Over the past decade director, Amy Glazer has completed three feature films, Drifting Elegant, Seducing Charlie Barker, and her latest, Kepler’s Dream. All done in her “free time” when she isn’t directing theater and teaching as the head of the theater department at San Jose State University. Mixing her careers can be exhausting, but also an enriching experience; showing students a first-hand glance at the world they’re about to enter and subsidizing her own artist pursuits.
Her first feature films, Drifting Elegant and Seducing Charlie Barker were theatrical adaptations of plays aimed at an adult audience; her new film Kepler’s Dream is her first foray into the literary adaption of a young adult book. Based on Sylvia Brownrigg’s young adult novel by the same name, Glazer assembled a cast of experienced actors including Kelly Lynch, Holland Taylor, Sean Patrick Flanery, David Hunt, Steven Michael Quezada, and Kelly Hu, to surround newcomer Isabella Blake-Thomas.
Lesley Coffin: The area of New Mexico is beautiful. How did you find the film’s locations?
Amy Glazer: The original novel is set in Albuquerque, and Sylvia based the novel on a real place. So I went to see the house its based on while doing research. but Albuquerque has changed so significantly, it no longer has the same magic she wrote about in the novel. But it was important to set it in New Mexico, it was a such an important character in the book. So my location scout and I started looking for other areas we could set it in, and found this amazing ranch. And the owner was this amazing woman who let us shoot there and was like a momma bear with me, showing me the region and telling me about the community. And Holland stayed overnight on the ranch and had an opportunity to kind of live that life.
Lesley Coffin: How long did it take to film the movie?
Amy Glazer: We filmed over 22 days. And one of those days, we had to film everything that is her interior world, for a dream sequence that we cut down, so I feel like we actually had 21 days to film the movie you see. That’s not a lot of time for a location shoot because every time we saw lightening we had to shut down the generators. And, our lead is an 11-year-old, and I didn’t realize how restrictive their hours are. We would have had more flexibility if we had hired someone a year or two older, but we just loved her and didn’t even consider the limitations we were putting on ourselves.
Lesley Coffin: How did you find Isabella?
Amy Glazer: She was the only child we read for the part. While casting I was teaching and talked to them about the experience I was having adapting the book, and even ran scenes with them and asked them for notes. I’ve always incorporated the work I’m doing, whether its a film or directing theater, with my teaching and find it helps me and my students. And my teaching assistant told me I should meet with Isabella for the role, and she came in with her mother.
But I realized when she got in that they had driven here, left, and then come back just to meet with me in one day. And I wasn’t even planning to start casting the role but felt so bad I tested her right away. And I just fell in love with her. It was as if she was the girl I’d imagined, the character in the book but also like a young Sylvia. And I showed her screen test to Sylvia, suggesting we’d found her, and she agreed immediately. So we actually cast her first and then hired the adult actors to surround her.
Lesley Coffin: What attracted you to the book?
Amy Glazer: I’m friends with Sylvia, who is an adult author and uses the name Juliet Bell when writing young adult fiction. And we walk our dogs together, so I asked her about the book she’d just written. And I was looking for a new project because I’d just finished my last film. And everyone had been telling me, you should adopt a book next, rather than a play, so you’re forced to think more visually as a director. So I was looking for new source material. And she gave it to me to read, and something touched a very sensitive part of me. I’d lost my mother about seven years before, and had always felt this intense separation anxiety from her, so I totally understood Ella’s magical thinking. The importance of the charm bracelet spoke to me. And I just saw the movie. And then I thought, I have a very sciency kid, a son who’s now a mechanical engineer. And I used to take him to movies as a kid, and felt like I never used the opportunity to talk about how what happened in those movies related to his own life. And I really worried as a mother of a really smart, science-minded son how to teach him empathy. And I saw this as a film which could address those issues that young people are struggling to deal with. Specifically, this is a movie for middle schoolers, where its hard to find people willing to teach that age group, but they really need stories like this.
Lesley Coffin: What responsibilities do you feel towards readers of the book when adapting a novel to the screen?
Amy Glazer: I think you should remain true to the spirit of the book. I think a film should have the freedom to alter and change the events in the book, but the characters should still be familiar. You are illuminating the characters, just in a new medium. And something that works in a book may not work as well on screen, so you need the freedom to make those changes. Fiction’s all about characters and the interior world they are able to share with the readers, but in a film, you don’t have that interior world, you just have dialogue and behavior as a way to reveal characters, so you have to flesh them out to be satisfying representations. That’s why casting is so important to me and why I included Sylvia in that process. I read my son all of Harry Potter, and when we saw the films we felt the changes all made sense, but we still recognized and loved the characters.
Lesley Coffin: What inspired you to cast your sister-in-law Kelly Lynch as Ella’s mother?
Amy Glazer: I showed the screenplay to my brother Mitch Glazer, a brilliant screenwriter himself, and he gave me two notes. The first thing he told me was, I should consider Kelly for the role of Amy. And I loved that idea, and Kelly said yes. The other thing he said was, there isn’t enough of the father. The father is barely in the novel, but he said: “we need the payoff of when Ella turns to her father and asks how he could have done that?” He even gave me the lines this girl would ask her father. Mitch is my best friend and also a script doctor, so I trust him, and that scene made a huge difference.
Lesley Coffin: What was the reason your brother gave that the father had to be more fleshed out?
Amy Glazer: It is ultimately a story about the corrosiveness of family secrets. And that shame, real or imagined, has crippled this man. The sins of his father have caused the next generation to make this man unable to be a father. It’s about how destructive that bomb can be, but he is also capable of redemption. We need to understand what caused him to be an irresponsible father. And my brother felt it was important to believe that journey, that he didn’t begin and end as a knucklehead loser.
Lesley Coffin: The film’s demographic is unique because it’s a movie for an underserved age group. It’s a family movie but one targeted towards pre-teens. And it’s very old-fashioned in its approach, very different from the television we see on TV aimed at that audience. Did you find it to be a hard sell to make a movie like this for that audience?
Amy Glazer: I know this movie isn’t cool or hip, but I think kids appreciate the fact that it is all heart and I’m not winking at them. This is the kind of movie I would have taken my son to at that age, and I felt that audience has been underserved. The best experience I’ve ever had as a filmmaker was when we showed the film at the Mill Valley Film Festival and bussed kids in from the Oakland school district. They were totally into the movie, and we had the best Q&A I’ve ever had, discussing the themes of the movie.
© Lesley Coffin (11/29/17) FF2 Media
Photos: Kepler’s Dream (Credit: Kepler’s Dream Etc.)