I wish someone told me that the industry was more a business than an art. I always thought of being an “artist” but really it would have helped if I looked at it differently. The fact is the industry is a business and you need skills in navigating it from a business perspective like raising money, budgeting and negotiating, to name a few.
As a part of our series about Inspirational Women In Hollywood, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Kramer.
Jennifer Kramer is the youngest daughter of legendary filmmaker Stanley Kramer and actress/producer Karen Sharpe.
As a child, Jennifer was cast in roles on television and film but found her real identity later acting challenging roles on the stage after training at the legendary Carnegie Mellon acting program and the New Actor’s Workshop in New York. After several years in New York, Jennifer settled in Los Angeles to be near her mother and sister.
Jennifer is also a classically trained pianist who has trained with teachers from Juilliard, UCLA and Cal State Northridge. She has performed in concert halls in Los Angeles and is also a self-taught composer. Jennifer has dedicated a number of original pieces to individuals such as Jane Fonda, Deborah Kerr, Henry Jaglom and Michele Lee, to name a few.
Jennifer has now stepped behind the camera, writing and directing her own films. Her debut short NAKUSA is the first in a series of musical shorts based on classical music pieces -produced through her family’s company KnK Productions, Inc. She also has two feature films in development. Referred to as an “auteur” filmmaker — Jennifer’s unique vision and life experiences have given her a style that is all her own.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I am the daughter of filmmaker Stanley Kramer and actress Karen Sharpe. I am the youngest of four children. All of my siblings are or have been a part of the entertainment industry, so finding my own identity has been a challenge! I was raised mostly outside Hollywood in Seattle because my parents wanted their kids to have a more simple childhood away from Hollywood and any warped values that might encourage. I acted in films as a child but when I got a part over my sister it caused friction so I ended up rejecting pursuing it and focused on my love for horses! My childhood was filled with horse shows and riding lessons. My dream was to go to the Olympics and I was asked to train on the East Coast but my father said ‘no’ because I was only 14. Unfortunately, this was heartbreaking but my best childhood memories are filled with the hours I spent with my favorite animal — horses. I have always been a great animal lover and remember loving animals more than people! Still do!
Along with horses, my love for the piano started in my young childhood. I was inspired by an elementary school friend who played the Suzuki Method. I remember I would ask her to play for me over and over and over. When she would graduate from one music book to another, she would give me her old ones and I would spend hours at home on the family upright with a notation chart trying to pluck out the notes. But that took way too long! So, I eventually started composing my own pieces. I would record my compositions on tape recorders because I could not notate them. Then I would give them away as gifts to my favorite people. When I was growing up, quite a few people received this gift.
In my teen years, I finally found the confidence to go back into acting again. I ended up being accepted into the acting program at Carnegie Mellon University and after that, I spent more years in New York training at the New Actor’s Workshop, a program that was developed by director Mike Nichols, Paul Sills and George Morrison. It was during that time on my own that I found my true identity by acting in challenging roles on the stage.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was diagnosed with Lymphoma a while back. So, subsequently, my acting career was put on hold because I had to undergo many treatments. During this very depressing time, I longed to compose music again but had been focusing exclusively on my acting for a number of years. For my birthday, my family bought me a small upright and I began to compose again. Because of a friend, I met a very accomplished concert pianist and he offered to teach me even though I did not read any music, which I learned later was something he had never done before. Lucky for me! This opportunity changed my life. I learned to read music and began training seriously. This opened up a vision for myself I had never had before, which led to my series of musical shorts.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I showed my film NAKUSA to someone I admire greatly and she didn’t particularly like it. The film is a visual representation of what it feels like to experience a life-altering trauma. She thought it was quite dark and dismal. I thought for sure she would relate to it because she herself had experienced trauma in her own life, but that wasn’t the case. You can’t always predict who your audience will be and that’s interesting. I would never have thought this particular individual wouldn’t respond to the film and I would have never predicted some others would! The mystery of that is pretty fascinating.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During my first week at Carnegie Mellon, they had all the freshmen gathered in a huge auditorium to play theater games, something I had never done before. The whole faculty sat there taking notes and I became terrified. When they called my group to go up to the stage, I found myself standing behind some very tall boys. I realized this was my moment — no one could see me and I could escape! I snuck backstage and left through a back door. On the way back to my dorm I was mortified at what I had just done! Now, I think it’s funny but at that time I didn’t know it was okay to say ‘no’. I just wasn’t ready and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean I’m a failure.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Without a doubt, it’s Linda Palmer. She mentored me through the whole process of making NAKUSA. She was so generous to me and taught me more than I can repay. It is rare to find a filmmaker who is so busy with their own projects. She is very prolific and at the same time, so willing to be a source of support and knowledge for other filmmakers. She has helped so many people realize their vision and dreams and I am grateful and proud to call her my mentor and friend.
