EXCLUSIVE: In the nearly 50 years since she wrote her groundbreaking book Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume has turned down overtures to turn her seminal novel into a film. Finally, she has said yes.
Blume has granted the rights to producer James L. Brooks’ Gracie Films and Kelly Fremon Craig, who collaborated on The Edge Of Seventeen, the coming of age film that starred Hailee Steinfeld.
Fremon Craig wrote and made her directorial debut on that 2016 film and she’ll adapt and direct Blume’s book. Brooks and his Gracie Films will produce with Julie Ansell, Richard Sakai and Amy Brooks. Fremon Craig and Blume will also be producers. Brooks told Deadline that studios have already begun knocking, but they will wait until they have a proper screenplay before setting the film with a distributor. He and Fremon Craig were still a bit giddy about how they find themselves in the middle of this opportunity.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret was published in 1970 as a YA novel, but it meant much more to a generation of preadolescent girls looking for answers and a sense they weren’t alone as childhood turned into a tumultuous something else. These were real problems they couldn’t discuss with anyone: when would they reach puberty and get their periods? Should they pad their bras, and what to do about the boys they were crushing on? Margaret is a sixth grader who moves from New York City to Farbrook, New Jersey. Raised by a religiously indifferent Christian mother and Jewish father, she prays to a God she imagines is watching over her. In addition to a search for faith, she is curious about upcoming changes in her own body and forms a secret club with four other girls where they discuss subjects like boys, bras, and periods.
The subject matter might seem tame by today’s standards, but it stood alone in its time and there were calls over the years for it to be banned from libraries. It is also among Time’s list of the top 100 fiction books written in English since 1923.
To Fremon Craig, the book is a cherished memory for every woman who read it as a preteen, and that is how the movie deal came about.
“It is this right of passage for women and girls,” Fremon Craig told Deadline. “It’s rare for me to run into a woman or girl who hasn’t read it and every time I’ve mentioned it to a woman, they clutch their heart and let out this joyful gasp. There’s something so timely and full of truth and I remember for me that at that age, it felt like a life raft at a time when you’re lost and searching and unsure. This book comes along and tells you you’re not alone. Women remember where they were when they read it. I can’t think of another book you can say that about.”
Amy Brooks, who is James Brooks’ daughter, told Fremon Craig that her 10-year-old daughter had just read the book and how much it moved her. The director and Brooks traded tales of when they read it, and it brought back such a wave of nostalgia that Fremon Craig re-read the book and was transported back to a time in her own life. Right after this, the 80-year old author sent out a Tweet to her readers, telling them in August she had thawed in her resolve to hold back her books from being turned into films. Blume wrote that after a round of Hollywood meetings, it felt like the time had come, maybe even for her most famous book to become a film.
“I was surprised when I read it, how much it took me back and that I hadn’t forgotten those feelings,” she said. “They live in me forever. And the strangest and most serendipitous thing happened with Judy’s Tweet, that she was considering opening up her titles to be adapted. I read this at 3 AM, and wrote my reps in the middle of the night: do whatever you can to get this. Then I wrote a long and passionate email to her, telling her what her books meant to me, particularly Margaret, how it came along at a time when I needed it most. She was the first author who made me fall in love with books and by extension, film. And then I called Jim Brooks, because I thought if somehow we can get this, nobody else will care – and protect – it more.”
As producer and director, Brooks has captured emotional honesty in a slew of films that include his own As Good As It Gets, Broadcast News and Terms Of Endearment, and produced films like the Cameron Crowe-directed Jerry Maguire and Say Anything, and the Penny Marshall-directed Big. He, Ansell and Sakai worked several years to help Fremon Craig hone The Edge of Seventeen, which got her nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in First Time Feature Film by the DGA.
Brooks sparked to the Blume book immediately, and flew himself and Fremon Craig to Key West. There, the author and her husband George operate a book store and a movie theater, which was where the author remembered seeing Fremon Craig’s The Edge Of Seventeen.
“I’ve never quite had an experience like this one,” Brooks told Deadline. “From the moment Kelly called me, to the completion of this [rights deal], it all happened so quickly. We went to Key West, and talked with Judy. It was like a working conversation and we lost ourselves in the work. We got up to go, with this uncertainty of everything happening so fast after we’d just shared each other’s thoughts, and her husband George said, ‘So we’re doing this!’ And then we were all hugging. Judy this week came out to Hollywood, and it takes a little bit of adjustment because she’s this national treasure whose work is so important to people who’ve read it. But she makes it so easy and gets you past that.”
Brooks, in meetings with Fremon Craig, Blume, and his fellow filmmakers including his daughter, finds himself for the first time outnumbered at the table by women, all of whom are personally invested by their own experiences reading the book for the first time and getting answers to questions they were afraid to ask their parents. “At one point, I’m watching Judy and Kelly on the couch and I must have taken 20 pictures. I never do stuff like that, but it seemed significant. I can’t quite describe what it is, but I think it must be the feeling of a labor of love, with some depth of emotion that will give us a protective shell.”
While many coming of age books have been written since Blume’s groundbreaking title, Brooks and Fremon Craig believe the themes and story are timeless enough that they’ll lend themselves to a compelling narrative.
“It definitely won’t feel like a period piece,” Brooks said. “People have read at various stages and it felt present and immediate. My granddaughter just read it, that’s how all this started, and it was just the other day. To me, Kelly is perfect casting here to turn this into a terrific screenplay. She wrote one draft of Edge of Seventeen and then went off and did another that was amazing, and the movie became its own beast from that moment on. It makes me think this will all continue to happen quickly.”
Fremon Craig is just getting the script underway after her meeting with Blume and the producers yesterday.
“I got the greatest email from Judy where she said if someone were to make a film of one of her books, she hoped it would have the same tone and feeling that The Edge of Seventeen had,” Fremon Craig said. “It’s maybe the greatest compliment I’ve ever gotten, because she has always been a North star for me as a writer. What’s helpful is that everybody who reads it sees themselves in it. I read it in the late ’80s, and didn’t know it was written in 1970. She captured something universal and timeless enough that it transcends all that. What I’m going to need is a great 12-year-old actress to play Margaret.”
Fremon Craig is repped by UTA and Kaplan/Perrone; Brooks is repped by WME.
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