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90-Second Newbery, Monster Edition: Godzilla-Style Hoot and Knee-Knock Rise

November 12, 2012

The 90-Second Newbery Film Festival‘s first screening, in New York City, is just around the corner on December 2! Complete details here. With special guests Jon Scieszka, Newbery winners Kate DiCamillo, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Margi Preus, and illustrators Dan Yaccarino and Brian Floca!

The deadline for entries has passed, and I have tons of fantastic entries that I’ll be sharing in the next few weeks. But if you’re still sitting on an entry that you haven’t turned in yet, go ahead and send it along! It’s okay if it’s a few days late. We run a pretty loose, forgiving ship here.

One of the things I like best is when filmmakers do their 90-Second Newbery in the style of a different genre than the book. For example, Carl Hiaasen’s 2003 Newbery Honor Book Hoot is about small-town Florida kids who disrupt the construction of a pancake house restaurant with pranks (alligator in the toilet, painting the windows of police car, stealing the seats of the bulldozers) in order to save the habitat of some owls. Madison Ross of Rochester, New York had a great idea for a twist: to film Hoot in the style of a Godzilla movie! (Madison is a returning veteran of the 90-Second Newbery. Check out her great A Single Shard from last year’s festival.)

Check Madison’s Hoot above! I’m bowled over! The “dubbing” effect made even the straight lines funny. (And the funny lines are legitimately funny: “Why are you hitting me?” “Subplot!”) There are so many careful details, from the many soundtrack cues (from Godzilla to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Harry Potter) and special effects (with not one, not two, not three, but four exploding toilets). The little touches are what make this: the boy repeatedly flailing in front of a bulldozer like a conductor, the alligator in the toilet, the snakes actually moving, the raucous crowd scene, the Harry Potter joke about “failing the O.W.L.S.” (including soundtrack cue!). Most importantly, Madison (and Ella, Alex, Olivia, Mark, Bobby, and Lucas) tells the story of what happened in the book in an entertaining-yet-economical way, all in under 90 seconds! (I love the credits sequence, too. where everyone’s saying “watermelon watermelon” so their mouths are moving convincingly for the dubbing. The way Madison barks “watermelon” after tearing off a piece of tire is choice.)

Madison transformed Hoot into a monster movie, but there actually is a Newbery winner that is itself about an (imagined) monster, and a community’s response to it. The book is Natalie Babbitt’s 1971 Newbery Honor Book Knee-Knock Rise. I particularly appreciate it when filmmakers choose older, more obscure Newbery winners to adapt, and this one is a a great choice!

The story is set in a small village. A boy named Egan has come here to visit relatives. The villagers are scared by the noises that come from a nearby mountain, but nobody has ever tried to figure out the source of the sound. The villagers believe a monster called the “Megrimum” lives up there, and that they must supplicate it through rituals and sacrifices.

Egan climbs the mountain to investigate the source of the noises. He discovers that there is no Megrimum. It’s just a boiling spring inside a cave that echos when it rains. Egan tries to inform everyone the “Megrimum” doesn’t exist, but everyone in town accuses him of lying.

Check it out:

Wonderful work! This film was created by rising 4th and 5th grade students at a summer day camp in Asheville, North Carolina. They read the book, created the script, scouted locations, created props and special effects, and filmed in eighteen hours over five days, and they really pulled out all the stops with this one! I loved the “special effects” of the flying cat and the smoke coming out of the cave. And the terrifying figure at the window was, well, actually kind of terrifying! The sound design was really good too, especially the howling of the Megrimum. (In the credits, it says nobody was harmed making this movie, except for Henry. What happened to Henry?!)

I loved it! Another winner—well scripted, well shot, and in particular, well-acted! These kids are naturals, and I’m told this summer camp will be making a 90-Second Newbery next year too. I can’t wait!

90-Second Newbery: Savvy and Hoot

November 9, 2012

Am I happy that Obama won? Yes I am, just like last time. More good news close to home: the abhorrent Tea-Party mayor who has been busy dismantling my hometown of Troy, Michigan (and emitting homophobic slurs) has been successfully recalled. For some reason Troy went bonkers the past year or two. They were even going to close the public library, for crying out loud. The library! What is wrong with people? (Full disclosure: I am married to a librarian and I am a writer. Also, full disclosure, libraries are awesome.)

Speaking of librarians, one of my favorite librarians is a certain Angela Newman in Tredyffrin, Pennsylvania. Last year, for our 90-Second Newbery Film Festival, her library filmed Holes. It was great, but Angela and the Tredyffrin kids upped their game 1000% this year. Check it out above: Ingrid Law’s 2009 Honor Book Savvy (one of my favorite Newbery winners, by the way), but with a twist: it’s done as a horror movie, The Ink That Screamed! Scroll back up and check it out now!

