A Chat with Diary of a Wimpy Kid's Jeff Kinney
When I received an invitation to attend "The Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2" movie junket, I have to say I was really excited. You see, my kids are huge "Wimpy Kid" fans, having read every single book Jeff Kinney has written. Plus, they've seen the first "Wimpy Kid" film and totally loved it. So when I told them I was going to get the chance to meet their favorite author in person, my kids made sure I was armed with several of their favorite books for him to autograph (he graciously signed every one of them complete with a drawing of Greg). Check out our group photo from the junket (Jeff is standing in the back row):
In this sequel to 2010's surprise hit, Greg Heffley, the kid who made "wimpy" cool is back in an all-new family comedy based on the best-selling follow-up novel by Jeff Kinney. (Kinney's Wimpy Kid" series has thus far sold 42 million books.) As he begins seventh grade, Greg and his older brother - and chief tormentor - Rodrick must deal with their parents' misguided attempts to have them bond.
After watching a sneak preview of the movie (which incidentally, is really enjoyable for kids and parents), I got the chance to join a group of my favorite parenting bloggers as we sat down for an interview with Jeff Kinney. What surprised me the most from our chat was how the Wimpy Kid book series came to life. Bet you didn't know that Jeff initially thought he was writing a book for adults and it took him nearly 10 years to write the first edition!
Take a look at our blogger Q&A from and find out more about this incredibly talented, humble and down to earth author, producer, online kids gaming expert (he created the site Poptropica.com) and dad:
Q&A with Jeff Kinney:
Question: What does it feel like to be the hero of every kid in the United States?
Jeff Kinney: That's funny. I think that they would be disappointed if they saw me in real life. I really didn't write these books for kids. I was trying to write one big fat book for adults. I worked on it for about eight years. And then, my publisher said that they thought that I'd written a children's series.
It was kind of a shock to my system, after working for that long. For the book to go out into the world as a kid's series, and for it to be successful has been, it feels like the Truman Show. Nothing feels real to me.
In fact, I remember when I was in college I interviewed Michael J. Fox at a press junket. I remember the feeling of being in the room. And there was an empty chair. I almost got sick thinking that Michael J. Fox was going to be sitting in that chair. Just when I walked in the room and saw an empty chair, I thought, "Oh, I'm sitting in that chair." That's how weird things have gotten for me.
Question: You said that originally you were just thinking of one book geared towards adults. What was the concept of that book?
Jeff Kinney: It was basically the same book, but I saw it through a different lens. I saw it as a nostalgic book. Something similar to "The Wonder Years" or "A Christmas Story," where there's an adult looking back on their childhood.
Question: How autobiographical are the books?
Jeff Kinney: That's a good question. I can't even tell myself anymore. There's definitely a lot of my own experience baked into these stories, but then it's been through the wash so many times that I can't even really remember what's true and what's not.
Then, you have screenwriters who are reinterpreting things a little bit. So, it's a real mix of fact and fiction.
Question: When you originally had the concept for the adult book and then it got changed to a kids' series, what did you change about it?
Jeff Kinney: That was the thing that surprised me the most is that I really didn't have to change almost anything. My sensibilities are very G rated anyway. I'm obsessed with not creating anything bad in the world. I'm shocked that I couldn't see that I was writing for children all along.
There's a great Steven Wright line where he says, "I wrote a children's book, but I didn't do it on purpose." And that's what happened to me, too.
Question: Do you have children?
Jeff Kinney: I do. I have a five-year old and an eight-year old.
Question: Boys or girls?
Jeff Kinney: Two boys. It's really fun because when I wrote these books, I was doing a lot of thinking on my own childhood and trying to remember what it felt like to be a kid. And now, I'm seeing childhood through their eyes. My life is very, very normal. The only time it's different is when I do something like this.
My normal life is just like anybody else's. I'm involved in the Cub Scouts. And I just ride my bike around the cul-de-sac and take my dog's poop samples into the vet to check for viruses and things like that. My life goes back and forth between really abnormal moments and normal moments.
Question: What do your kids think of the books and the movies?
Jeff Kinney: They like them. I think my five-year old was a little bit scared because there are some bully moments in that movie. They seem to get a kick out of it. Although we own the DVD of the first movie, I don't think that they have asked to put it in yet. I think they saw it enough, which was twice in two weeks. That was enough for them.
My kids get a kick out of all of this. They definitely don't take me too seriously or think of me as being different than any other parent. But then they get the perks, such as going to the Kids' Choice Awards and stuff like that. They enjoy that, too.
Question: Did they spend time on set at all? Did you?
Mr. Jeff Kinney: Yes, I did. I was there for about 25 of the 45 days filming in Vancouver.... It was hard to be away from my kids. They came out for one trip and got to spend a day on set this time. Last time, they spent about three days on set. I went on a big bus tour with the actors in the south this fall. My kids came along for part of that, too.
They have gotten to see a different side of life, and it's fun. It's neat to think how that might be broadening their horizons.
Question: Did you work at all with them (producers) on casting?
Jeff Kinney: Yes, in the first movie I gave a lot of input on the principal actors. Greg in particular was very difficult to find because we had to find a kid who could be a bit of a jerk but was also likeable, and that was hard to do. I think that Zach Gordon was up for the task. Rowley was easy. We found Robert and he was in.
And Rodrick was a real find as well. He was not a big character in the first movie and he really needed to carry big parts of the second movie. I feel that he brought something to that character that's not in the character in the books. He did a great job.
Question: You're originally a writer. So, how was it being an executive producer? Did you enjoy that aspect of going from book to film?
Jeff Kinney: I did. I think I sort of jumped in with both feet. Most authors, they hand off their work, cross their fingers, and show up for the premiere. But, I really wanted to be involved and have as much influence as I could. Fox was very welcoming of me in the process. I was there from the very earliest conversations all the way through the making of the movie and then the post-production, even marketing.
It's a privilege actually to even be here talking about the movie and trying to promote it because that's not something that authors usually get to do. It's been edifying. You have complicated emotions seeing your work changed and brought to life on screen. It's been a very good experience for me.
More great insights from Jeff Kinney and the kids who star in the latest film to come. For now, check out the trailer and get ready to take your family to Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 when it opens nationwide Friday, March 25. Follow Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 on Facebook or Twitter and make sure you use the hashtag #wimpykid2.