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Woody Allen’s Secret to His Success: His Sister Explains All

Allen's producing partners share insights into the prolific writer-director's collaborative process.

Woody Allen and sister Letty Aronson

Woody Allen and sister Letty Aronson

Shutterstock

Few people know Woody Allen as well as his younger sister and longtime producing partner Letty Aronson. During the past 22 years, Aronson has produced or executive produced 24 of Allen’s films, including his latest, “Café Society,” which hits theaters Friday. Set in the 1930s, the bittersweet romance stars Jessie Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart as young lovers pulled in different directions by nightclub life, Hollywood celebrity culture and New York City gangsters.

Though Allen is known for being a “final cut” filmmaker who gets the final say on every detail of his movies according to his singular vision, his process of writing and directing is much more collaborative than his reputation might lead some to believe, according to Aronson. “We can say ‘I don’t love this part of the script,’ or ‘I think these clothes look terrible,'” Aronson told IndieWire. “He’s very open to that.”

For producer Edward Walson, who first worked with Allen as a producer on the 2011 Broadway play “Relatively Speaking” before producing his last four movies, the extent to which Allen is willing to collaborate on his scripts is almost comical. “I consider him our most brilliant screenwriter in the history of U.S. filmmaking,” Walson said. “I’m honored that he would ask my opinion.”

Edward Walson and Letty Aronson

Edward Walson and Letty Aronson

Gravier Productions

While many directors would shudder at the idea of shooting a film without having extensive rehearsals beforehand, Allen famously eschews any formal rehearsing before production, and doesn’t even give his cast the entire script unless they’re in the whole movie. “He doesn’t want anyone to know anything about it, so they’ll react in a realistic way,” Aronson said. “The more times they do it, whether in rehearsal or on tape, the less real it gets.” Allen is also known for encouraging his actors to say the dialogue that’s written in their own words rather than adhering strictly to the script.

Walson compares Allen’s directing style with actors as similar to the bedside manner of a good physician. “With some doctors you go to, your blood pressure will spike up, and other doctors you can visit and they’ll make you feel calm,” he said. “Woody has a good way of speaking and communicating with the actors that makes them feel comfortable and gets the best out of them.” This rapport no doubt comes in handy when Allen makes changes to the script at the last second. “He continues to tweak it the whole time that he’s shooting,” Aronson said.

Though the lead actors’ dialogue is one of the most important elements to any movie, Allen focuses the same amount on small details that he does on his main characters, according to Walson. “He pays just as much attention to someone that has one line in the film, from their look to the cadence of their voice,” Walson said. “It gives me a lot of confidence in what the outcome of the product will be by him paying that diligent attention.”

READ MORE: Woody Allen, Mel Gibson & More Maligned Auteurs: How to Justify Watching Their Films (Or Not)

Despite having the reached the age of 80, Allen shows no signs of slowing down. Just last week, Justin Timberlake joined the cast of Allen’s new untitled project, which will also star James Belushi, Juno Temple and Kate Winslet. Allen’s 48th film will begin shooting in the fall in New York and is understood to be a period drama set in the 1950s.

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