Monday, October 31, 2016

A Positive Changemaker Through Films: An Interview with Katharine 'Kat' Kramer

By Ann Baldwin
Kat Kramer
Katharine ‘Kat’ Kramer is an accomplished producer, actress, singer, activist, and the Vice President of KNK Productions, Inc. and The Stanley Kramer Library. She founded ‘Kat Kramer’s Films That Change The World’ to showcase motion pictures that raise awareness of important social issues. She follows in the footsteps of her late father, the Legendary producer/director Stanley Kramer, who was known for taking artistic and financial risks by making movies about controversial subjects. 

Kat has appeared in such films as Going Shopping, Hollywood Dreams, What Just Happened?, and Little Fockers. She currently Co-Stars in Seasons 3 and 4 of a popular web series Child of the 70’s. Kat has headlined at Awards shows and Galas for such luminaries as Shirley MacLaine, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci. She is a former Miss Golden Globe and proudly serves on the Advisory Board of the prestigious LA Press Club. Kat is the Godchild/Namesake of screen icon Katharine Hepburn and the West Coast Representative of the Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center.

I’m inspired by Kat’s incredible energy, compassion for people and animals, and drive to make a positive difference in our world. I’m grateful for this opportunity to share with you an in-depth conversation with Kat that reflects her bright light that has given so much hope and life to others.

Ann: Did you always know what you wanted to do with your life and what your passions were?

Kat: Yes, I always knew I wanted to be in Show Business. My mom told me I came out looking for my ‘klieg light.’ I was a ballerina first at a very early age, teaching ballet, and loved classical music. Dance and music were my first loves.

Ann: How old were you, when you first started acting and singing?

Kat: I was acting and singing by five years old, I loved Broadway musicals, Judy Garland, and Julie Andrews. I moved away from ballet to jazz dancing and pop music and eventually, classic pop singers such as Barbra Streisand and Linda Ronstadt. My very first idol growing up, before anybody else, was Angela Lansbury. Jazz is an influence and I once owned the rights to the life of Jazz icon Anita O' Day. I used to open for her at LA clubs. Then, my great enthusiasm for classic rock, country, and blues kicked in; I fell in love with The Rolling Stones. My new solo show is called My Duet With Mick and is about my journey in hoping to interest Sir Mick Jagger in singing a duet with me for music education. It's very much performance art and I play multiple characters using music, comedy, and movement.

Ann: Do you remember how old you were, when you first realized the impact your father’s films had on society?

Kat: I have always known my dad made important films. I’m not sure how old, probably nine or ten, and then gradually discovered his work and realized he devoted his entire life to raising consciousness and spreading awareness about social issues.

Ann: Were you close to your father all of your life?

Kat: My father and I had an interesting dynamic in our relationship. We tended to clash a lot, because we were so similar. When I think of off-spring generations ahead of me such as Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda, and Angelica Huston, her father John Huston was a filmmaker like my dad, I think it's a different set of challenges for children of filmmakers trying to break into the mainstream film industry. I believe it's harder on many levels, because the director/producer is viewed as an authority figure and visionary, and maybe more is expected.

Ann: You and your mother appear to be very close and attend numerous industry events together each year; have you always been close to your mother?

Karen Sharpe-Kramer & Kat Kramer

Kat: My mother is my best friend. She is also my producing partner and manages my career. She helps coordinate and co-produce my cinema series "Kat Kramer's Films That Change The World." I am also Vice-President of our company KNK Productions, Inc. and The Stanley Kramer Library of which she is the CEO and President.

Ann: Was it a challenge growing up with two famous parents?

Kat: Of course, it's always challenging having relatives in the industry. There are pros and cons to it. My mom is an acclaimed, award-winning actress and producer in her own right. I've learned so much from her. She is "re-imagining" a few of my father's film classics for new generations.

Ann: Did you ever feel pressure to live up to the level of success that your parents achieved?

Kat: Yes and no. I just focus on the work and continue my father's work of shining light on social issues. Also, my Godmother and namesake was screen icon and feminist role model Katharine Hepburn. I have a new character in my solo show, My Duet With Mick, that is based on her called, Auntie Kate.

Ann: Were you ever bullied by others, because of your parent’s success and fame?

Kat: All the time. I was bullied all through my school years, and have been bullied as an adult in the industry. Bullying in the workplace is a current epidemic in our culture that still needs to be properly addressed. It can be based on the same issues as in school such as jealousy, competition, cliques, race, religion, or sexual orientation.

Ann: Do you think bullying has gotten worse over the years or that it’s just been made more public, due to the internet?

Kat: Yes, I think the internet and social media have made bullying even more of a problem in general. And with cyber-bullying and hacking, it makes invasion of privacy so much more accessible. 

