Lorey Sebastian
May 13, 2013 at 05:00 PM EDT

Tiger Eyes is the story of a teenager named Davey whose family is uprooted from Atlantic City to New Mexico after the sudden death of her father. -Lawrence—who has been referring to his mother as Judy since he was a -teenager—was a freshman in college the first time he read it. “It affected me deeply,” he says. He could also relate. After his parents divorced in 1975, Judy married a physicist the following year, and the family relocated to New Mexico. It was not an easy time. “[Larry] was 13, and it was tough for him,” says the author. “The divorce was hard, and what brought us to New Mexico was a guy. I don’t want to get into all that—but there was the good and the bad and the evil and the ugly.” That unhappy marriage dissolved after three years, right around the time Judy started writing Tiger Eyes.

Lawrence—who began his career in filmmaking after college and directed his first feature, Martin & Orloff, in 2002—took a meeting in late 2009 with Amber Entertainment, which wanted to get into the Judy Blume business. He told them the only book of his mom’s he could imagine directing was Tiger Eyes (his other favorite, 1998’s Summer Sisters, spans 20 years and is too large in scale for a small budget). Two weeks later, they had a deal. Both Blumes started working on the script in early 2010, and by that August cameras were rolling in New Mexico. Along the way, Judy weighed in on many of the major decisions, including casting Willa Holland (Arrow) in the emotionally demanding role of Davey. Having his mom next to him during the filmmaking process “was enormously comforting,” says Lawrence, though he does admit there was one “bad afternoon” during Tiger Eyes’ 23-day shoot. (See the photo above of Blume on set.) “It was a writer-director conflict, where normally the director would tell the writer to ‘F off,’ ” he says with a laugh. “But it was Mom! And it’s her material, so I couldn’t say, ‘Screw you, we’re doing it this way.’ ” Says Judy, “Larry was wonderful. I know who’s the king on the set, and it’s not the writer—it’s the director.” As Judy proudly points out, Lawrence brought the film in on time and under budget. “So,” he says, “I guess you want to know what happened during the next 18 months.”

After Tiger Eyes wrapped, the deal with Amber Entertainment eventually fell apart. “We fought for a year to get control of the film,” sighs Lawrence. “Once we did, we thought, ‘Surely someone will want this.’ ” But it wasn’t that simple. While Hollywood was deep in the throes of its love affair with YA—thanks to Harry Potter and TwilightTiger Eyes didn’t fit its template. It was a movie about real teenagers dealing with real problems: no magic, no thrilling danger, no fangs. It didn’t have a big producer backing it, nor was there an A-list star attached. Sure, there was a name on board—Judy Blume—but that wasn’t enough on its own. So Lawrence commissioned a three-minute sizzle reel showing the scope of his -mother’s influence on pop culture to bring with him to pitch meetings.

This January, the Blumes found a distributor, Freestyle—an independent studio whose past films include The Illusionist and Wristcutters: A Love Story-—to release Tiger Eyes on demand and in at least 20 theaters. “The fact that we had total artistic control is rare,” says Lawrence. “For better or worse, it’s our movie.” Judy agrees: “We were able to do this with really nobody watching. And it looks beautiful.”

Over the course of the daylong interview, Blume’s enthusiasm and warmth never flag; she’s as comfortable talking about her favorite TV shows (Homeland, Girls, Mad Men) as she is offering -relationship advice to her visitor. When the conversation turns back to Tiger Eyes, the author says making the movie with her son was “the highlight of my life.” And yet she can’t help but worry. The budget for Tiger Eyes was less than $3 million, and only a sliver of that has been devoted to marketing. She’s committed to doing as much promotion for the film as possible, and recently teamed with Hellogiggles.com (cofounded by Zooey Deschanel) to help spread the word.

Blume has other things to distract her in the weeks leading up to Tiger Eyes’ release. She and Cooper remain active on various boards, including the Studios of Key West and the Key West Literary Seminars. And a decade ago the couple helped found the nonprofit art-house movie -theater Tropic Cinema. While offering a tour of the beautiful, well-cared-for venue, Blume and Cooper stopped to chat with every employee. (The author has volunteered behind the ticket -counter but says she was terrible at making change.) Even Blume’s breast -cancer—diagnosed in August of last year—didn’t slow her down. (She is now cancer-free.) Perhaps it’s a testament to the power of marital harmony. Blume and Cooper have been inseparable since they met 33 years ago; he moved in after their second date and never left. “He’s my reward,” Blume says, beaming.

And of course, she is still writing. There’s the novel she’s been writing off and on since 2009—set in the 1950s in her own childhood town of Elizabeth, and centered on a real-life event. She’s not sure how it will be classified, considering it has many teenage characters. “I’m so excited about it.” But she won’t discuss it further. “No one has read it—not even George!” There’s also the 32-page supplement she’s putting together for the new edition of Tiger Eyes that will be released in -conjunction with the movie, with -personal stories and behind-the-scenes pictures. Before you get your hopes up, fans, know this: Blume has “zero -interest” in penning more YA—a genre that didn’t exist when she was writing it. “I don’t consider myself a young-adult writer,” she says firmly. She’s seen one Twilight movie and enjoyed books like The Hunger Games (“Whatever gets kids reading, I’m fine with!”), but even a reminder that YA is now the most -lucrative place to be in publishing doesn’t sway her. “I know, I know,” she says. “I’m very happy for my friends.”

Here’s what else will make Judy Blume happy: if fans new and old see Tiger Eyes, and if one day her son gets to direct a big-screen version of Summer Sisters. But she won’t be writing it. “I’m 75, and when you get to be 75, although it doesn’t feel any different and doesn’t even look that bad, you think, ‘Oh my God—I’m here,’ ” she says with a laugh, pointing to a spot toward the top of her finger. “What do I really want to do? I really want to finish this book. I’m not thinking beyond that.”

Mark Horton/WireImage

Pick up this week’s issue of Entertainment Weekly on newsstands now.

Read more:

‘Tiger Eyes’ trailer: Judy Blume novel finally comes to the big screen — VIDEO

Judy Blume’s ‘Tiger Eyes’ coming to big screen and V.O.D. on June 7 — EXCLUSIVE

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