Talking with indieWIRE‘s Eugene Hernandez at the Cannes 2009 American Pavilion, directors Lynn Shelton and Lee Daniels spoke about their festival films, their career, and what’s next.
Shelton’s alt-buddy comedy “Humpday” opens July 10 while Daniels inner city drama “Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire” debuts November 10.
— As an excited young producer (before hitting it big producing “Monsters Ball“), Lee Daniels courted then-emerging African American actors, including Morgan Freeman. “I know you from the Electric Company, man! We can rock this town!” Daniels told Freeman. “Let’s make some money!” Daniels said he loves actors and is not satisfied with the word no. “No don’t work for me. So I do things on my own. I decided to produce because I was tired of telling all my African American actors no.”
— Shelton firmly believes a comment she once overheard: “The sub-culture knows more about the dominant culture than the dominant culture knows about itself. Gays know more about straight people. Black people know more about white people.” With this in mind, Shelton has “always been fascinated by observing people, finding out what makes them tick.”
— Despite Scott Rudin‘s advice to him to only worry about film, Daniels is working on a drag queen musical with Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Beyonce. “I wanna show how versatile I am,” he said, but it’s not easy. “Theater is a motherfucking beast. You have no control. But I’m a control freak. I’m also a masochist.”
— Daniels mused on the circle of his career: “I started in theater, now I’m back in it. I started with Lionsgate, now I’m back with them.” He said picking his film’s distributor, Lionsgate, was about letting go of his film. “I have a problem letting go. But you have to let go. I’m blessed to say they do get it. They’ll do everything they can to get out the word, even if it’s illegal.”
— Lynn Shelton mused on her trajectory. When Lynn’s second film “My Effortless Brilliance” screened at SXSW, the director was her own press agent, sales rep, and entourage. “When Humpday got into Sundance, it all became a lot more business-like. “And what is it about signing a deal at midnight? Are these people teenagers? I was told ‘Don’t go to bed! It’ll sign at 4am!” For two nights she stayed up, waiting. Her sales rep, Submarine, finally signed the deal with Magnolia Pictures — at 10am. “A perfectly reasonable time to sign a deal.” Too bad she lost two nights.
— “You live your life to make your mom happy,” said Daniels. “She would always tell me ‘Why don’t you want to be Tyler Perry?’ So I had him see the film. And now I know my mom will see it.” It also helped that as Daniels took the stage to receive his Sundance audience award, he got a call from Oprah, whom he mistook for his friend “who does a great Oprah impression.” “I said, what do you want, bitch?” said an embarrassed Daniels. “Or something like that.”
— While the author Sapphire had many offers for her book, Daniels scored the prize through sheer persistence. “Everybody wanted the book. She gave it to me for a dollar. I stalked her. She was just tired of me calling.” When she saw the film, she fell into his arms, crying. “I’m most happy to have served her.”
— Shelton began as an actress in New York, but the lifestyle didn’t suit her. “I had a falling out with acting. Directing has been a beautiful way of reuniting with it.”
— Up next for Daniels: “I’m being offered sci-fi and horror projects, which I’m really excited about. But next I’m working on getting my kids to love me. They’re 13. People tell me you got 4 years to go before they start loving you again.” Obviously, that’s not going to work for Daniels.
— Up next for Shelton: “I’m learning how to deal with an agent and manager. I’m worried about my world getting bigger than I can handle. I know I’m shooting something this fall — a project modeled on “My Dinner with Andre.” It’ll star Sean Nelson and author Sherman Alexie.”
— Instead of giving advice to the audience, moderator Eugene Hernandez had each director give a bit of advice to the other. “Don’t worry about your agent and manager,” Daniels advised Shelton. “Do your thing. Be a fierce bitch. Don’t let them mind fuck you.”
— After that, and clearly enamored with Daniels, Shelton’s only advise was “Keep on keeping on, Lee. I’ve loved being on this with you.”
Jean-Pierre Busche and Mike Jones
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