These guys give a ‘Hoot’ if kids like the movie

Carl Hiaasen and Jimmy Buffett are two longtime friends with two big fan followings – and two guys with a movie opening Friday.

Hoot, by best-selling novelist and Miami Herald columnist Hiaasen, is the story of three Florida teens who are determined to stop developers from putting a pancake house on a piece of land occupied by endangered burrowing owls.

The book, a Newbery Honor book, has been a children’s favorite since 2002. The film stars Luke Wilson and young actors Logan Lerman, Brie Larson and Cody Linley.

For music mogul Buffett, Hoot marks his first foray into film producing. It’s also the first feature film for director Wil Shriner, who says he knows the pressure is on to live up to the beloved book.

In Woodland Hills, Calif., he was standing next to a boy recently who was staring at the Hoot movie poster. They discussed how good the book was, and Shriner said to the boy, “I’m the director of the movie.” Shriner says the boy replied: “It had better be good.”

For Buffett, who is always looking to do something new, movie producing was a matter of “seeing if I could pull it off.” He and Hiaasen go back 25 years. Three years ago, Buffett remembers getting Hoot for his daughter, Delaney, who loved it. So he bought the rights.

Hiaasen has been down the book-turned-movie path before. Strip Tease, his novel about political corruption and a stripper, became a 1996 movie starring Demi Moore that bombed. With Hoot, he says, “all they promised me was that they would be as true to the spirit of the book as they possibly could. They were.”

With a producing credit on the film, Hiaasen, who is working on a new novel, was kept in the loop via e-mail with every script change, he says. Shriner sent an early first cut of the movie to Hiaasen, who showed it to his son Quinn, 5.

“He watched it eight times,” Hiaasen says. “He just loved it, and I began to understand what the DVD market is all about.”

Further confirming Quinn’s good review, Hoot played well when Hiaasen took the whole family to the premiere in Florida. “I didn’t take my mom to the premiere of Strip Tease,” he says. “This was, selfishly, something I could take my family to. And she loves Jimmy Buffett. Mom was in heaven.”

Buffett not only produced Hoot (along with Frank Marshall), but he also has a small role as a marine-science teacher and released the Hoot soundtrack on his Mailboat Records label. It includes five songs newly recorded by Buffett, including Warren Zevon’s Werewolves of London, and an original song, Good Guys Win, written for the movie.

Buffett has dabbled in films through the years, playing bit parts and hoping to get one of his novels made into a movie, but nothing has worked. He says “several people” turned down Hoot before the Walden Media production company got involved. But he didn’t give up.

“I remember being turned down by 20 record companies,” he says. “They turn down 99% of the stuff. Who knows?”

What he learned, he says, was that it’s not easy to shepherd a movie. “It’s ruled by committee out there, and I had a big problem with that. I taught myself some lessons in patience.”

Does Hoot mean he’s getting into kids’ stuff?

“I’ve always been into kids,” Buffett says with a laugh. “Children of all ages. Hoot is just Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher. That’s all. I think Mr. Twain would like this movie. ”

By Ann Oldenburg, USA TODAY

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