Sunday October 16th 2011, I proudly presented the World Premiere of Teach Your Children Well as the fourth installment for my cinema series. This award winning documentary is narrated by Lily Tomlin, who is the Ambassador for "Kat Kramer's Films That Change The World.' This film is about LGBTQ bullying in schools and school violence. I also made sure it was featured at OUTFEST here in LA, and it won a prominent film festival in Palm Springs.

Lily and I were interviewed together on CNN about the bullying crisis; but, it's also in the workplace, not just in schools. 

Ann: What do you think the main cause is for someone or a group to bully another person?

Kat: There are different reasons and ways to bully. Usually, it's because a person is viewed as "different" by their peers, but it can also be motivated by bigotry, jealousy, hatred, religious or sexual orientation. In my case, I was bullied in school by not only students, but the teachers, and when authority figures get away with verbal abuse and bullying, the students feel they can as well. A "bystander" who allows a friend to be bullied and doesn't take a stand against the bully is just as guilty.

Ann: What do you believe is the best way our society can address and take action on to correct the bullying problem in our schools, the work place, and social media?

Kat: Spreading awareness and getting laws passed for schools. It's still a big challenge even with films like Teach Your Children Well and Bully. October is National Bullying Prevention month. I am an anti-bullying activist and when I am bullied in life, I always stand up and take action.

Ann: Are there plans to make Teach Your Children Well more available to the general public on sites such as Netflix or Amazon?

Kat: We are still trying to get it wide distribution and school screenings. It has won Festivals across the country and gotten international acclaim; I also presented two premieres hosted by Lily Tomlin for "Kat Kramer's Films That Change The World." 

Lily Tomlin & Kat Kramer
One idea that Lily and I came up with for the big October 16th premiere, held on the lot at Sunset-Gower Studios, was to rent a yellow school bus that the filmmakers, Celebrity Hosts, Lily, and I would arrive on in front of the media. Lily had been a cheerleader in High School, and so she came up with anti-bullying chants that Bruce Vilanch, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, the late Kathryn Joosten, Bella Thorne, and all of us chanted like "Be A Buddy, Not A Bully!" with pom poms Lily had brought. I don't think an arrival like that has ever happened for a documentary film. It made tremendous impact.

Ann: What did your mother and father try to instill in you as a child and young adult?

Kat: To take the work seriously and yourself not at all.

Ann: You started ‘Kat Kramer’s Films that Change the World’ in 2009; do you remember what inspired and/or motivated you to create your film series?
Kat Kramer
Kat: Well, my Cinema Series inspired itself. I do feel my father orchestrates it as it’s grown by leaps and bounds. It all started in 2008, when my mother and I established the Stanley Kramer Theatre (which was a screening room with 99 seats) at Sunset-Gower/Sunset-Bronson Studios.  This used to be the home of Columbia Pictures, where my father made a great many of his classic films. The screening room named after him was a perfect place to have screenings. It started with us hosting a special screening for Emmy winning actor Glynn Turman, when he appeared on In Treatment. We screened his episodes for an invited audience a few days before he actually won the Emmy!

That's when I got the idea to start a screening series and present socially-conscious films and documentaries. My launch was Barbra Streisand's masterpiece Yentl, a film I used to watch with my father. It was coming out for the first time on DVD to celebrate the 25th Anniversary. Fox Home video gave us complimentary DVD's for the gift bags, and I was lucky to have Alan and Marilyn Bergman as special guests with Marilyn as the keynote speaker. It was in April 2009, during Women's History month, and I had an invitation-only audience of only 99 "actorvists", primarily women. I decided to spotlight the ‘plight of women in the Congo.’ In the film, the character of Yentl wasn't allowed to study, because she was a woman back in the early 1900's; in the Congo today, women are brutally raped and murdered, just for being women. But as a filmmaker, Barbra ‘shattered the glass ceiling’ with the success of Yentl. She gave us her director's cut to screen.  It shows how far we've come, and how far we still have to go.

Ann: I admire you for the important work that you do such as helping to stop animal cruelty, save animal’s lives, stop bullying, and protect animal, LGBT and women’s rights. With so many social issues we’re currently dealing with in our society, how do you go about deciding which films to promote each year?

