Seductive: Bay Area filmmaker Amy Glazer screens Seducing Charlie Barker this week at SFIFF53.

New York-set Charlie Barker's Big S.F. Break

Michael Fox May 2, 2010

Along with selfless sacrifices and random luck, low-budget independent films depend on the timely intervention of an angel. Back in 2008, Daphne Zuniga (of the original Melrose Place) was staying at a friend’s house while she was performing at the SF Playhouse in Amy Glazer’s production of The Scene. Zuniga invited that pal, Maurice Kanbar, to Teresa Rebeck’s play, and he immediately resolved to bring the work to the screen. As Glazer tells it, Kanbar–an inventor, businessman and longtime member of the San Francisco Film Society’s board of directors–played a vital hands-on role as executive producer as well as one of the producers. The movie, directed by Glazer, featuring Zuniga and rechristened Seducing Charlie Barker, makes its local debut in the SFIFF’s Cinema by the Bay section.

The San Francisco-shot, New York-set story tracks the darkly comic machinations that unfold when a struggling, principled actor meets a sexy social climber at a party. Charlie’s married and (did we mention?) principled, but Clea (Heather Gordon, who starred in the SF Playhouse production) is uncommonly determined. A sharp-edged satire of artistic aspirations, desperate ambition, commercial reality and gnawing jealousy, Seducing Charlie Barker screens Sunday, May 2, and Tuesday, May 4.

“We had a 21-day shooting schedule and pages of dense dialogue to cover,” Glazer recounts, “like 14 pages a day on an average. We had no time to stop. I’m telling you, it was crazy. And also so much fun. For me and cinematographer Jim Orr, it was like surfing, except of course, not, because I don’t surf. Jim, in fact, is an incredible surfer. And he is a very sensitive and intuitive and improvisational shooter, which was perfect for this film.”

The production was headquartered in a Pacific Heights apartment building Kanbar owns, with another vacant unit doubling as a soundstage. “We all lived on site, all of the actors and the DP and his camera team and me,” Glazer relates. “So late at night we could watch dailies or plan out our next day. We ate meals together and worked with passion and care. We were moving so fast! Many decisions were being made quickly, decisions that would ultimately define the film.”

Glazer drew on a large, long-established circle of collaborators, including the production designers and team that worked on the play at the SF Playhouse. Many current and former San Jose State University students, where Glazer teaches in the Department of TV, Radio, Film & Theatre, contributed their energies, labor and talents. Even Teresa Rebeck, who penned the screenplay adaptation of her play, flew out from New York to spend the first few days of the shoot with everyone in “the compound.”

The director worked with many of these folks on Drifting Elegant, which premiered at the 2006 Mill Valley Film Festival and marked her first feature-length screen adaptation of a play (by Stephen Belber, in this case) that she’d directed. Glazer originally broke into movies with the short Ball Lighting (2003). In some ways, though, it seems as if the theater is her first–and dearest–love.

“Actually, this has been a very lonely process,” she confides about Seducing Charlie Barker. “As a theater director I’m used to working intensely on a play for a month or two, including my preparation, not laboring on a project for two years.”

And yet Glazer is primed to throw herself into the fray yet again. Rebecca Gilman, a writer that Glazer has worked with for many years, directing numerous world premieres of her plays, has fashioned a dynamic screenplay from her play, Blue Surge. “I guess you could say it’s about a young, entrepreneurial prostitute who can play the game because she has no illusions about it,” Glazer says. Set in the Midwest, the movie will be shot primarily in San Francisco.

For Seducing Charlie Barker, Glazer ended up shooting a mere three-and-a-half days in New York City. In addition to a couple of street scenes, the production availed themselves of Kanbar’s Central Park East apartment for some high-altitude establishing shots of Manhattan. It is kind of delicious, considering the multitude of San Francisco-set films and TV shows that dropped by to shoot a handful of exteriors and did the bulk of their filming on L.A. soundstages, that a Bay Area filmmaker has turned the tables.

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