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Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret Writer-Director Kelly Fremon Craig on Idolizing Judy Blume, Working With Hans Zimmer, and the WGA Strike

80 percent of female filmmakers end up one-and-done but writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig is now two-for-two with the coming-of-age films The Edge of Seventeen and Are You There G-d? It’s Me, Margaret.

Now playing in theaters, the latter is an adaptation of Judy Blume‘s seminal book of the same name and it is hands-down one of the best films of the year. Ant-Man alum Abby Ryder Fortson plays the title character in Margaret, while Rachel McAdams and Benny Safdie play her well-meaning parents, and Oscar winner Kathy Bates plays her doting grandmother.

Growing up, Blume’s books meant a lot to Fremon Craig, who said she found it “such a relief” to see herself reflected in their pages at a time when she felt like “the only one feeling all the things.” Decades later, Blume is finally having her moment in the sun, as 2023 has been a celebratory year for the author, who is also the subject of the documentary Judy Blume Forever, which is now streaming on Prime Video.

Above the Line recently spoke to Kelly Fremon Craig, who talked about the importance of budgeting one’s time when working with kids, who have strict hours on set, though she noted that the film’s young star Abby Ryder Fortson was phenomenal, making her job that much easier. The filmmaker also talked about working with Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer, who actually produced Atli Örvarsson‘s score for The Edge of Seventeen.

Kelly Fremon Craig
Kelly Fremon Craig on the set of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret/Twitter

Above the Line: It’s so nice to finally get to talk face-to-face.

Kelly Fremon Craig: I know, I know! Thank you so much, again, for being such an early vocal supporter of The Edge of Seventeen. It really meant a lot and it was people like you who kept shouting from the rooftops and eventually got us seen. Even though we struggled at first [at] the box office, we eventually found our people and a lot of it was because of that early shouting and championing.

ATL: Yeah. When Alicia Malone reached out to me to submit a blurb for her book, it was the first film that really came to mind.

Fremon Craig: Ah. What was that [called] again?

ATL: The Female Gaze.

Fremon Craig: Yes! Okay. That’s right.

ATL: How are you doing?

Fremon Craig: I’m doing well. It’s such a wild experience opening a film, just so many emotions — every emotion under the sun.

ATL: It’s one of the best films this year — by far.

Fremon Craig: Oh, thank you! Thank you so much for saying that.

ATL: What did Judy Blume’s books mean to you when you were growing up?

Fremon Craig: Everything. I found them when I was 11 and just fell instantly head over heels in love with Judy Blume, and this book in particular, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. I just had to read everything she ever wrote. She wrote with such honesty about what it felt like to be a kid growing up that it just was incredibly reassuring to read that. It was such a relief to see myself in the pages at a time [when] I thought I was the only one feeling all the things I was feeling.

ATL: Does it still feel surreal that you got to direct a live-action adaptation of one of Judy’s most seminal books?

Fremon Craig: Oh, yeah. It’s very surreal to actually work with and alongside someone who you’ve idolized since you were 11. My brain still can’t quite process that it’s real.

ATL: Have you framed her email yet?

Fremon Craig: [laughs] I haven’t and I really, really want to. There are a lot of things I feel like I need to frame after this experience.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Rachel McAdams, Abby Ryder Fortson, and Benny Safdie in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret/Lionsgate

ATL: What was it like getting to direct the cast?

Fremon Craig: Just a true joy. My favorite part of directing is working with the actors. I love that part. I love seeing them inhabit characters from their own perspective and bring all their own specific, nuanced ideas to the table — because all those ideas wind up making it better than I could have ever imagined or could have written on the page. It’s this exciting process where you watch what you wrote bloom into something you never quite imagined, and that’s exciting. There’s a discovery process at the center of it that is just a thrill.

ATL: I’m only familiar with Abby Ryder Fortson’s work by way of the Ant-Man movies, but she was phenomenal as Margaret.

Fremon Craig: Yes, she is phenomenal. She is so phenomenal. She has such a range, vulnerability, and subtlety. You look into her eyes and [there are] just so many different complex emotions coming through.

ATL: Pandemic aside, what was the most challenging aspect of the production?

Fremon Craig: The pandemic was pretty challenging. I’d say it’s always hard working with kids’ hours because you have a very clear cut-off time. When you work with adult actors, if you need 10 more minutes, you can take it. When you work with kid actors, when time is up, time is up. You really have to be incredibly smart about budgeting your time in addition to making sure you’re getting absolutely everything you need in the editing room, so that just becomes an extra weight to bear.

ATL: Were you able to be in the same room as the editors, Oona Flaherty and Nick Moore, or were you watching through a screen?

Fremon Craig: I did both, but we mostly did it remotely. I have to tell you, I loved it. We didn’t miss a beat. There was, I felt, no difference [between] being remote with her [Oona Flaherty] versus being in the same room with her. In fact, I found some real advantages to being remote because, in certain instances, I could leave her with homework and then walk away, do my own thing, and then come back an hour later and see what she had created. I think that’s important in the editing process — to be able to walk away and come back. You have to constantly freshen your eyes, which is a real challenge when you’re looking at the same material over and over and over. You do have to walk away, forget it all, and then show up to experience it emotionally as if for the first time.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Kathy Bates in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret/Lionsgate

ATL: Was there a sequence in the film that evolved the most in the editing room?

