Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tiger Eyes (Film Festival) (Rhoades)

Judy Blume’s “Tiger Eyes” Makes It to the Screen

By Shirrel Rhoades

Curled up there on her white patio couch, Judy Blume looks as girlish as the heroines of her popular novels. She’s talking with me about “Tiger Eyes,” the first movie ever made from one of her books. It’s showing during the upcoming Key West Film Festival.
The movie is faithful to the book,” she says, “but also opened the story up a bit.”
She co-wrote the screenplay with her son Lawrence Blume, who also directs the movie. “I think the story as told in the movie is so much better than the way I told it in the book. The way things are revealed is such a better way.”
Even so, writing the screenplay was “not at all easy, it was long, it was intense.”
She describes the screenplay as a blur. “I’m not used to having a writing partner. Sending stuff back and forth all the time,” she says. “Our writing styles are different but somehow it worked. He knows structure. I know character. The only thing I really like to write is character and dialog.”
“Larry’s very …” She pauses to search for the right word.
“Analytical,” her husband George Cooper supplies.
“That’s it, analytical,” she agrees. “When I’m writing a book I’m very intuitive, but he’s more analytical. We are a good balance.”
The movie project began when the author was approached by a producing team based in LA and London, saying, “We would like to do a film based on any of your books. Which one would you like to do?”
The answer was simple – “Tiger Eyes,” her 1981 story of a young girl dealing with the death of her father.
“There was no discussion at all,” she recalls. “Larry always knew, I always knew, it was the best book to shoot. It’s got a real story. So many of my books are so internal, where you’re dealing with one young woman’s viewpoint. That’s difficult to capture in a movie.”
Set mainly in Los Alamos, New Mexico, “Tiger Eyes” introduces us to Davey Wexler, a teenage girl trying to come to terms with her father’s murder.
Carrying a mysterious paper bag with her, Davey (Willa Holland) and her mother (Amy Jo Johnson) and younger brother (Lucien Dale) go to visit overbearing Aunt Bitsy (Cynthia Stevenson) and Uncle Walter (Forrest Frye) in Santa Fe – seeking time for the family to recover.
“I’m not going to be here very long,” Davey says. But the family winds up extending the stay, with Davey getting enrolled in school, encountering new classmates, learning why lizards run.
While exploring the rugged countryside on her aunt’s bicycle Davey tumbles into a canyon where she encounters a Native American boy who calls himself Wolf. So she introduces herself as Tiger. By the end of the story, Wolf (Tatanka Means) and his ailing father (Russell Means) have influenced Davey’s life for the better.
Larry Blume handles the directing well. The countryside lends itself to gorgeous cinematography. The young actors seem real. And the story unfolds with a tug at your heart.
Not surprising that Larry was named one of “Ten Rising Stars” by the Hollywood reporter for his first feature-length film, a comedy called “Martin & Orloff.”
“Tiger Eyes” will engage you even if you’re not a 14-year-old girl.
Judy remembers how she came to write the story. “I lived in New Mexico for seven years. At the time I had moved to Santa Fe with my kids. I was leaving two miserable years in Los Alamos and I needed to write about it.”
She adds, “What I didn’t know when I was writing this book was that I was dealing with my own father’s death. I was young when my dad died suddenly. I was with him. You never get over that. It’s always there, it’s a big part of your life. It’s a big hole. But I didn’t realize that that part of the book was coming from me.”
Larry says that he really liked having his mother on the set. She knew the material. And she enjoyed working with her son on a professional basis. “I’m Judy to him. We’re equals here.” She smiles. “The part that I loved best was being in preproduction.”
Casting the lead was a big decision. “We looked at a hundred young women. Saw at least a dozen. Saw three or four again. Willa was a huge find. We didn’t watch ‘Gossip Girl,’ so neither of us had seen her act before.”
With Davey in place, they now needed a Wolf. Tatanka Means, the 6’ 3” son of American Indian Movement activist Russell Means, filled the bill. “Other than a few possibilities in LA, we didn’t see anyone else,” she nods decisively.
“Russell came to meet us. He asked, ‘Are you going to cast my son?’ By the time we finished talking, Russell had agreed to play the part of Wolf’s father in the film.”
Passing away last month, “Tiger Eyes” was one of Russell Mean’s last screen appearances.
The film’s shoot took a little over three weeks. “I was on the set every day, every moment of every day,” says Judy. “I loved being in the canyons. We had everything from brilliant sunshine to freezing cold. Ohmygod, we even got snow.”
Since the story takes place from autumn to spring, they dressed Willa Holland in a winter coat and put her out there in the snow. “It turned out to be very fortuitous,” says Judy.
“I loved the actors, loved the crew!” she exclaims. “Larry, if he were sitting here, would say, ‘Yeah Judy, you loved the 23 days on the set because it wasn’t all on your shoulders.” He had to finish the film on time and on budget. “And he did.”
Out of Judy Blume’s 28 novels, there are others waiting to be turned into movies. “I think I have two more that would make very good movies. There’s one Larry wants to do very badly. But right now he’s busy developing different projects.”
Predictably, Judy is working on another novel. “I got the idea in 2009 at the Literary Seminar. It came to me in a flash, a story that actually happened in the town where I grew up. But I took off about two years to do this movie. Now it’s time to get back to work. I’ve finished a good rough first draft. I hope I can complete it by next summer.”
Books and movies, I ask her to compare the two creative experiences. “Writing is me by myself locked up in a room. It’s lonely, but as not lonely used to be,” she says. “Moviemaking is collaborative, you absolutely can’t control anything. I think I’ll stick with writing. But making ‘Tiger Eyes’ with my son was one of the most thrilling experiences of my life.”

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