It was an important trip. Kelly Fremon Craig had flown to Key West, Fla., to meet Judy Blume for a discussion. A sales pitch.
Fremon Craig – a writer-director known for her 2016 coming-of-age indie “Edge of Seventeen” – wanted to adapt Blume’s middle-grade novel from 1970, “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret.” She had revisited the beloved, best-selling book about 11-year-old Margaret, who tries to figure out her faith and the logistics of bras and periods at the same time. Fremon Craig thought, after reading, “It has to be made into a film.”
Fremon Craig’s next step was to e-mail Blume, asking if the author was open to an adaptation. Blume responded with a polite “no.” According to Fremon Craig, Blume told her that “Margaret” was the one story in her catalogue she didn’t want to see onscreen. “She didn’t want to do it, I think, because so many people have so many feelings about it,” Fremon Craig said. “I think she didn’t didn’t want it to get messed up.”
But that first polite e-mail led to more. It turned out that Blume had seen “Edge of Seventeen” and liked it. Soon Blume invited Fremon Craig and her producer James L. Brooks to visit her and discuss possibilities. “She picked us up from the airport, which was a complete surprise,” Fremon Craig said. “We went to her house and we talked for a few hours, and by the end of that, we knew we were making the movie.”
That was 2018. Now “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” has its theatrical release April 28. The film stars Rachel McAdams as Margaret’s mom, Kathy Bates as Margaret’s grandma, Benny Safdie as Margaret’s dad, and Abby Ryder Fortson as Margaret. During a day of promotion for the film, Fremon Craig talked via Zoom about her mission to get this adaptation right for Blume and her fans.
Q. You made a film [”Edge of Seventeen”] about the complications of being a teen, but these pre-teen years – the ones explored in “Margaret” – are a different kind of awkward. How did you approach this story?
A. I remember that age being very much about my body. I was very, very conscious of what my body was doing – or not doing fast enough, in my case. I was a late bloomer. I also think this age is actually when that type of self-consciousness is introduced. I don’t know that I had any awareness of my body or how I looked prior to that. When you’re older, I think it becomes more about carving out an identity. It’s like you’ve gotten past the body stuff – you’ve changed – but it’s more about, “Who am I?”
Q. You make room in this adaptation for the story of grown-ups – the parallel experiences of figuring out who you are as a parent alongside a preteen. How did you promote these adult characters in the film?
A. When I reread the book as an adult, I was struck by the adults. I wanted more, especially because I’m a mom now. I was interested in, “How does [Margaret’s mom] Barbara feel about all of this?” [There] were little threads woven through the book, but never fully fleshed out because it’s written from Margaret’s point of view. So a lot of [Barbara’s] character [in the movie] comes from my own personal struggles with being a mom who really, desperately wants to be a great mom to my kid, and also has a career that demands a lot of my time. It’s this constant like negotiation, figuring out that balance.
Q. You had to find a perfect Margaret – and so many other kids.
A. It was a lengthy casting process. We looked all over the country. Most [kids] who came to that set – that was the first set they’d ever been on. They were just normal kids; and that was exciting because there was a certain authenticity that I don’t know we could have gotten otherwise.
Q. Blume has a cameo. What was it like that day on set?
A. She was on set many days, but every day she was there the whole spirit of the place lifted because you’re like, oh, my God, a legend’s here.
Q. The film ends with a perfect song. I won’t name it, so people can experience it for themselves. In a film with a big soundtrack, how did you choose that closing number?
A. It was the last thing we did. The problem was, there were so many songs where the lyrics were just a little wrong. Or it was romantic, or the lyrics were too dead-on. And then we found that one, and it felt like, OK, we’re here – and we can afford it. For a while it was the Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun.”
Q. The book has so many moments that are important to generations of readers. Were there any scenes from the novel you knew you’d have to include?
A. Absolutely. I think, “My bust” [when young characters try to increase their breast size by chanting, “We must, we must, we must increase our bust.”] I knew we had to get that right. Actually, when we were on set, I started to have the girls do it and Judy was like, “No, that’s not how you do it!” Because I was having the girls do it like [Fremon Craig pushes her arms in front of her]. That’s how I did it. She was like, “No, no – you go --” [thrusts her arms/elbows behind her]. Thank God she happened to be on set that day because you have to get that right!
Interview has been edited and condensed. Meredith Goldstein can be reached at Meredith.Goldstein@Globe.com.