"The Diary of a Wimpy Kid" movie, starring middle school schemer Greg Heffley, hits theaters this Friday. Will the millions of fans of Jeff Kinney's best-selling books want to see a kid named Zach Gordon playing their favorite annoying cartoon character? How will Kinney's hilarious cartoon diaries play out on the big screen?
Kinney was an executive producer on the movie and is touring the country promoting the movie and his new book, "The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary: How Greg Heffley Went Hollywood" (Amulet books, $14.95). Packed with photos from the Vancouver set and of course, cartoons of Greg and his friends, the book tells the story of how the movie was made. For instance:
*Thousands of kids posted online auditions hoping to star as Greg.
*Stunt doubles are used in many scenes including the one where Greg throws a football at Rowley speeding down a hill on a Big Wheel and sends him flying.
*One of the hardest scenes to film was the school dance where Greg and Rowley are licking ice cream cones. A prop guy had to keep making new ice cream cones until there was a trash can full of once-licked cones.
*Both Zach Gordon and Robert Capron, who plays Rowley, missed their real-life first days of middle school because they were filming the movie.
Kinney says the biggest challenge was how to portray a kid who's kind of a jerk, but makes you root for him anyway. You'll have to catch the movie to see how they did with that part!
NeXt spoke with Kinney by phone from Chicago:
>NeXt: What work did you do on the Wimpy Kid movie?
Kinney: My official title was executive producer. I helped pick the writers. I helped work on the treatment and I helped to preserve Greg's voice in the script to make sure it was right. I gave input on casting and then I was there for about half the filming.
>NeXt: Did you have anything to do with the search for the perfect Greg?
Kinney: That would probably be an overstatement. I saw hundreds of audition tapes for Greg. I rang in with my thoughts. My feedback on Zachary was that he was the only kid who I thought nailed the monologue and got the attitude of the character right.
>NeXt: Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
Kinney: I really got a kick out of seeing "The Wizard of Oz" play scene. As an author, it's easy to conjure up these scenes by just writing a few words on a piece of paper and drawing a few doodles. When you see it in real life, it's a full production involving hundreds of people with costumes and lighting and even music.
>NeXt: Do you have a favorite moment in the movie?
Kinney: The moment where Greg sings on stage.
>NeXt: What inspired you to write "The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary"?
Kinney: When I first walked onto set, I felt very wide-eyed. I didn't have any experience with movie-making and I thought that my readers might have that same kind of wide-eyed wonderment that I did. So I wanted to tell the story of how a movie gets made because I thought it was very interesting. I hope my fans will like it.
>NeXt: Tell us about the work that went into creating the Swiss cheese, the "villain" in the movie.
Kinney: They started off by studying a piece of real cheese which they left outside, covered with a kind of mesh. They wanted to see what kind of effect weather had on the cheese. It turns out it didn't have much of a dramatic effect on the cheese at all, so they decided to simulate the aging process with computer effects. The filmmakers put a blank piece of silicone on the ground, this white piece of silicone, and then they painted all digital effects onto the piece of silicone so in the movie it's almost like a living, breathing thing.
>NeXt: Will we see you in the movie?
Kinney: I was offered a cameo, but I turned it down. I don't need to see myself on a 40-foot screen.
>NeXt: Will there be more than one movie?
Kinney: We certainly hope so. We feel like we have more stories to tell. Everybody's hoping this movie does well.
>NeXt: Were you more like Greg or one of his friends in middle school?
Kinney: I was more like Greg than Rowley. I could be a bit narcissistic and manipulative, whereas Rowley is this pure innocent kid. I really love the character of Rowley because he's not in a hurry to grow up.
>NeXt: Did you like middle school?
Kinney: No, I didn't. It felt like a dangerous place, like a prison yard to me. I think most people have kind of bad memories of middle school, I have good memories mixed in there,but mostly I felt kind of intimidated.
>NeXt: Were you a funny kid?
Kinney: No, I don't think I was a funny kid. I was very observant and quiet. I think I'm still that way in my adult life.
>NeXt: When did you know you wanted to be a cartoonist?
Kinney: I've wanted to be a cartoonist ever since college when I got my cartoons in the school paper. I decided that was the career track I'd like to follow and I did a bunch of other stuff instead before I had a shot at getting my work published.
>NeXt: So you're working now on the fifth "Wimpy Kid" book?
Kinney: I'm actually trying to write it while I'm on the road.
>NeXt: What color will it be?
>NeXt: How many more books will there be?
Kinney: That's a good question. We're certainly running out of colors. I think I'm either going to end at 5 or continue on for two more.
>NeXt: How hard is it to be funny?
Kinney: It's just time-consuming. I work really slowly and it takes me about four hours to write one good gag. As a practical matter, it's very difficult.
>NeXt: What do you think Greg Heffley will be when he grows up?
Kinney: I think he'll probably be an unhappy adult, and Rowley will be successful with all the trappings; he'll be successful in his marriage and job. Greg will be a little bit unhappy, a person who's the victim of his own pettiness.