In the family in Savvy, everyone gets their special power, or “savvy,” when they turn 13. Mibs’ father goes into a coma, and she hopes that her savvy is to jolt folks out of comas, but in fact her secret power is the ability to listen to the voices of tattoos, or indeed any ink on a person’s skin, which will express an emotional truth the person isn’t necessarily saying. Mibs and her friends stow away on a Bible-delivery bus and have adventures on their way to visit their dad at the hospital.

For Angela’s film, I love the adroit use of the horror music, especially the slowly rising creepy tone, plus the dramatic pull-ins and closeups, and deliciously enough, how the hospital gown is clearly labeled “hospital gown.” When the father wakes up at the end and grabs Mibs and she screams, it’s a great deployment of the trope! Brilliant job, Tredyffrin!

I want to see this approach more in the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival: filming Newbery stories in genres and styles that are totally foreign to the original book. There is a certain jouissance to such an approach, is there not? There is a jouissance, I assert and maintain there is a very definite jouissance. So then: who’s going to create a sci-fi Hatchet for me? Or a LOLcats version of Julie of the Wolves? Or Dr. Doolittle in the style of Dr. Who—that is to say, Dr. Wholittle? Get on this, Internet!

The director of today’s other video is another 90-Second Newbery veteran! This director is none other than Chloe Levine of Brooklyn Friends School, who directed last year’s Westing Game as well as an epic 9-minute Order of Odd-Fish infomercial.

Here’s Chloe and friend’s entry for this year’s 90-Second Newbery: a funny adaptation of Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot:

So many details to savor! I especially liked the performance of the owl, in particular how it hooted along at the end of “This Land Is Your Land.” I also really enjoyed the weirdly enthusiastic pancake lovers. I appreciated how Chloe used lots of different locations. The acting was solid (I especially liked the kid in glasses) and of course the outtakes were funny! Thanks, Chloe and friends!

I’m looking forward to seeing all of your at the New York screening of the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival on December 2! (Wait, what’s the 90-Second Newbery Film Festival? All is explained here.

90-Second Newbery: DiCamillopalooza!

November 6, 2012

HEY! Check out 826NYC’s auction of great spooky, monstrous art by big names in the kidlit world like Brian Floca, Dav Pilkey, Mo Willems, Lane Smith, Adam Rex, Brett Helquist, Tony DiTerlizzi, and more!

Just a few weeks until the New York screening of the second annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival on December 2! I’m co-hosting it with Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man) along with special guests Newbery winners Kate DiCamillo, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Margi Preus. We’ll also have picture-book behemoths Dan Yaccarino and Brian Floca on hand for Caldecott-related tomfoolery. Just you wait!

Speaking of Kate DiCamillo, here are some great recent 90-Second Newbery movies of her 2004 Newbery Medal winning A Tale of Despereaux and 2001 Honor Book Because of Winn-Dixie.

The first one, above is, is by Chicago theatrical group Play Mechanics. It’s of A Tale of Despereaux, and it’s first-rate, with lots of satisfying details: the costumes (those huge ears for Despereaux!), the cauliflower attached to Miggery Sow’s head (in the book she’s described as having “cauliflower ears”), the awkward way Despereaux reacts when the princess talks to him, the wonderful mugging of “no rats, no more soup!” and not one but TWO grisly mouse-tail mutilation scenes. Cleverly resourceful special effects, too—watch for where Despereaux is made too look as though “falling” down the stairs by running the footage of him walking up the stairs backwards and at a higher speed. Inspired! Well done, Play Mechanics!

I also have not one but two versions of Because of Winn-Dixie to share. The first is from “Abby Kelly’s Book Club” at a charter school in Worcester, Massachusetts:

It was a great choice to give it a flying start with the energetic, violent scene of the dog going crazy (and I like the mustache!). Almost terrifying! This is by far the most enthusiastic, committed dog performance I’ve ever seen in a 90-Second Newbery movie. I also like how the story is presented like an impressionistic series of climactic scenes, rather than laboriously linking all the causes and effects. Great fun and a winner!

The other Because of Winn-Dixie is by Jacqueline and friends at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. (which I visited this past spring and got to speak to the students—I had a great time!):

Having the story be narrated from the point of view of the dog was a marvelous twist. The dog costume was well-done, too; kind of reminded me of “Blue” from Blue’s Clues? The music going throughout was a good touch and propelled the story along nicely. The parrot costume was glorious; you should hold on to that for next year’s Mardi Gras. Well-shot and well-acted all around. Another excellent adaptation!

Thanks, everyone! And remember, the deadline for entries is November 10. Keep ’em rolling in!

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