John Schultz has directed such popular family films as Aliens in the Attic with Ashley Tisdale and Like Mike with Bow Wow. He continues in this genre with his new movie, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, based on Megan McDonald’s bestselling book series, which has sold 14 million copies in 23 languages.
Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) is anticipating a great summer with her friends – she’s even charted out practically everything they’ll be achieving. But when she discovers her friends are going away for the summer, and she is going to be left behind with her eccentric Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), whom she’s never even met, Judy is convinced that it is going to be the worst summer ever. But despite her misgivings, it turns out to the be best vacation ever.
Can you talk about casting the role of Judy Moody?
I’ve got to credit Megan McDonald. We were looking at a lot of young actresses and great actresses, but they didn’t look anything like the illustrations, which we were very committed to. Megan McDonald said to us one day when we were well into the process, ‘Remember I told you about a girl in Australia named Jordana Beatty?’
Jordana had been cast as Eloise in a movie that never got made, and Megan had seen her picture and thought, ‘She’s Judy Moody.’
So I found Jordana Beatty and she did a Skype audition, because she was in Australia. It was kind of weird for her and I felt bad for her because this poor girl was supposed to do a big book adaptation once already, and they didn’t make the movie.
I thought, ‘I hope she’s good, because I don’t want to put her through this twice.’ She turned out to be just great and finally I said, ‘Please come over. We are really going to make this movie.’
I felt watching this movie that I understood how it felt to be a kid. Was it bold to say, ‘I know who the audience is for this movie, I’m going to serve them?’
It was a bold choice for Megan McDonald with the book series, because we stuck really close to the spirit of the books. This is really from the perspective of Judy Moody, and she’s a young girl and it’s her world, and her world doesn’t have winking references for adults.
Once you had done that it would have been out of the boundaries of the book, and then it would have been real easy to just go off the rails.
How did you get the idea of using the animation in the movie to bring Judy’s imagination to life?
That really came from the producer, Sarah Siegel-Magness, because when she first acquired the rights to the book series, when she talked to me about my directing it, that was one thing she really wanted to do. She asked the writers to put it in the script and she really thought let’s combine really high quality animation with the [live action].
I kind of sparked to that idea and came up with interesting segue that weren’t too jarring, so you could come into it in a cool way and out of it in a cool way. It was really fun to do, especially on the big screen when suddenly you go into this other world.
Can you talk about casting Heather Graham as Aunt Opal?
What surprised me with Heather was that she was very enthusiastic and took it very seriously and really got into the idea of being this childlike adult. I realized how close it is to her once she started doing it. She was as enthusiastic as the younger cast. She didn’t just show up and walk through it; she was really dedicated to it.
Because of the time restraints with kids, did you feel pressured to get the day’s work done?
Whether it’s a 14 hour day or a 10 hour day, it seems you’re always under incredible pressure to get through the day, so that never changes. But the benefit to this was the cast understood that and they were incredibly well prepared.
I did a game with them once. There’s a long scene with them at the beginning of the movie where they are all in the tent, the four main kids, and Judy pitches the whole chart.
It’s five pages of dialogue, and I said to them, ‘Okay, today when we are shooting this whoever messes up a line has to tell everybody else’s secret.’ And the entire day of shooting there was one fluffed word. They made it really easy because they were so well prepared and so on it.
There are kids across the country who love these books. How important is it to serve them but make your own movie?
Luckily Megan McDonald who created the series co-wrote the script and she was on set every day. So she knew these characters inside and out, literally. This universe lives in her head. Anytime we were going to try something we would ask her, ‘Would she do this, how would she do it?’ and it completely stayed in line.
It was great having her on the set every day. Then when we tested the movie for the people who knew the books, it played incredibly well, so I was happy about that.
This has a good message that Judy is unaware that she’s having a good time because she’s not achieving her goals, can you speak to that?
She’s having all these great adventures but she has this goal she has to get to, and she’s stressed about it. It’s about Judy coming to the realization that she doesn’t need to chart the summer all out like a homework assignment to have the best vacation ever.
Judy learns to enjoy what’s happening now and live in the moment.