November 17, 2017

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Tiger Eyes Set to Sparkle on the Big Screen: Betsy Bird Talks to Judy and Lawrence Blume

 

Judy Blume and Tatanka Means on the set of Tiger Eyes

Judy Blume and Tatanka Means on the set of Tiger Eyes. Photos by Lorey Sebastian/Run Lizard.

When you take into account the vast influence author Judy Blume has had over multiple generations of readers, it might seem absurd that none of her books have ever made the leap from page to silver screen. You may recall that the author’s “Fudge” series (Penguin) was turned into a Saturday morning television show in 1995, and Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great (Dutton, 1972) was produced as a TV movie (directed by Judy’s son, Lawrence Blume) in 1991, but a major motion picture has, until now, been sorely lacking.

Lawrence Blume with Willa Holland and Tatanka Means.

Lawrence Blume with actors Willa Holland and Tatanka Means.

That changes on June 7 when Tiger Eyes (PG-13) hits select theaters nationwide and will also be released simultaneously on Video On Demand and iTunes. The movie stars Willa Holland as Davey Wexler, a teenager who is still reeling after the sudden and violent death of her father. Forced by her distraught mother to move from Atlantic City, NJ, to the town of Los Alamos, NM, Davey finds herself on unfamiliar terrain, an outsider who reveals little about her emotional turmoil. However, while out exploring the nearby canyons, she meets Wolf (Tatanka Means), a local Native American who seems able to see beyond her facade, and they forge a connection that will change her life forever. Co-written by Judy and Lawrence, who also directed, this film marks the second collaboration between mother and son.

Both Blumes took time out of their busy schedules to talk about the book, the film, and the advantages and disadvantages of independent filmmaking in the 21st century.

So why Tiger Eyes? You know, of all the Judy Blume books in this great, big, wonderful world, how did this become “the one”? 

JB: [Larry and I had] talked about doing Tiger Eyes for years if only we could find funding to do it, because it’s the most cinematic of my books. I mean, maybe Summer Sisters (Delacorte, 1998). But Tiger Eyes has that sense of place that’s so important. When you see it, you will see that there’s Davey and there’s Wolf, and there’s the New Mexico landscape, and that’s as important a character as any of the others. Everything that happens to Davey that has meaning happens in that landscape, in those canyons, going into the caves. It’s a life-changing experience for her.

Lawrence Blume: It’s certainly something we always talked about doing. It didn’t just pop out of the blue. But at this time, it wasn’t something that was on our front burner. So it was really lucky [that the opportunity came up], and the fact that we got to do it our way, for better or worse within a very limited budget.  But along with that limited budget came creative freedom. So it’s very personal.

 Of course, this is not the first mother-son collaboration of this sort that we’ve heard of. Katherine Paterson’s son, David, wrote the screenplay for the 2007 film adaptation of his mother’s Bridge to Terabithia (Crowell, 1977), and that worked out beautifully. The difference is that in this case you two collaborated together on the movie script. Have you had much experience, Judy, co-writing with anyone before, or was this the first time?

JB: [Laughs] I can’t say that I’ve ever co-written anything. I did work closely with some writers over the years who were hired by companies to turn one or another of my books into screenplays. Never worked, never happened. This was completely different. This was exciting and creative and happy. It was emotional and it was good.

LB: I’d say [it was] a very positive experience. Making this movie was pretty joyful even though it’s a sad subject. But the process of making it and trying to put the puzzle together was really incredibly rewarding and engaging, and I hope it comes through on the screen.

Judy Blume on the set of Tiger Eyes, the movie.

Judy on the set in Puyee NM.

JB: You know, we did Sheila the Great when we were kids. We were both kids then. [Laughter] At that point, I had never even been on a movie set. I know more now, and I’m more mature. And I think when you decide that [something will] be a wonderful experience—that goes a long way in making it a wonderful experience. Larry and I knew that we wanted it to be that way. I think that’s what came across for everyone on the set, even the Teamsters. We had these big guys crying at certain scenes.

We were also so lucky with our cast. I don’t know really how much a director ever knows, but we had to cast very quickly. I loved that process. And we lucked out. I mean, we have a little boy [Lucien Dale, who plays Jason Wexler] who was in second grade in public school in Santa Fe, and he is a real kid,… not a cutesy movie kid. He and Willa [Holland], who plays Davey, just bonded. She’s playing his big sister in a very troubled family story. He just adored her, and I think there was no actor that Willa was closer to than Lucien. When you have something like that it really comes through on the screen.

LB: We cast very carefully, and we saw 100 girls. But I think in the end there’s a leap of faith with your cast.

JB: Yes, we didn’t know [Holland] at all, which was so good for us. She’s just so Davey. You know she’s protecting herself, but you can see it all there on her face.

I remember Larry saying that he wanted it to feel as intimate as a first-person novel. And Willa is in every scene. The whole movie is from her point of view. And it’s very intimate.

The movie is being released in theaters as well as through Video On Demand and iTunes. Brave new world. How do you feel about these alternate forms of media that are now an option for films that, in the past, were relegated solely to theatrical releases?

LB: Well, I have mixed feelings, but generally I’m excited about it because unless you’re a big studio movie that’s coming out on 3,000 screens at once, or you have a smaller company with very deep pockets, it’s always sad when you release an independent film because you’re going to have a very limited theatrical release. And now thefilm is available in every town in America on June 7th. Whether you’re going to the theater to see it, or sitting on your sofa and clicking and buying it, or watching it on iTunes, it’s really exciting to me because that means the film has every chance of reaching the widest possible audience.

You seem to have the best of both worlds here.

LB: I think so. I mean, I love the idea of it being in theaters because it’s so beautiful to look at but I also love the idea of women getting together and having Tiger Eyes parties at their houses. I think the nostalgia audience has really helped get the word out about this. They’ve been great in tweeting and blogging.

Judy, I have one final question for you. It’s very important. Is Larry actually the inspiration behind Farley Drexel Hatcher, better known to the world as Fudge? This is what inquiring minds want to know.

JB: [Laughs] Larry, answer that.

LB: No, you answer it. She asked you. I don’t know.

JB: He is—he was the inspiration, yes. He never swallowed a turtle, but that’s because we didn’t have one.

So, had a turtle been within his reach it would have been an option?

LB: Probably.

JB: He was a very interesting child, and look, he’s an interesting adult. So there you go.

 

 

 

Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird (fusenumber8@gmail.com) is a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library and blogs at “A Fuse #8 Production” on SLJ ’s website. Her last feature for the magazine, “Betsy Goes to Bologna” ( July 2011), offered a bird’s-eye view of the world’s largest kids’ book fair.

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