When it comes to Academy recognition, Midnight In Paris writer-director Woody Allen’s view isn’t that far from the Groucho Marx philosophy held by his Annie Hall alter ego Alvy Singer: Allen would never want to belong to a club that would want someone like him as a member. After Annie Hall scored four Oscar wins, it seemed Allen was an Oscar club member for years to come, especially with 21 nominations under his belt. Not so according to his producer and younger sister Letty Aronson, who has shepherded his films since working on 1994’s Bullets Over Broadway. She also is behind Allen’s latest Oscar Best Picture nominee, which also earned him Director and Original Screenplay noms. Aronson assesses Midnight In Paris, her 18th collaboration with Allen, as well as her brother’s awards-season track record.
AWARDSLINE: Midnight In Paris is Woody Allen’s highest grossing film of all-time ($148.4 million worldwide). Why did this title resonate widely with audiences?
ARONSON: When I read the script, I said to Woody, “Who’s going to come see this?” No one has heard of Man Ray or Gertrude Stein. He is always determined to make the movie that he has a vision for and it’s my job to always ask “I wonder who will go see it?” It’s one thing to read the script and quite another to actually see the film. How do I account for its success? It’s been a crossover film in terms of younger folks, which I attribute to either the parents going and saying “you gotta see this” or taking their kids to it. This was also a breakout film partially because people have a love affair with Paris.
AWARDSLINE: There’s a legend that Woody Allen has a drawer full of scripts. How did you decide that this was the right time to mount Midnight In Paris?
ARONSON: Actually, he might have a couple of scripts in his drawer, but he has a drawer full of ideas. He has more ideas than time to do. He wanted to make Midnight In Paris a few years ago, but he didn’t have the money. Our budgets are low and we can fortunately obtain excellent actors below their regular rates. Working in France is expensive and a few years ago, it was too much. However they put this tax rebate for international productions in place which covered about 10% of the budget in France. Mediapro, a Spanish company which we had a three-picture deal with, financed the film.
AWARDSLINE: What is about your sibling relationship that makes you the best person to be Woody’s producer?
ARONSON: We’ve always been very close — he’s 8 years older than me. So even when I wasn’t his producer, he would talk to me about his ideas and I would see rough cuts of the films. As far as being the best person, I personally have his best interests at heart and so I want to see that he gets what he needs to put on the screen. While I’m sure many producers want that, I have the added feeling that it’s very important.
AWARDSLINE: In the wake of the Sweetland films legal suit nine years ago, were there any lessons learned by him or by you and how has that made you a better producer?
ARONSON: Well, I got experience working when we worked on the Sweetland productions. Lessons? I’m not sure Woody learned lessons. He’s a good-natured person and it never occurred to him that there would be a conflict with friends of such longstanding. I don’t think he’d think that again in a similar situation. I think he would expect everything to be fine. My experience in production started when I worked with Jean Doumanian. We did a David Mamet film, a Jason Alexander title and several small films, then Woody’s.
AWARDSLINE: What did you learn from Jean about producing?
ARONSON: I didn’t learn anything from her.
AWARDSLINE: I would imagine now, after Sweetland, you have a sharper eye on profits.
ARONSON: Yes, I’m much more involved in that side then I was. I’ve always been the more skeptical between the two of us. I’ll say something to him and he’ll say, “Well that’s speculation!” And it is speculation, but it’s based on things I know or suspect. But he’s not a suspicious person.
AWARDSLINE: What’s your criteria when choosing a domestic distributor?
ARONSON: We like to have a distributor who appreciates our types of films. Most of the studios are interested in the high risk-high reward types of films. They’re not there to nurture the film. Either the film does well or the distributor dumps it. So I’m always looking for a distributor who has a regard for our films, who wants to distribute them to keep them in the market for as long as possible. [Woody and I] are in a very different kind of business than most of the film industry. As an investor, you’re not going to make $100 million on one of our films. You’re not going to lose money either. Michael [Barker] and Tom [Bernard of Sony Classics] are fabulous because they give Woody complete creative control. Woody never holds back on the marketing of his pictures, especially when it’s done in a classy, elegant way, and with Michael and Tom you never have to worry about “Oh today they said yes and tomorrow they have the wrong ad in the newspaper.” They have a good sense of how to roll a film out and they’re very easy to work with.
AWARDSLINE: Is there a script for the distributor to survey before they commit?
ARONSON: No. I insist that domestic distributors see the film, because I don’t want anyone to buy it, be disappointed and then dump it. If I’m selling in Europe, they don’t have to see the film because they have a high regard for Woody as a filmmaker. They know that his name attached to a film will do well. Before we’re even finished shooting, many foreign buyers purchase rights.
AWARDSLINE: Even with financiers — you never show them your scripts?
ARONSON: No. we don’t do that. In raising money, they have to buy into Woody Allen and his record and who gets cast. In fact there is no script until the money is committed.
AWARDSLINE: Is the Academy unfair to comedies?
ARONSON: I think that it’s difficult to put comedies and dramas in the same category. If you look over the history of the Academy or any awards organization, people feel that drama is more important. Dramas always earn more honors than comedy. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily just the Academy. I think in general people feel that way. It would certainly be fairer to everyone to make two distinct categories: You’re comparing apples and oranges.
AWARDSLINE: When Woody won for Annie Hall, what did it mean to him?
ARONSON: I know that he’s always pleased when his films win. He’s always opposed to awards that are based on “This is the best.” He thinks it’s fair to say “This is my favorite.” But it’s hard to judge what’s best.
AWARDSLINE: Obviously New Yorkers love Woody Allen films, but why do you think the Hollywood establishment adores him?
ARONSON: I don’t think they love him. Why do you ask?
AWARDSLINE: Typically when one of his films comes up during an award season, the Academy and the Hollywood Foreign Press have been generous in nominating his work. You won a Golden Globe for Best Comedy on Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
ARONSON: That’s a great example. Look at Vicky — a wonderful film with great reviews. People loved it. Woody didn’t get nominated for an Oscar as best director. He’s an exceptional director. If you look at the nominations over the years, he’s had a lot as writer, but not director.
AWARDSLINE: Why do you think that is?
ARONSON: I don’t know. He’s not one of the Hollywood people. I think they do celebrate their own. I would like to feel that they’re completely objective in all of it.
AWARDSLINE: Do you think Academy politics were different during the days of Annie Hall when the film won four Oscars?
ARONSON: Were they more objective? There was a time during Annie Hall and Manhattan when he was praised all the time, but over the years, that hasn’t been the case.
AWARDSLINE: Woody isn’t known to pander for Oscar attention. Will you encourage him to stump for Oscars for Midnight In Paris?
ARONSON: It’s hard to encourage him [to campaign] because he won’t do it. I wish he would do it because it resonates at the box office. It’s always easier to raise money when you say these films received so many nominations or awards. So from that point of view my job would be easier, but I respect his opinion. He’s happy for us to campaign for everyone involved in the movie; just not for him. Woody’s view: If the Academy feels he should be nominated, then he shouldn’t have to campaign.