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Maggie Renzi on Partnership

Producer Maggie Renzi on her Partnership with John Sayles:

“A lot of the directors who have stayed around for a while, when you take a look at it, have had sustained relationships with a producer. They’re not picking up a new producer each time. And some of my job is to stay close enough to John to hear what it is that he wants. Whether it’s a whole movie idea or whether it’s just a piece of set design or something that he’s looking at in an actor. And over these long years of being with him I think he knows that what I want is for him to get what he wants.

“One way that I know what’s going on with John and what movie we’ll make next is that he starts to tell the story of it. Some of what my job is on a long car ride or sitting around finishing desert after dinner with a bunch of friends is to say, ‘Sweetie, tell that story about the soap opera actress.’ I want to encourage him to go ahead and make that story, and I also want to glean what I can, information about that movie. ‘Does that mean I’m going to have to call the Film Commission for Louisiana? Or should I call those people whose house we stayed in?’

“My job as producer once we start is just to be on this perpetual cruise, where I’m listening to how the various departments and the various workers are doing. The more I can know about how people are working the more I can bring that back to John. I can also tell people things that John tells me that he either doesn’t have the time for or doesn’t have the temperament for. So I can give praise where John might not have thought of it. And also I can be the person who makes it more fun. I know when it’s somebody’s birthday or when somebody needs a break.

“John has what I think every director really needs, which is the ability for complete concentration. He’s really, really focused. His concentration is total and tunnel. He can learn Spanish by just studying it himself in the living room with babies crawling all around. Or he can write on an airplane or at Port Authority. What he can’t do is multi-task. I can multi-task, and that’s what producers do. In the back of your mind is when lunch is, that you have to speak quietly because they’re shooting, that this electrician has been having a miserable time and you need to talk to him. All those things have to be happening at the same time. There’s nothing like being able to remember the name of that teamster’s wife and welcome her to the set. I get so much back from that ability to attend to detail.”

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