In 2010, Jeff’s wonderful Wimpy Kid world made its way on to the big screen. It’s been five years since the last film Dog Days was released in 2012, but finally in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul, the on-screen adventure continues…
As a kid growing up in Washington DC, Jeff loved to draw. That passion for a pencil saw him go on to run his own comic strip in college and when he struggled to get the strip published by newspapers, he then came up with the idea for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a story about a middle-school weakling named Greg Heffley. When the first book was published in 2007, it became an instant best-seller and now 24 books later, there are more than 180 million copies of the series in print around the world.
While not working on the Wimpy Kid series, Jeff is also a games designer and his virtual world POPTROPICA, is a place where kids can play games, compete in head-to-head competitions and read books and comics. When he’s not working, Jeff loves to hang out with his wife and two young sons in Massachusetts, where they own a bookstore called An Unlikely Story.
Q) If someone were coming to the film series fresh, how would you describe Greg and his family?
I’d describe Greg and his family as a typical family. One of the big surprises for me in the last few years as I’ve gone around the world to promote the books, is that kids in Brazil, China, Latvia and in Korea, react to the stories in the same way. And it strikes me that these stories are about childhood. They’re not really about this specific kid, or this specific family, they’re stories about childhood, which is universal.
I adore the scene where the mum is so angry at Greg at the gaming convention, that she goes quiet. As a parent, I think that’s always more powerful than shouting. You know you’re raising good kids when they’re bothered by that! Because that means they’re empathetic, they’re emotional, that they care about other people’s feelings – I can relate to that.
Q) How was it going back to working on a film version of your books as it’s been five years since Dog Days?
It’s been fun. It’s a great challenge to restart the franchise and of course we had to recast all of the roles because the kids [actors] in the first three films have grown up and now they’re in college, so there was no question that we’d have to recast roles. I think the casting is the best part of the Wimpy Kid movies. That’s what’s so great about the Wimpy Kid books – the characters in the books are cartoon characters. So with cartoon characters, we don’t want them to grow or change. But of course in real life human beings grow up fast, especially at that age – that ‘tween’ age! So hopefully we will be recasting new Gregs and Rodricks for many years to come!
Q) Is it hard balancing the laughs with the emotional stuff?
That’s something I’ve really learnt in films – is that the language of films really is emotion. And I think if it was up to me to write one of these films without having been educated in the filmmaking process, I would just write lots and lots of jokes and hope that did the trick. But of course it wouldn’t! You really have to have an emotional through line. And you have to make the audience route for the character to succeed – that’s the challenge of screenwriting.
Q) What do you hope old and new fans get from the film?
I hope kids will get a laugh out of the film and can see themselves in the characters. I hope that the film gives them things to talk about with their parents.
Q) What’s the best thing about watching a movie like The Long Haul at home?
I think there’s nothing better than a family movie night, where you can find something everyone enjoys and it’s rare, it’s difficult to do. I think we’ve only hit that mark three or four times ever! But I think there’s something really special about being comfortable, about being around your family and creating or forging a new memory by watching a film.
Q) A big part of the plot is the ‘diaper hands’ incident and how it affects Greg. Have you got any tips for kids on the challenges social media poses?
I think as a parent this is really the challenge of our times – to figure out how much is too much and when to get involved. Kids need to navigate this landscape. They need to navigate these challenges we never really had. I don’t know if I have any great advice, honestly! I think it’s a difficult road to walk.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is available on Digital Download now and Blu-ray™ & DVD on October 23 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Check out our competition section for your chance to win a copy on DVD!