell even to indie film backers who had seen it all. But “Precious,” the couple’s first full producing credit, won two Oscars in 2009 and made nearly $64 million at the box office.

Given that the Denver natives hail from self-made families — Siegel-Magness’ parents founded Celestial Seasonings teas and Magness’ parents founded cabler Tele-Communications Inc. — the pair had the luxury of failing.

But unlike many newbies who are fleeced by Hollywood, the couple enjoyed financial success on their own before dipping a toe into film financing. Magness heads a Colorado-based investment firm, while Siegel-Magness launched the women’s clothing line So Low, carried at high-end stores. They say their entrepreneurial backgrounds prepared them for the film biz.

“With all investments there is a risk,” explains Magness, whose Smokewood Entertainment fully financed “Judy Moody,” the pair’s second producing effort. “Some risks are unforeseen, and some have the ability to be predicted. In the movie business, you can pick a target demographic and satisfy their need. Do it right and the risk of not returning your principal is minimized.”

“Judy Moody” targets an underserved demographic: elementary-school-age girls.

But the Smokewood brain-trust believed in the books so much they endured an arduous process to acquire rights in 2009.

” ‘Judy Moody’ is the prize of (publisher) Candlewick,” explains Siegel-Magness, who became familiar with the series when her then-8-year-old daughter began reading the books. “It took a year to secure the rights, and a lot of meetings (with writer Megan McDonald.) At that point, we were not proven producers. That was our biggest hurdle.”

Several studios and producers have tried to secure the property in the past, including one prominent producer who took a run at it at the same time Smokewood was bidding.

“That totally freaked me out,” says Siegel-Magness, who declined to name the producer.

They ponied up “Judy Moody’s” nearly $20 million budget, and teamed with Relativity to release the pic, which opens Friday in about 2,000 theaters (see review, page 22).

The producers even went against the grain by casting Aussie unknown Jordana Beatty as the star — a similar move to tapping Gabourey Sidibe for “Precious.”

Siegel-Magness will direct Smokewood’s next pic, “Long Time Gone.” “I want to grow as a filmmaker,” she says.