Lee Daniels, the director of the critically acclaimed and award-winning movie “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire,” was not in a good mood. He’d just been told that he would not be going to Australia, and he verbally lamented that fact at the beginning of the AmNews phone interview. After this reporter reminded him that she would not be going to Australia either, a mutual laugh established a more jovial tone.
Daniels has a lot to smile about. “Precious” had a limited release on November 6 in 18 theaters around the country and averaged $104,025 in ticket sales per theater. That is a very high per theater average. To put that in perspective, the top movie over the November 6-November 8 weekend was “A Christmas Carol,” which was in 3,683 theaters and averaged $8,159 in ticket sales per theater.
“We haven’t opened wide yet. We can’t really say for sure what the wide release opening weekend numbers will look like, but this is promising. We hope people go out and see it,” said Daniels.
Beyond the artistry, awards and big name actors, the movie industry is a numbers game. Daniels has spoken many times about how difficult it is to raise the money to make a movie and get it into theaters nationwide. He has a tremendous drive and a hustler’s spirit when it comes to taking a film from a vision in his head to a silver screen in your neighborhood. “Precious” was bankrolled by a wealthy couple who admire Daniels’ work, and it has been the indie film that could ever since. Powerful media titans Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry have now signed on as executive producers.
“I have passion for my work. If I were a baker, I would be a passionate baker. It’s just what I do,” said Daniels when asked what motivates him to stay in the film industry.
“Precious” started out as “Push” just like the novel that inspired it, but the name changed when a sci-fi movie called “Push” was released in the first quarter of 2009. “We had to change the name, but I like the new name. ‘Push’ sounds so harsh, but ‘Precious’ sounds vulnerable and inviting,” said the father of two.
Between the editing process and all the screenings and premieres he has attended, Daniels said he has seen the movie at least 400 times, and that the first 300 times were during edits. He knows every second and every inch of “Precious,” and he purposely stays away from reading press about the film. “I don’t read the press about the movie or my actors. I know what I do and I know who my actors are. I have my own opinions and I like my opinions. I don’t need other opinions,” said Daniels, who also noted that he enjoys criticism and believes it is a necessary part of becoming a better filmmaker. Daniels will also make two very important exceptions to his no press-watching rule: “The Mo’Nique Show” and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” Daniels and the cast will be on both television programs in upcoming episodes.
“Precious” takes audiences into the dark recesses of abuse, incest and neglect. Some of the scenes are just plain difficult to watch. “When I yelled ‘cut,’ we partied. We partied all day long. I like to work with my friends and Lenny Kravitz, Mo’Nique and Mariah [Carey] are all best friends of mine. I have a third eye when it comes to recognizing talent in actors, so I knew I would get good performances from them,” said Daniels when asked about the mood of the set on such a heavy film. Daniels also had nothing but praise for breakout star Gabby Sidibe, who he says will surely be an inspiration to many people.
So what’s next for this friend-hiring, party-loving, extraordinarily talented director? A musical. The project is too new for details, but Daniels told AmNews that he will definitely be working on a musical in the near future. With his group of A-list friends, it’s sure to be brilliant.
“Precious” has been in theaters in New York and other select cities since November 6 and will open nationally on November 20.