Kat Kramer, Lily Tomlin, & Karen Sharpe-Kramer

Kat: Yes, animal rights, protecting wildlife, speaking out for women's equality, and being an anti-bullying activist is important to me, as well as deaf rights and promoting diversity and inclusion. I am developing an entire feature film that will feature a hearing and deaf cast, bridging the gap between the two worlds, and will feature ASL interpreting. I presented the first open caption screening on a studio lot in twenty plus years, when I presented Grandma last year. I moderated the ASL interpreted panel. I had the filmmaker Paul Weitz on the panel, along with two deaf filmmakers, and an entire audience of creatives. Lily Tomlin made her film debut in Robert Altman's Nashville where she used ASL, because her character Linnea Reese was the mother of two deaf children. Lily later signed on Sesame Street. So, this deaf audience seeing Grandma already related to Lily Tomlin. They had a chance to experience her latest work and a Q & A panel, which they rarely have an opportunity to do. Many of them were professional actors SAG-AFTRA members, writers, directors, and it's a largely untapped audience. My partner that night was Jo-Ann Dean's Signmation in conjunction with Kat Kramer's Films That Change The World.

Earlier this year, both Lily and Jane Fonda participated in a Q & A for SAG-AFTRA for Season 2 of Netflix original series "Grace and Frankie."  I made sure there was deaf talent in the house and SAG-AFTRA arranged for an interpreter. It was groundbreaking and I'm advocating for more deaf talent to be able to experience a Q & A with talent and filmmakers.

As for my Cinema Series, I get many submissions and I'm hands-on with the decisions. I have Celebrity Ambassadors such as Lily Tomlin, Louis Gossett, Jr., Ed Begley, Jr. and Martin Sheen. And also Activists like Dr. Helen Caldicott and Ric O'Barry. I'm about to announce the 9th and 10th installments for the 2017 season. In 2015, I established an award for the series called the Hunt for Humanity Award created in honor of actorvist, Marsha Hunt, who accepted in person and was presented by the late actor Ken Howard, the President of SAG-AFTRA. Marsha is one of the oldest members and it was a special moment. It will continue to be an annual award.

Ann: Do you feel we need to create more films about important social, animal, and environmental issues?

Kat: Absolutely. We as filmmakers and artists need to create more films, either narrative or documentary about social issues, animal, women's empowerment, anti-bullying and environmental issues. I strive to develop projects devoted to these important subjects.

Ann: What films that your father directed/produced had the strongest impact on you and your life? Which ones moved and inspired you the most to want to follow in a similar light as your father with regard to producing and promoting films with a powerful message about important social issues?

Kat: I can think of several films in particular including On The Beach, Bless The Beasts And Children, Inherit The Wind, Judgement At Nuremberg, and Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? I presented the Australian documentary feature FALLOUT for the 5th Anniversary of "Kat Kramer's Films That Change The World." Dr. Helen Caldicott and my mother are both interview subjects in the film. It's all about my father taking Nevil Schute's famous novel On The Beach and making the film version in Melbourne. There is also a book called When Hollywood Came To Melbourne and streets named after my father and stars of the film such as Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, and Fred Astaire. FALLOUT is also about the origins of the nuclear bomb.

Bless The Beasts and Children was an early animal rights film in 1971 and has become a cult classic. The impact of my father's film actually outlawed the buffalo slaughter in the state of Arizona. The theme song sung by the Carpenters written by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin Jr., became a classic. It was fellow animal advocate Lily Tomlin who suggested I "re-imagine" the song for an entirely new generation. I recorded it with the animal-free children's Circus "Le Petite Cirque" and performed it ‘Live’ with them at The Avalon Theatre in Hollywood in front of a star-studded audience led by Lily herself. It was a fundraiser for Performing Animal Welfare Society called Circus PAWS. It was the brainchild of PAWS founder, the late Pat Derby and her husband Ed Stewart. My version of the song has become the anthem for PAWS and other animal rights organizations. 

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? will celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2017. In honor of this milestone, I'm pleased to announce that Sony Home Entertainment will be releasing a special blu-ray edition in February 2017 to tie-in with the Academy Awards. My mother, Karen Sharpe-Kramer, produced the special features and is also on all of them as the Host. Also, the new film Loving (Focus Features) is about the Loving vs. Virginia Supreme Court Case that made interracial marriage legal. Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? was the first mainstream film about interracial marriage and came out on the heels of Loving vs. Virginia. So, we have a lot to celebrate regarding the Stanley Kramer Legacy in 2017. 

Ann: Yes, we do. Two of my favorite films growing up were Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? and Bless The Beasts and Children, which had a powerful impact on my life. It has been an honor and great pleasure to talk with you and I thank you, Kat, for taking the time to interview with me. I look forward to the opportunity to do this again with you in the future.

Kat: You’re welcome. After being influenced in my work by many idols, I have to stress my main inspiration as a performer is Lily Tomlin. She is a role model, because she doesn't resort to crude humor in her comedy and she has always been socially-conscious and enlightened the human condition. She has remained a classic, always in season. That's what I aspire to do in my work and will always strive to maintain that standard.

To learn more about Katharine ‘Kat’ Kramer, you can visit her website at and her Cinema Series at

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