EXCLUSIVE: Jeff Kinney Talks Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules
The creator of this box-office smash follow-up offers a look at the Blu-ray and DVD, in stores June 21st
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules is the box office smash sequel to last year's Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and it will be arriving on Blu-ray and DVD June 21st. We recently caught up with Jeff Kinney, the man who created the novel series upon which this popular franchise is based, to chat about this upcoming home video debut, his role in bringing these popular characters to the big screen, and what 20th Century Fox has planned for Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3.
Here is our conversation.
The Wimpy Kid is a smash hit, Judy Moody is great...Are we finally seeing a comeback for the live action family film? Or is this a minor fluke? Because I have to tell you, I am so glad to see these movies! I don't care how great the next one claims to be, I can't stand to see another CGI cartoon this summer...
Jeff Kinney: (Laughs) I don't know if it's a trend or a breath of fresh air. I didn't really realize when we set out to make a live action movie with human actors for families, how rare that is nowadays. I feel proud of that. There is a sweetness that comes across when real people inhabit the roles of these characters, which can't be achieved even with the best CGI. I think that served my movie very well.
Watching this movie, and reading these books, there is a real sense for this particular time period. You have captured that middle school spirit with all its honesty and integrity intact. Wimpy Kid automatically takes you back to that particular point in your own life. How did you manage to channel that past life so profoundly?
Jeff Kinney: When I wrote my book, I spent eight years putting together the first manuscript. All that time, I thought I was writing a book for an adult. I was writing something nostalgic for people like me, who had forgotten what it was like to be a kid. I thought this book would bring readers back to that time period. I was surprised when my publisher told me they wanted to make it into a kids' series. That was never my intention. But it makes me happy that you got that sense of what I was trying to achieve with this to begin with.
What were your initial thoughts after having seen the first movie in the series, and did you request any changes bouncing from that first movie so quickly into this sequel?
Jeff Kinney: I will give a long answer to that. My take away from the first movie was that I was surprised that I felt moved by the relationship between Greg and Rowley. My books tend to be devoid of any emotional context, so it was interesting seeing my same story played out on the screen. Your reaction to the material is quite different. As far as the changes between the first and second movie? In general, we were trying to make sure comedy came first in the second movie. So we were going for the laughs in a big way. We adjusted Greg's character a bit. You can get away with more on the page than you can on the screen. The joke behind Greg is that he is an imperfect character. His point-of-view is flawed. Most of the humor comes from his imperfections. On the screen, it is more of a high wire act. You have to make sure the audience is going to root for him. We changed him just a bit. We softened him up.
When we interviewed the kids earlier in the year, all three of them compared Greg to a young Larry David. Had that thought ever crossed your mind when writing this character?
Jeff Kinney: I started writing the book in 1998. I wasn't aware of Larry David at the time. I don't remember when Curb Your Enthusiasm came on, but I only came across it three or four years ago. I wasn't cribbing from Larry David, but I can't help but see the similarities between those two characters. I am frankly amazed that his show has kept its audience as long as it has. Because his character is a lot more imperfect than mine, yet people feel as though they can really relate to him.
Have you ever envisioned what these kids might be like when they grow up?
Jeff Kinney: I have always envisioned that Greg Heffley will be unhappy. But he is a victim of his own pettiness, in a way. Rowley Jefferson will be perfectly fine, and very successful. He will have a good family. At this stage, he is not in a rush to grow up. Though he is a bit naïve, he has a healthy sense of himself. And he is not tainted by the world.
These kids grow so fast, and you have to make these movies quickly in order to keep up with their growth spurts. Is 3 going to come out as fast as 2? Or is their going to be a bit of breathing space between 2 and 3 this time?
Jeff Kinney: Diary of a Wimpy Kid 3 hasn't been greenlit yet. However, we are barreling towards production. I hope that it's going to happen, because we have a great idea for the movie. But, yeah, every time we see these kids, they change another shoe size. We have constraints on our set that are sort of atypical. But this one also feels about right. There is a momentum here. The books are really popular right now, so we want to keep making the movies for this generation. We don't want the kids who are watching them to age out of them too quickly, either.
How has your role behind the scenes evolved, from when you first sold the rights to 20th Century Fox, to right now, moving into the third movie?
Jeff Kinney: My role has been quite even across all three movies. I basically signed on as an executive producer. But I have helped with the screenplay, and casting. I was on set for half of the first two films. I contribute to jokes while I was on set. I wrote a song for the movie. Then I do a lot of post-production work with the animators, and a lot of the marketing. And I do publicity. It has been a very complete experience for me.
Do you find time to go back to your writing when you are devoting a lot of your time to the film side of things?
Jeff Kinney: My brain has been permanently rewired, so that I can compartmentalize every part of my life. The other part of my life is that I have a full-time job. During this stage right now, I am working my full-time job. I am also working on another book, and I am working on the movie. I can go from one thing to the other without thinking too much about it.
In terms of your brain being rewired, is it hard for you to go back and write a novel without thinking about the way a movie is made from that novel?
Jeff Kinney: It actually doesn't enter my mind at all. I feel that the Diary of a Wimpy Kid universe only blows in one direction, and that is from the page onto the screen. When I am writing these books, I am not thinking about the humans that now play these characters, or about the set pieces, or anything like that. Its very surprising when that doodle you drew, like the one at the talent show, which takes an hour to a half hour to draw that scene on the page...When you see it in full bloom on a movie set, it is mind blowing that you could come up with something like that.
Where will this story go in part 3?
Jeff Kinney: We are going to mix the third and forth book. we are interested in making a movie that has a lot of summer fun in it. We are trying to mix the plot of the third book with the setting of the fourth book. That is where we are hoping to go.