DID YOU READ

“Judy Moody” and the Rarity of Indie Family Films

“Judy Moody” and the Rarity of Indie Family Films (photo)

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When John Schultz was in elementary school, his favorite classroom activity was when the teacher would hand out a vocabulary list of 20 words and he would have to write a story that employed all of them. “I loved that challenge of here’s what you have to work with. Make it work,” Schultz said.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising then that the director is making his third indie feature, but it is refreshing that with this week’s “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer,” he’s aiming to entertain today’s elementary school kids by working in the indie world’s least prolific genre, the family film. Oddly, in the considerably more ungoverned area of the medium that’s wide open to personal coming-of-age stories and cinematic anarchy, few are made with the intention of appealing to all audiences.

Less unusual has been Schultz’s career path, though it still might strike some as peculiar. After directing the scrappy, amiable music comedy “Bandwagon” with Sundance staple Kevin Corrigan in the lead in 1996, Schultz followed it up with a steady stream of studio work that tended towards the young such as “Like Mike” and “Aliens in the Attic.” Disney has long mined the indie ranks for unusual choices: Joe Nussbaum went from directing the short “George Lucas in Love” to this year’s “Prom,” and when they looked for a director for “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” in 2003, “Trick” director Jim Fall wasn’t the obvious guy for the job. For Fox, this summer alone will see the director of the pitch black “The House of Yes” (Mark Waters) tackle Jim Carrey’s “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and the romantic drama “Big Eden” (Thomas Bezucha) handling the teen fantasy “Monte Carlo.”

SarahSiegelMagnessJohnSchultzJudyMoody_06092011.jpgBut whereas most of those films have felt as if they were stepping stones for other gigs, only a handful of filmmakers including Robert Rodriguez, who will soon launch his fourth “Spy Kids” in August, and Schultz, a tall, lanky man in person with the goofy grin of an eternal 12-year-old, seem genuinely invested in making features for the young. As limited a number as that is, there seem to be even fewer production companies with the will to invest in them and the few that do, such as Walden Media, have gravitated towards larger-scale projects such as “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

Having already gone the indie route before for 2003’s “When Zachary Beaver Came to Town,” Schultz proved to be an attractive candidate to “Judy Moody” producer Sarah Siegel-Magness, who herself was fighting an uphill battle for the rights to the bestselling book series over production companies with studio support. After defying the odds with “Precious,” which had yet to premiere at Sundance during her pursuit of the “Moody” rights, Siegel-Magness won the trust of the similarly modest Massachusetts publisher Candlewick Press by offering the book’s author Megan McDonald a chance to write the screenplay and keeping the amount of cooks in the kitchen to a minimum.

“We both seemed to share the idea that you could make quality commercial films independently,” Schultz said of Siegel-Magness, whose company Smokewood partnered with Relativity Media to release the film. “Not have to dumb it down and make it with an independent spirit, but for a mass audience at the same time.”

Recalling how he once spent a week on a studio film discussing the color of a character’s T-shirt, Schultz says now that “Judy Moody” has been his most satisfying experience on a film since “Bandwagon” as far as maintaining his creative freedom, something that can be felt in the film’s go-for-broke visual style and even its score, for which the director was able to employ the all-too-rare luxury of an 80-piece orchestra. And having completed a film her own kids could watch without a major studio logo in front, Siegel-Magness hopes it’s music to the ears of both families and filmmakers, especially since while the “Harry Potter” series have already been turned into films, somehow the novels of cherished authors like Judy Blume haven’t been.

“We’re charting a brand new expedition into whether this works or it doesn’t, which is scary,” said Siegel-Magness. “But I feel like if it does work, I hope that we encourage other filmmakers not to be afraid to go after some of these bigger properties because what we bring to the table in terms of creativity and a more loosely run structure can make these films something completely new and different.”

Do you think there should be more family films produced independently? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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