July 23, 2010 / 9:42 PM / 9 years ago

Author Beverly Cleary's "Ramona" hits big screen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - It’s hard enough making movies with kids in supporting roles, but it’s way more challenging when a film stars a 9-year-old newcomer who’s in every scene and can only work six hours a day.

That’s what Elizabeth Allen faced directing Fox 2000 and Walden Media’s family comedy “Ramona and Beezus,” opening today from Fox 2000.

The film is adapted from Beverly Cleary’s series of “Ramona” books, which go back more than 50 years and have sold 30 million copies.

Joey King, who makes her debut as Ramona, was cast after a year-long search that had Allen and producers Denise Di Novi and Alison Greenspan considering nearly a thousand youngsters. Ramona’s 15-year-old sister Beezus is played by Selena Gomez from television’s “The Wizards of Waverly Place.”

Managing a shooting schedule based on a kid’s work hours and bringing it in for less than $15 million, which includes expensive literary rights, kept Allen on her toes.

“We decided to do something a little bit unusual and I waived all overtime,” she said.

Generally, production days run about 14 hours, but “Ramona’s” were cut to eight.

“We were able to squeeze a couple more days out of it because we didn’t go into overtime and we kept our days really short. So we did 42 days of eight-hour days.”

In 2006, Allen, who directed her first feature, the family comedy “Aquamarine” in 2006, was approached to do “Ramona” three years ago.

“It took me about a month to get ready for that because there were eight books I had to draw from and I really wanted to do those books justice because they were my favorite childhood books,” she said.

Allen also had to cope with getting the performance she needed from her very young, brand new star.

“I’d go through the script with the adults that would be working with her. I’d ask them to help me get a certain moment out of her because, obviously, a lot of acting is reacting.”

Besides King and Gomez, there were lots of other kids in the movie and the resulting family feel on set was exactly what Allen wanted.

“Everyone was there for the right reasons because you don’t do a family film unless you really want to do it. You’re not doing it for the money.”

On “Ramona” that also included the crew up in Vancouver, where the film was shot.

“All the crew was briefed that we’d only be working eight-hour days because they wouldn’t make as much money since they weren’t going into overtime. The people who did it were doing it as a luxury because they’d have more time with their families at night. So our entire crew was really warm and friendly.”

Bottom line: “There was a lot of collaboration and a great attitude on set that I’d never quite experienced. It was kind of magical.”

Happily, the results looked good to Beverly Cleary, who turned 93 two days before production began on April 12, 2009. It had taken Di Novi over two years to persuade Cleary to let her turn her books into a movie and it was very important that the author like the finished film.

“It was probably the scariest day of my life to go up there and present it to her because here’s a character she’s been living with for 60 years,” Allen recalled.

“To be able to bring her character to life in a way that made her happy was incredibly intimidating. But she was overjoyed and when the lights came up, the first thing she said was, ‘Joey King deserves an Oscar.’ And I was, ‘OK. I’m OK!’ She gave us a few notes and stuff, but as soon as she said that, I knew I was in the clear.”

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