There was plenty of buzz at last week’s opening of the SXSW Film Festival about the film adaptation of K.L. Going’s Fat Kid Rules the World, a 2004 Printz Honor book. Going attended two screenings, including the premiere, but gave up her seat at the third…

Was this the first time you had seen the film?

I had seen an early version that did not have the score. It had something like filler music in the places where the score would go. [Director] Matthew [Lillard] had come to New York for something else and he brought the rough cut to Curtis Brown [where Going formerly worked as an assistant], and we watched it projected on a wall. That alone was amazing, but it was also kind of a blur. I was in such an ‘Oh my gosh’ mode that the film itself went by so quickly. I immediately wanted to see it again.

So what did you think of the final version, with the real score?

I loved it. The score really elevates it. Mike McCready of Pearl Jam did the score and wrote two original songs for the film. The day of the premiere they gave out 7-inch vinyl records with the two original songs on them.

Great collectible!

They also gave out 100 pairs of blue leather Converse sneakers, with an orange stripe down the back and ‘Fat Kid SXSW’ imprinted on them.

Did you snag a pair of those?

Of course! The big debate was whether I should actually wear them or keep them pristine. But I couldn’t resist. I wore them to the second screening. I actually had tickets to the third screening, too, but there had already been a lot of great buzz so the line was incredibly long and people were being turned away. So my husband and I and several members of the crew gave up our tickets because we wanted people who hadn’t seen it to be able to get in. And, apparently, at the Q&A after that screening, a lot of people weren’t asking questions, they were giving testimonials. People would stand up and say, ‘I was the fat kid. That represents me up there,’ and that is so cool.

Tell us about the path of this book from page to screen. Was it optioned when it was published or after it won a Printz Honor?

It was at the time of publication. What happened was Listening Library bought the rights to do the audiobook and they sent a copy to Will Ferrell, whose manager also managed Matthew Lillard. Matthew wound up recording the audiobook. Apparently, in high school, he’d been the ‘fat kid,’ and he’d been saved by punk rock, and the story is that, 20 pages into recording the audiobook he came out of the studio and said, ‘I need the film rights to this’.”

But he’d never directed a film before?

He hadn’t, and people have asked me, ‘Didn’t that make you nervous?’ But it didn’t because, all along, he has been so passionate about the project. I just knew that he got it so I had complete confidence.

So what happens next? Is there a distribution deal?

We have some potential distributors but there’s no deal secured yet and that is the next step. The film has one more showing, on March 17, at South by Southwest. I don’t think many films got four screenings, and we also got really good placement by premiering on opening night. It will also be screened at the Seattle Film Festival in June.

Ah, Seattle. Which brings us to the big change made from the novel – no New York City and no subway.

Right. But if it couldn’t be filmed in New York City for money reasons, Seattle is the next best place, music-wise and because it allowed for some really beautiful scenery. There are some amazing scenes where Jacob Wysocki (who plays ‘fat kid’ Troy Billings) is standing in front of this colorful graffiti, and another which shows this amazing quote about music that’s carved into the wall of a building. Matthew has a great eye for framing things.

What was the budget for the film?

Something under $1 million.

Under $1 million?

Yes! We’re talking genuine independent film. And when you see what they got out of that, you’ll be amazed.

How does the casting you did in your head for the years in which you were waiting for the film to get made match up to the actual actors?

The casting could not be more perfect. The three principals – Jacob as Troy, Matt O’Leary as Marcus [this character was named Curt in Going’s novel] and Billy Campbell as Mr. Billings – they are exactly like I imagined and their performances are really spectacular.

In addition to the setting, were there other big changes in the story that it would be good to warn fans of the book about?

Actually, Matthew Lillard asked me the same question and, really, the film stays very close to the book. The biggest change, I guess, is that they added a character – a girl named Isabel – and I had to get used to there being a character in the story who doesn’t appear in the story I wrote. But I have been telling Matthew all along, ‘Don’t worry about me.’ A film has a life of its own and if you try to stay completely faithful to the book, you can kill it. But there are lines of dialogue that came right out of the book and it’s definitely true to the heart of it. I don’t think fans of my story will be disappointed at all.

Does it feel like this has been a really long road from when you sold the option to when the film actually got made?

It does. There have been so many ups and downs. Moments when I felt, ‘It’s going to happen!’ to times when it seemed like things had fallen apart. It’s kind of exhausting. Matthew’s original option lapsed, and a new company, Whippany Park Productions, picked it up, and then by the time everything started moving forward again, Matthew was able to sign on as director. That was really nice for me because I have loved everybody who held the option. So to have them all working on the actual film, that was the best of both worlds for an author.

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