You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?
Well…. I don’t believe in failure. I don’t really think it exists. It shouldn’t when it involves creativity. People might not always understand what you’re trying to do but that’s not failure. To me there is only desire, hard work, never giving up and being driven by your vision. I am still learning myself so it’s hard to give advice. But if there is anything I would offer it’s not to think that other people know better than you about yourself, your project, your ideas, etc. I feel like the job of an artist is to not be afraid of having one’s own individual point of view even if others don’t understand it. The point is to have your unique vision and to get as close as you can to accomplishing it in whatever it is you are doing. If you feel that you have done that, I would say you are very successful! The rest you cannot control so why not just be bold and fearless!
What drives you to get up every day and work in TV and Film? What change do you want to see in the industry going forward?
I’m driven by what I can communicate through the art of film and music. There is a lot I want to say and share.
The changes I want to see in the industry moving forward are more and more inclusion. We are getting better but we still need improvement. There are so many interesting stories out there that are untapped because of this. So, I hope the industry keeps moving in that direction and continues to get better and better. Film is a powerful medium that not only entertains but can also educate. With more inclusion, there is a much greater potential for more interesting stories being told, not to mention, more of an opportunity to blur the lines of separation.
You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?
NAKUSA is the first short in a series. I hope to film the second one soon and it’s quite a departure from the first. NAKUSA is very dark and surreal but the next one titled THE SHOW is very quirky and comedic. Finishing this series is my biggest goal right now. I also have two features; one I wrote many years ago that I would like to tell from a different perspective now. So, there’s a lot I would like to do. Besides my filmmaking goals, I am an actor who is always more than happy to act in someone else’s film if they want me and the part is good! And of course, there’s my music and learning a new repertoire and performing as a pianist, too. I hope that I can continue to grow in all these areas in the future and keep being creative.
We are very interested in looking at diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture and our youth growing up today?
I think that with more diversity there is a much greater potential for interesting and unique storytelling! I also think that seeing stories made by people unlike ourselves helps us have more compassion and understanding about one another. More inclusion also has the potential to educate us about different cultures and experiences we aren’t familiar with which can only expand our awareness. With more diverse stories being told, it will hopefully blur the lines between different groups and help us see each other as more together than separate. Culturally and for young people, this is so important.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
I only have one…. I wish someone told me that the industry was more a business than an art. I always thought of being an “artist” but really it would have helped if I looked at it differently. The fact is the industry is a business and you need skills in navigating it from a business perspective like raising money, budgeting and negotiating, to name a few.
Can you share with our readers any selfcare routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.
I exercise every day. It helps me feel more focused and stronger. Overall health is very important because working in film requires a lot of stamina so I make sure I get enough sleep and eat right. I also had a little dog for a long time who sadly passed away a few years ago. She was a great source of comfort so I strongly believe in the power of animals as stress relievers. Also, nature — taking walks in beautiful places is a great way to help your mind and heart thrive.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t know if this is a quote but it’s “don’t ever give up!” I think it’s one of the greatest lessons to live by. When you realize all you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and keep walking forward it kind of simplifies things. No matter what you are going through — if you just keep going — tomorrow has the potential to be better! There are so many things that have happened to me in my life when it would have been so easy to give up. But, if I had, there would have been no NAKUSA and I would not have had the opportunity to meet the people who helped me find the vision I have for myself today. So, you just can’t give up!
You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would have to say the movement Ellen Degeneres started which is “be kind to one another.” It’s not my movement but I certainly do like it!
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I think it would have to be Frederic Chopin. I am so curious as to what kind of person he was beyond what is written about him in books. I would be thrilled to meet the genius behind such stunningly beautiful and poetic music.
Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!