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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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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…