Filmmaker Amy Glazer Discusses Her Latest Film ‘Kepler’s Dream’
Amy Glazer is a theater director and filmmaker whose latest movie ‘Kepler’s Dream’ releases December 1st. We recently caught with the talented and gracious talent to talk with her about the film. Here’s what she had to say.
Hello Amy, and thank you for talking with us. Let’s start with you. For those who don’t know, who is Amy Glazer?
Hi David, I am a theater director, and indie filmmaker and a professor of theater and film at SJSU. I’m the mother of a mechanical engineer and the wife of a publisher. But no matter what plate I am spinning, I carry in my DNA a love and talent for storytelling. And here is my biography in case you were being literal! (Learn more about Amy here: www.amyglazer.com)
You’re latest film is called Kepler’s Dream, a family film releasing in December. How about a brief summary of the story before we dig a little deeper?
While her mother undergoes stem cell treatment for cancer back in California, Ella, an 11-year-old girl living alone her single mom (Kelly Lynch), is sent for the summer to New Mexico, where she has never been before, to live with her paternal grandmother, whom she has never met, (Holland Taylor) the mother of Ella’s estranged father, (Sean Patrick Flannery). Family secrets loom underneath Violet’s ranch, and it is Ella who solves both the mystery of her grandmother’s stolen book along with family secrets that have crippled them all for decades. It is an homage to extended family and to forgiveness, as emotional connections are awakened, and a family that was lost finds its way.
I really want to start by saying I greatly enjoyed the film, even though I am clearly not intended to be the audience (ha). I think quality children’s movies that don’t pander to kids is becoming a rare thing. Animation movies flood theaters, but challenging, authentic stories for preteens are far and few between. Was this something you were committed to from the start?
Thank you, David. Yes, that was my intention from the start. Like you, when I read the book, I was surprisingly moved, even though I too was the “unintended” audience. For years, as a mother, I have suffered through films with my son growing up that didn’t speak to our family or open up opportunities to identify and empathize with characters and their journeys. There aren’t nearly enough stories about grandmothers and granddaughters and children with single parents and family secrets and the shame of a father that can impact an entire generation. On one level it’s a small mystery story with an 11-year-old heroine, but on another level it explores some big ideas and reaffirms some universal values for all kinds of “families”. So my hope and intention was to be able to share this with all the kids for whom life has not been perfect. It was important to capture Ella’s point of view and to tell the story, as much as possible, from her POV and through her letters, without commenting or talking down to a Y/A audience.
You adapted this from Sylvia Brownrigg’s (published under the name Juliet Bell) popular novel of the same name. What were some of the larger challenges in bringing this to screen while retaining the central themes of the book?
The structural challenge of condensing a novel into a 90 minute film and finding ways through behavior and action to reveal what interior narration revealed in the book, without sacrificing the original tone and state of being of our protagonist and her journey, was the greatest challenge for me. I didn’t want to lose the very thing that drew me to this material in the first place.
Without a doubt the greatest challenge on set was capturing this idiosyncratic world with all of its animals and peacocks, not to mention the limited schedule that comes with children under 11. And on top of that you had the character of New Mexico looming larger than life over all of us with its weather fluctuations and spectacular visual opportunities and production challenges!
What truly struck me about the film is how respectful it is to the audience for which you are aiming. What I mean is, the film treats adults with authenticity, something most films for kids this age rarely do, while letting Ella, the youngster at the heart of the story be genuine. She’s smart but vulnerable, curious but not gimmicky. How important was it for you in keeping these characters true?
That was very important to me. Those are my values as a director. I have to believe the characters, no matter what style of storytelling, or age group you are writing for. I also firmly believe that young people will respond to a truthful performance in the same way that an adult will. I was never interested in winking back at my audience.
Ella is played by Isabella Blake-Thomas, who has quite the impressive resume for such a young actress. She’s a real talent. Love to hear your thoughts on her performance.
Isabella was a joy to work with. She was an old soul in a young girl. She was the only actress that I read for the part, and I knew immediately when I tested her that we had our Ella. I never felt like I had to direct her differently than I would with any other professional actress. She understood the craft and was emotionally very capable of accessing a range of complex and authentic states of being.
You also cast longtime film and television star Holland Taylor. She’s always a joy to watch. I think she had the hardest line to walk in the film, her character one that could have easily fallen into film cliché yet somehow always stayed within reach. Did Taylor have any say in developing the grandmother beyond the book and could you share some insights about working with her?
She had everything to do with developing the character beyond the book. I shared with her some of my research about the original character, Sylvia’s grandmother, the character VVS was fashioned after, but from there it was all Holland. She layered in so many interesting details to fill out back-story and support the given circumstances – for example talking to her stockbroker early in the morning as she reviews her finances. She also brought an enormous amount irony and satirical wit to the character. She’s one of the funniest actresses I’ve worked with. She gets it. No one can land a beat or frame a turn the way she can. She’s smart and can give you five different colors in a New York minute. She’s strong and calls it as it is, so in that way, she’s not unlike Violet, she doesn’t suffer fools…
I love the science to Kepler’s Dream, even as subtle as it is. From Michael Collins to Carl Sagan, the film finds smart ways to make these influential historical people organic to the story, something I suspect in other hands might have been excised from the script. Are you a fan of astronomy and was keeping the movie’s themes tied to this important for you?
Early on I started researching about astronomy and the universe and this quote from Carl Sagan popped up. And it felt like a sign. In the very first draft I start the movie with a quote on a black screen that dissolves into stars and then pulls back to reveal a planetarium. Later, when we had to change that opening sequence, I gave the quote to Violet/Holland to share with Ella.
“One glance at (a book) and you hear the voice of another person – perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millenia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. “
The notion of connecting through time and space, through books, comforted me. Also, my very close girl friend is particle physicist who helped me layer into Ella’s character scientific behavior and thinking. I wasn’t a STEM girl but I have many friends who were, and I wanted Ella to be smart in that way too…unlike me!
Your background is in theater, having directed a number of plays, and in turn adapting a few of them to film. I’m sure you’re asked this often, but what are some of the larger differences in approaching a stage production versus a film and beyond that, are you finding a preference for one over the other?
I guess the biggest difference is in the ability to visually shape and control the story and point of view as you can with film grammar. Everything is possible in terms of your visual montage, but in theater you can only view your story through a wide shot – a long shot which fills the proscenium arch. I guess fundamentally, film is more intimate. But then theatre is more communal and more alive. At this point in my career I am more drawn to filmmaking, but I hope to continue to do both. I’m always looking for depth in my stage sets, that’s a direct result from looking through the camera and wanting to stage actors with the same depth and z-axis you have in film. And close shots, for a very long time, were hard for me, because I wasn’t comfortable seeing actors that close-up after years of rehearsing in a theater. So as a director, each informs the other.
On our website, we dedicate a lot of writing to discussing great moments in movies, considering their influence and impact on cinema. I’m curious, are there any movie moments – or perhaps more appropriately – theater moments that have influenced you?
I remember being an audience member and sitting next to my Uncle Sidney (Glazier The Producers) on Broadway- up in the balcony watching Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. There was a final image with each actor on opposite sides of the proscenium lit only by a pin spot that became smaller and smaller until they were no more. Snuffed out. And I looked at my uncle, we were both dissolved in tears, and I understood the power and the potency of great storytelling. There were no words, but we had been transported in a shared an intimate way. And I will remember that moment forever. Because I think I knew then that I would be a storyteller.
Thanks so much for talking with us. It’s been a real pleasure and I wish you the best of luck with Kepler’s Dream and you future.
Thank you so much for helping us to get this film out in the world… All best.