“Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” seems to be a project of opportunities, team work, and good will. Author Megan McDonald was allowed to take part in making her books come to life and a young actress was given her big break while the film’s producer, Sarah Siegel-Magness, made sure to keep it all environmentally sound.
Sarah, why was it important for you to keep the set eco-friendly?
On past productions I’d seen so much waste and it’s not the way I personally run my household. It was really important for me to extend my own personal values to what we do in business. It also gave us all a shared sense of responsibility to the planet and it was really fun because we had competitions on set who was the most green.
Megan, it’s unusual to for an author to remain involved in a movie project about their work. How involved did you remain throughout the production?
[Sarah] said to me right from that very first meeting, “you’re the creator and I really want you to be part of this because you’re Judy Moody’s mother. You’re the person who has imagined her and knows the characters the most. Why wouldn’t I want you to be involved?” For me that was a gift, because it’s very unusual for the writer to be so involved.
Megan, what was your impression of the finished product after seeing your characters come to life on screen?
It’s kind of surreal because you can’t really imagine it. And, of course, never having done a film before, I’d go on set and it’s all shot out of order and I’m whispering to Sarah, “are you sure they know what they’re doing?” In other words, I knew so little about that process, it was such an education. What ended up for me to be one of the most positive aspects was, because it is a collaboration–everybody becomes as inside your characters as you are.
Megan, any obstacles in adapting the books into a screenplay and is this your first screenplay?
This is my first screenplay. It was a challenge. I was a little bit scared at the beginning. Sarah had full confidence in me all along. She was the cheerleader egging me on. To me, the bottom line is we want to tell a great story whether it’s film or books. Even in the writing of the screenplay I wanted it to read like a story, sound like a story, not be really tedious to read. I collaborated with a longtime friend who is a screenwriter, so that helped me quite a bit with the form. If I had written it myself it would probably be all dialogue.
What made you decide to write an original story for the film and not use a scenario from the books?
Sarah: We decided because the stories are rather short stories that it would make more sense to bring in elements of all the books and create a brand new stories. It also gives the core readers another reason to go to the movies.
Sarah, what made you want to make these movies?
It was required reading for my daughter in 2 nd grade. The amazing thing about it was that it was the only book series I enjoyed reading with my daughter. And I knew it would probably translate very well on the big screen because it could entertain both the parents and kids at the same time because that’s how her books are. They make you laugh as a parent.
Megan, can you explain the character of Aunt Opal?
Megan: Aunt Opal is not in the books. She was a new character we invented just for the film. I’m an aunt to 35 kids, so aunts are very important to me. The inspiration for her kind of came from my sister who came to visit me and brought the most enormous suitcase you can imagine. It was two shirts and all the rest art supplies. She just imagined we were going to make art all week. That was kind of the initial kernel of Aunt Opal.
Sarah: She should have her own series. Aunt Opal is an awesome character.
Sarah, tell me about your production company Smokewood and its philosophy.
Our last movie was “Precious” and then we have “Judy Moody” and then we have another independent dramedy coming out. We don’t discriminate based on budget or genre. We just really want to make films that make an impact on the planet.
Sarah, how did the casting go for Judy?
We couldn’t find [an actress] and I called [Megan] one day and I was like, “do you have any ideas?” And she said, “well, there was this girl who was cast as Eloise (Jordana Beatty), in a movie that never happened. You gotta find out what happened to her.” So, we made some calls to our agents and she was in Australia and really hadn’t been doing'”little commercials, that’s it. We called her up'”Skype. Auditioned her. Put her together with the director and she had that glimmer in her eye. So, first time we met her was right on set.
Megan McDonald and Sarah Siegel-Magness developed a great partnership and friendship during the making of “Judy Moody.” It is another positive outcome to a film whose main purpose is to spread upbeat, family friendly fun.