Amy Glazer has been entertaining audiences for years. She has directed dozens of plays, and in 2006, her first feature-length film was released, Drifting Elegant. Her 2010 movie, Seducing Charlie Baker, received numerous awards, including the Grand Prize Award at the Canada International Film Festival, Best American Indie Award at the Ft. Lauderdale International Film Festival, and Best Filmmaker Award at the Jersey Shore Film Festival. Her latest film, Kepler's Dream, based on the novel of the same name by Sylvia Brownrigg (published under her nom de plume Juliet Bell), is set to be released on December 1, 2017, in theaters and On Demand. Rotten Tomatoes gives a synopsis of Glazer's highly anticipated film.
"Eleven-year-old Ella (Isabella Blake-Thomas) is a city girl forced to spend the summer on the New Mexico ranch of her reclusive grandmother, Violet Von Stern (Holland Taylor), while Ella's mom (Kelly Lynch) undergoes chemotherapy in another state. As she tries to cope with her grandmother's strict rules and snooty friends, Ella longs for her mother and begs her estranged father for rescue. But Ella's dad (Sean Patrick Flanery) has his own reasons to stay away from his childhood home. Meanwhile, Ella finds allies in fatherly ranch hand Miguel (Steven Michael Quezada) and his down-to-earth daughter, Rosie (Esperanza Fermin). But when a priceless book is stolen from Violet's collection, Miguel is the key suspect, and Ella must find the real thief in order to save her friends--not knowing that solving the crime will reveal other surprising truths and change all their lives forever."
This reporter had the honor of speaking with Amy Glazer, and the artist spoke candidly about Kepler's Dream.
Carter Lee: I really enjoyed Kepler's Dream. It's unlike many family movies being made today; it has complexity. But I like how, to me, the underlying theme of the movie is healing.
Amy Glazer: You nailed it! I feel very successful. That's exactly what the theme is. I read the young adult book and decided I wanted to make it a film. And that was my hope. One of the most potent experiences for me with this film was at a screening for it at a festival. They bussed in students from the Oakland Unified School District in this enormous theater.
As Amy recalled this special memory, you could feel the love and passion she has for kids and young adults.
"To watch them watch the film, responding vocally and visually to the story—and then afterwards, to listen to the kinds of things that they shared—I walked away feeling like, if nothing else happens, I just wanted to get it out to them. That's who I made it for. And I was reassured that we had done the right thing when I saw how they responded. They are my audience.
"During the entire time we were filming, partly because I'm a teacher and partly because I'm a godmother to several young girls, it was always in the back of my head, how is our audience going to respond? How is my goddaughter, Maya, going to respond to a moment or a choice? The best example is with the character of Jackson played by Stafford Douglas. Stafford was cast with our local NM Casting Director. She tested four different young actors, and had videotaped their auditions in her studio.
"What I wanted more than anything was somebody that my little Ella would have a crush on; that would make her heart go pitter-patter. And so, I included her. I sent her the link and asked, 'Who do you like the best?' I already knew who I liked the best, and that was Stafford, he's a terrific actor. But I wanted to know who she liked the best. And so when she wrote back that she felt the same way, I knew we had our guy!
"Working with Sylvia, who had created the story and these characters, was sort of like performing an eye exam on her—is it A or B? Better with 1 or 2? 3 or 4?—every choice was always with our audience in mind and with the notion of staying true to the heart of Sylvia's novel. Our audience was all the young girls that had loved the book, and wanted more. For me, the "more" that they wanted was less in the plot and more in a deeper understanding of these characters. I took the story, sort of this Nancy Drew mystery, which I loved as a child, especially when a heroine solves a mystery, and then I tried to 'three-dimensionlized', both the world of the characters, and the characters themselves.
"You talk about healing; one of the most important notions for me was that underneath everything was this family secret that had debilitated the family for generations. The bomb under the tea table, as Hitchcock would frame it, our dramatic irony comes from the juxtaposition of these secrets and the subsequent rage it has generated living quietly under this idiosyncratic and eclectic ranch, in the middle of this beautiful place. But Ella senses almost immediately that something is very wrong. Uncovering that mystery becomes much more important than finding out who stole the book. It is Ella's need to unleash this family secret that really leads to the healing that takes place."
Amy spoke of how her brother, Mitch Glazer (screenwriter of several movies including Scrooged), assisted her with a particular scene.
"My brother was very much the angel to this project and was my first reader. Actually, he was the one that said, 'There's no father character. You have to have an obligatory scene where Ella turns to him and says, 'What kind of father does this?' Then I went on and developed that scene with his voice and words in my ear." My brother has such a deep understanding of screenwriting/storytelling and is a genius script doctor. Without his hand this would have been a different script."
