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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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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…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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