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“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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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

E.coli-class-

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

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

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.

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Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:

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The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.

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They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!

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Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.

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Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.

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