It's apropos that Mitch would be the first to read Amy's script for Kepler's Dream; he encouraged her to break away from adapting plays into movies. This is the first feature-length film by Glazer that wasn't based on a play, and she spoke about that transition.
"The first film I did was Drifting Elegant, I'm still very proud of that. I did that, and then Charlie Barker. Both of those came out of world premiere plays that I directed. It was after those I believe my brother said to me, 'You know Amy, for your next film you need to step away from plays. Find source material that's more visual, instead of depending on text-driven storytelling, find something that will force you to embrace the grammar of film and trust a more visual form of storytelling.' So, this was a challenge for me. This was a little bit of, can I do it?
"And finding the right cinematographer was so important. And when I found Nancy Schreiber, I knew that I had a partner that understood my connection to the characters and the characters' interior world. Because she got my values, and she valued those performance-based values, the two of us made a beautiful team—I don't know where she began and I ended, or I began and she ended."
When talking with Amy one thing was as clear as crystal -- she embraces and loves her family. Every time she mentioned her family, her voice shined with endearment. Glazer spoke of a fond memory involving a family tradition she had growing up, one that continues today, and how she related that to the characters in Kepler's Dream. As she revealed this, you could feel her smile as she spoke.
"Every Thanksgiving, Kelly Lynch, who is my sister-in-law, my brother, my husband, my son, and my niece, we all meet at their home in the Sierras in California. Every Thanksgiving for years, and years, when my parents were alive, we all came together. And no matter what happened during the year, I would always think, this is where we will come together as a family. Where the unconditional love, that is only part of a family, would be there waiting for me.
"I look forward to it all year long! My parent's ashes are now scattered among two boulders in the back of the house. It is my happy spot. It reminds me a lot of NM actually. I like to think, at the end of the film, that they all get together for many years to come too. Around Miguel's big round table, filled with yummy spicy food, stories from their year and lots of heartfelt love."
While laughing, Glazer recalled a scene involving the character Violet, portrayed by Holland Taylor, and how her mother inspired a line.
"There's one line that I gave to Holland, and it's actually something that my mother used to say all the time, and it still jumps out at me. Ella asks, 'Do they have Wi-Fi here?' And she says, 'Over my dead body!' That was my mother coming back from the grave. But Holland is such a brilliant actress, and she made that her own so vividly. But I always think of my mother, that's her line."
Many critics are not only raving about Glazer's latest film but the performance given by Sean Patrick Flanery. Amy spoke of casting Flanery, and why he was perfect for the role.
"When we were looking for the father, it was such a tricky role because I needed someone who would be larger than life and kind of magical, that makes your heart palpitate. Someone that's special, but also someone that we can vilify initially. And finally come to understand that underneath his bad behavior is so much pain, and so much shame, that you can feel for him. When I found Sean, he had, behind his eyes, those layers and levels of pain and love. When Sean Patrick cracks a smile—my heart smiles too—I can't even explain it. There's something about him as an actor that brings such nuance and depth to every moment."
Amy then shared why it was so important for her to make this film, and to tell this story.
"I worry. I have a son who is a mechanical engineer in grad school learning nanotechnology. But when he was young, I didn't feel there were enough movies that we could go to together, as a family, and talk about real things. Talk about complicated issues in our family dynamics. Just because you're young, doesn't mean that bad stuff doesn't happen—someone dies in a car accident, or someone is an alcoholic—I always looked for opportunities to open up his heart.
"I always felt a responsibility, as the mother of a son, to make sure that I was raising an empathic, caring young man that can also deal with his own complicated issues that we all grapple with growing up. And that's what excited me about Kepler's Dream. When I read the book, I felt this was the opportunity for me to do that."
When Amy Glazer first started creating movies, it was intimidating for her given her family's history. Not only is her brother a huge success in the industry, growing up, she got to be on the set of Mel Brooks' The Producers. Her uncle, Sidney Glazier (spelled differently), was a producer of the film. But after creating three successful movies, all showcasing a variety of directional skills and her ability to tell virtually any kind of story, it seems that Amy Glazer has found her voice.
It's clear that after a lifetime of immersing herself in the industry, art is very important to Amy. This reporter asked her why art is so important.
"If we do not raise a society that is empathic, we are lost. For me, theater and film are empathy workouts. Point-of-view is not just so that you get involved with the story, it's so you can connect. And can understand, when it's over, a little more about your own story and your complicated dynamics. We can tell stories that the audience is encouraged to hook close to their hearts. The more we practice empathy, the more as a society, we will be able to heal and take care of our own."
And in closing the conversation, Amy Glazer said three words that, per her usual, held a great amount of wisdom.
"Empathy is everything."
To learn more about Kepler's Dream, and where you can watch it, visit the official website.