Making “Gray Matters”

 
 

Kramer grew up in New York and went to film school at UCLA in the 1990s. She has been writing professionally in Hollywood for a decade, but for one reason or another, until now none of her feature-length scripts have been made. “It's a very frustrating process,” she acknowledged, “to be writing script after script after script, and everybody's always like, ‘Wow, you sold something, that's so great!' But no one ever sees it.”

Gray Matters, however, might finally help her break the trend, and Kramer couldn't be happier about it. She is especially excited to finally hear her dialogue on the big screen: “To be a writer, to see your words that you've written for film — you've written them to be heard — to finally hear them is just a thrill.”

But her years spent toiling at the typewriter were not for naught. Using her Hollywood screenwriting and film school connections, the novice director was able to score a top-notch cast for Gray Matters. In addition to leads Graham (“I just knew after having this amazing lunch with her that I had found my Gray”) and Cavanagh (“an amazing gift — they're actually really rare, the guys that are comical and good looking”), Kramer snagged Oscar-winning actor Sissy Spacek to play Gray's kooky therapist and Alan Cumming to play Gordy, a cute cabdriver who goes from crushing on Gray to becoming her bosom buddy.

She wrote both roles for the actors and credited Spacek, who was quick to commit to the part, as being “incredibly instrumental for me going to agents and actors. Having somebody of her stature, it was much easier to get big actors to read the script with her name attached.”

Another of the film's supporting roles is that of Gray's co-worker Carrie, played by the riotously silly Molly Shannon, who should be issued a warrant for the number of scenes she steals. Kramer described landing the Emmy-winning Saturday Night Live alum as “a miracle,” since Shannon turned down the role repeatedly before Kramer finally convinced her to take it.

“I would not take no for an answer with Molly,” Kramer said. “I just kept calling [her representatives] every day and saying, ‘I can't accept that.' And they were like, ‘You have to accept that.' I said, ‘You don't understand. I see her in the role and no one else. I won't even meet with people. She has to do it.'” Eventually it occurred to Kramer to go around instead of through: She got a message to Shannon through a mutual friend, and the deal was sealed.

And fans of The L Word will surely notice a small but key role played by Rachel Shelley, aka Helena Peabody. Shelley plays a high-powered, hard-to-please client of Gray's who shows up in the right gay bar at the right time. Kramer credited her sister “100 percent for finding me Rachel Shelley.” Carolyn, a fan of the soapy Showtime series, “kept saying, ‘Rachel Shelley, Rachel Shelley, you have to meet her. She's it, she's it.' And she was right.”

After the film was cast, however, the first-time director still faced many challenges, not the least of which was having three jobs: screenwriting, directing and producing. “It took a lot of delegating,” Kramer admitted. “It was really a lot about having different hats on. When I was writing the script, it was really just keeping focused and making sure the script was as good as it can get. And then once I got on the set, I just concentrated 100 percent on directing.” Kramer said she “loved the entire process of making the movie,” but working with the actors was tops. “It was so interesting to … figure out everyone's process.”

The shoot, which took place in New York and Vancouver , was not without its glitches. One scene in particular, in which Gray is walking though New York 's Union Square Green Market, was a bit hairy to film. “The farmer's market was my best and worst idea that I've ever had in my life,” Kramer said. “It was an absolute nightmare in terms of trying to control the crowd.”

But random bystanders mugging for the camera was the least of it. Kramer had to beg the vendors, who were losing business to the gawkers, to let her shoot. “It was definitely one of the most challenging days. At the end of the day, I looked at my producing partner Jill [Footlick], and I was like, ‘What the f— was I thinking? Why did I write this? Why I come up with this idea?' Thousands of New Yorkers that I think are not gonna look in the camera?” Thankfully, she was eventually able to find a clean take in the editing room.

Kramer hopes that all audiences, gay and straight, will relate to the movie's message about self-acceptance. “The whole movie is about embracing yourself and being comfortable with who you are,” she said. To that end, she has written Gray's coming-out as a positive, organic process. Gray doesn't end up punished, dead or straight at the end of the film, and for that Kramer deserves our praise and thanks.

In fact, she's counting on it: “I'm hoping I have a float at next year's Gay Pride parade. I'm kidding, but my sister keeps going, ‘Do you realize how many gays are going to … do you realize?' I'm like, bring it on, gimme the float!”

Gray Matters opens in five cities on Feb. 23, 2007, before a wide release March 9. Visit the website for more details.

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