Amy Glazer, a theater and film professor at San Jose State University, has directed plays for Bay Area theaters including the Magic Theatre, Traveling Jewish Theatre, SF Playhouse and Marin Theatre Company. She has also made films based on plays she's directed, including her most recent, Seducing Charlie Barker, written by novelist, screenwriter and playwright Theresa Rebeck. The movie tells the story of a talented actor who, while struggling to find work, ends up abandoning his wife, best friend, and career for an affair with a woman he describes as shallow. For Glazer, it's an example of pursuing meaninglessness. She spoke with us about storytelling on stage and in film, showing rather than telling, valuing commerce over art, and the support of women artists.
How did you go from theater to movies?
At Cal Arts when I was getting my MFA in stage directing I met my mentor Alexander Mackendrick, who had come there to teach. He directed the Alec Guiness movies Sweet Smell of Success, Ladykillers, and Man in the White Suit. He was a brilliant narrative storyteller and he took me under his wing. This man became the translator for me -- he taught me that once you understand structure and story, transitioning from one to the other is not the big deal everyone says it is. Film and theater are different grammars, but you come to understand whose story you're telling and how to shape a structure.
When I look back at graduate school, I realize that was the impact it made. Then I thought "Gee, I hope I get to make movies someday," and I had a couple of close calls, and getting a movie off the ground is always a nightmare, and it's a tough world, which is why I told the story I told.
In the meantime, I directed theater and focused on new works, and I developed fabulous relationships with playwrights, many of whom were screenwriters. Because I had a minor in film, the university asked me to teach some film classes. I did this and loved it, but I felt fraudulent because I was teaching filmmaking but had never directed a film. Through the university I directed my first short, and I loved it. Then the university started a film leg, which was all about producing, so they came to me and said would you direct a feature. I used a play I was working on. My brother helped me, and I adapted it into a film.
I understood "show, don't tell," and with my producing partner Lynn Webb I started a production company, Beshert, which in Yiddish means synchronicity or destiny. The two of us preserved on this -- there was a tenacity the two of us shared that just made this so satisfying, to have done this film. I'm so proud of the work and of us for getting here. When you aren't doing the Hollywood paradigm, it's so easy for people to minimize you.
Anyway, I could never choose one over the other, but I couldn't do one without the other
Give me an example from Seducing Charlie Barker where you did what you talked about -- making a movie rather than a play.
There's a scene where a character comes home from work and says "Oh, I had such a horrible day, this person wanted all these flowers and this person didn't show," and in the play she's getting changed as she's telling her husband about her horrible day. I shot that and the acting was great, but it was just dialogue. After editing the film, after six months, I woke up in a sweat and thought, "I know what's wrong -- I need a scene that shows that horrible day." So the scene that begins the film, she's running around and going, "She didn't show, she didn't show." I took that whole monologue and made that the scene and sent that to Theresa Rebeck, the writer. There was a line in the play about all the different colored highlighters she used, so we have those in the film. I used behavior to show what in the play is described. Show, don't tell.
Why do you like working with Theresa Rebeck?
Theresa does not suffer fools lightly, and as a writer, she is able to capture bad behavior in her dialogue and in her characters. She has been a fly on the wall of the entertainment industry for so many years that she captures it with the authenticity of Robert Altman. She's like a younger, female Altman. Our rhythms are similar. I was drawn to her writing. I was drawn to her as a person and a woman. She's in a man's world, and she's succeeding on her own terms with stories that have meaning.
She was very generous to me -- she trusted me. When I called her and said,"There's this man who saw this play and is willing to give me the money to turn it into a film, can I have the rights?" She said yes. Then she flew out here to be with me the first few days of shooting so I could get her tone right. She supported me in the way you hope another woman artist will support you.
You said you're proud of this movie. What are you proud of?
I'm proud of the performances, I'm proud of the way the story has been shaped, and I'm proud of what it says. Even though it's a satire, I think it makes us look at our values and who we become as a culture when we value meaninglessness. When it's not about the art anymore, but it's about commerce and when ethics take a backseat. I also couldn't help but fall in love with my antagonist. She seduced me, and I focused the movie from her point of view as well. She became this character with such authenticity. Like in a dream, you're all the characters, I'm all the characters in this film, but mostly I'm the two female characters. I think what it's saying is be careful. If you assume someone will behave well, you might just be wrong and they will inherit the Earth. I just wanted to look at that.
I also understood the angst of Charlie because he was this wonder kid. What happens when you look up in your mid-40s and it just didn't turn out the way it was supposed to? Especially when he had all the success in his youth. He went to all the great schools and had early success and now you're looking around in your mid-40s and it's over. I'm proud of what the story says, and that it's a story written by a woman, directed by a woman, produced by a woman, Lynn Webb. So I'm proud of the story I'm telling and the triumvirate that's telling it.
Seducing Charlie Barker opens Friday (Dec. 2) at Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco; it screens Dec. 2-3 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael and Dec. 7-8 at the Shattuck in Berkeley.