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Finally, Judy Blume’s ‘Tiger Eyes’ becomes a movie

By Melena Ryzik
New York Times

Judy Blume, the beloved author of young adult and children’s staples “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” and “Superfudge,” as well as several popular grown-up novels, is a lifelong film buff.

She splits her time between New York and Key West, Fla., where her husband, George Cooper, helped start a nonprofit art house theater, the Tropic Cinema. Judy Blume has volunteered as a ticket-seller and visits regularly for screenings. It’s a habit she has had since childhood in New Jersey, when her parents took her to the movies every week.

“And every week I would come home and act out all the parts,” she said.

At 75, she is still that imaginative, and still writing, most visibly on Twitter, where she has a warm and chatty presence. In a career that spans best sellers and banned books, sitcom jokes and celebrity acolytes, Judy Blume is just now getting to see the first feature film version of her work reach the big screen.

The wait has a payoff: The movie, “Tiger Eyes,” based on her 1981 novel of the same name, was directed by her son, Lawrence Blume, 49. Mother and son also wrote the script, and Judy Blume served as a producer, with Cooper as executive producer. To her obvious delight, Judy Blume was involved in most aspects of moviemaking and stayed on location for the entire 23-day shoot.

“This was a real homemade movie,” Lawrence Blume said. “There was something about the two of us being next to each other there, every day, that I think the whole crew kind of rallied around.”

Their relationship, as revealed in a joint interview in her apartment, is jokey and casual – she calls him Larry; he calls her Judy – with room for professional understanding.

“We were very nice to each other on the set,” she said. “We’re old enough to decide, ‘We’re going to make this work,’ and we did. And we like each other, anyway.”

The memory of being on location left her with a nonstop smile.

“I loved it, I just loved it!” she said, explaining that as a writer, she had missed the bustle of collaboration. “I loved the crafty guy who made me little grilled cheese sandwiches and who turned out to be one of the best dancers I’ve ever seen or danced with, at our little wrap party.”

The film was so low-budget that the names on the directors’ chairs were spray-painted. Nonetheless, Judy Blume took hers home.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” she said.

Figuring out life

“Tiger Eyes” is the story of a teenage girl, Davey, whose father is killed at the family convenience store in Atlantic City, N.J. In the aftermath, Davey, her distraught mother, and her younger brother move to Los Alamos, N.M., with well-meaning relatives. Judy Blume, too, took her son and daughter from New Jersey to Los Alamos, after divorcing their father and marrying her second husband, a physicist.

Lawrence read the book at 18, and Davey’s fish-out-of-water struggle resonated.

“I still really related to her sense of isolation and trying to figure her life out on her own,” he said. “And I also thought it was very cinematic. I could see it, when I read: the canyons, the locations, the whole thing. … and I thought, ‘I want to make this into a movie.’ ”

Although over the years various producers came calling, Judy Blume said, nothing panned out.

So when money – just over $2 million – came through for a film, Judy Blume had no doubts: It would be “Tiger Eyes,” directed by her son. They began writing the script in 2009, trading off strengths.

“My background was as an editor, so I think structurally,” said Lawrence Blume. “And then she’s character and dialogue.”

They were shooting in New Mexico a little over a year later. Willa Holland, of “Gossip Girl” and “Arrow,” stars as Davey, and Tatanka Means plays Wolf, the handsome American Indian she meets exploring the canyons. Means, an actor and comedian, is a son of the American Indian activist Russell Means, who also plays his father, in one of his final on-screen roles (he died last year).

Standing out

“Tiger Eyes” the movie played the festival circuit, and Judy Blume’s appearances drew sellout crowds.

At the Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey, mothers brought their teenage daughters, highlighting the film’s multigenerational appeal, said Thom Powers, an artistic director for the festival. Even in an era when “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games” rule the best-seller lists and the box office, “Tiger Eyes” stands out.

“You don’t get many films about teenage girls that are subtle, not hysterical, that you’d actually like to take a teenage girl who’s a relative to see,” he said.

The budget and schedule left little room for errors.

“We had to shoot four huge emotional scenes in one day,” he said. “Normally, you shoot one.”

“But we got total artistic control,” he added. “So for better or worse, it’s our movie.”

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