Fremon Craig: [That] evolved… it’s hard to say. So much of the film evolves over the course of editing. I love editing. Editing feels to me a lot like writing. It’s just playful and you can try everything under the sun and see what works. The way I direct is, I get a lot of different choices. I improvise with the actors a lot. I get the material that’s on the page, but then I play and I color outside the lines and I shoot for things that I couldn’t have imagined. When I get into the edit, I’m really searching for gems and then I’m taking all of those little nuggets, putting them in a bin, and then, together with the editor, trying to figure out how to string those little gems together in a scene. The movie is very much made in the edit.

ATL: You’ve now had two films produced by James L. Brooks. What has it been like to have him as your mentor?

Fremon Craig: That’s another case where I really can’t believe how lucky I am that I get to work with somebody [who] I’ve idolized for so many years. He is so passionate, cares desperately, and is obsessed with the details in the exact same way that I am. I think we work together well because we both go nuts over the details. We never roll our eyes at each other when we’re trying to get frames, right? You really get into that kind of minutia.

ATL: And you were able to get Hans Zimmer to do the score this time around!

Fremon Craig: Yeah, which was such a wonderful, exciting process. I also think it’s exciting because I hear that at screenings, people see his name pop up in the credits and gasp because they can’t believe that he did this. I think they associate him with much more sort of muscular or testosterone-driven musical scores. He also has real tenderness and gentleness and listening to him talk about a movie and talk about character is just enlightening. It’s enlightening. It helps you understand the film better hearing him put it into words, and then put those words into music.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Kathy Bates and Abby Ryder Fortson in Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret/Lionsgate

ATL: Were you able to sit in on the scoring sessions?

Fremon Craig: There was a scoring session that happened in London, which I did not go to, but I had been part of all of the other ones. The one where we actually got together an orchestra and recorded, that one I didn’t go to because I had other things that I was committed to. But all the putting together of the music, I was very involved in.

ATL: I had forgotten that Hans had produced the score for The Edge of Seventeen until I was going through the production notes for that last night.

Fremon Craig: Yeah. He was like a fairy godfather.

ATL: I’d planned to ask a question or two about Rabbi Michael Wolk’s involvement in the film, and then JTA ran an entire feature story on his appearance.

Fremon Craig: I saw that! I was so happy that they interviewed him. He was wonderful to us. He deserves a directing credit on that scene because he really was such a resource to me.

ATL: I didn’t realize that he had to fill in for someone at that last minute.

Fremon Craig: Is that what it said in the article? Because no —

ATL: It said that whoever was playing the rabbi couldn’t do it and he had to fill in.

Fremon Craig: No. Nope, nope, nope. He should know he was always [my] first choice. You can print that. There was nobody else. He was the guy we wanted.

ATL: I know there are some historical inaccuracies with the siddurim (Jewish prayer books) and having a female cantor at a time when that was very rare in the 1970s, but I’m not nitpicking that like some other people in my community.

Fremon Craig: You know what? It’s very interesting that you bring that up because that was a big conversation that we had. We had a really big conversation about whether we could take that license. Ultimately, we decided to go for it because I think our research showed us that we were within a couple of years or something, so we let it slide.

ATL: At a time when politicians want to ban books and prevent certain subjects from being discussed in school, what do you hope people take away from watching the film?

Fremon Craig: Gosh, I hope the film acts as an antidote to all of that. I think it’s so important to see ourselves reflected truthfully in books and movies and art. I think it’s life-saving, really. It has been for me.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Kelly Fremon Craig, Judy Blume, and James L. Brooks/Twitter

ATL: I just noticed in a trailer email that you’re co-writing another film, Ordinary Angels, that’s coming out later this year.

Fremon Craig: Oh, that was a film that I did a rewrite on for my partners at Lionsgate, and actually didn’t know that I would be credited for it. That was a surprise. It went through WGA arbitration and they decided that I had altered it enough that they felt my name should go on it. I actually have never met the director, who also did their own pass on the script. I’ve never met them but I wish them well with the project. It’s a very interesting true story. Little known fact — Dave Matthews is a producer on the project. I was secretly hoping that I would get to meet him [laughs] — that might have been part of the reason I took the rewrite. [laughs]

ATL: Maybe at the premiere later this year!

Fremon Craig: [laughs] Yeah.

ATL: Hopefully, the studios will come to their senses soon and agree to a fair contract with the WGA.

Fremon Craig: We have to. A strike sucks but not being able to make a living as a writer sucks worse.

ATL: I still remember the last one. That was when I started reading Deadline regularly and became friends with a few writers, including one who was on The Daily Show at the time.

Fremon Craig: Yes. Yep, yep, exactly. You’re right. That is exactly when Deadline suddenly rose to the forefront because they could break news faster than anybody else.

ATL: It was so nice getting to chat with you.

Fremon Craig: Yeah, it was so nice getting to finally meet you. I so appreciate it.

Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret is now playing in theaters nationwide courtesy of Lionsgate. To read our interview with Judy Blume Forever directors Davina Pardo and Leah Wolchok, click here.

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