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Will Gluck '93 (in green shirt) on the set of "Annie," filming a scene with actress Quvenzhané Wallis. Photo: Barry Wetcher.

Director Will Gluck '93 remakes 'Annie' for a new generation

Gluck is director and screenwriter for the movie, which opened Dec. 19. Photo: Barry Wetcher.

Director Will Gluck's schedule this month is a whirlwind. As he takes a break for an interview, he muses that he's not sure where he was yesterday, but that he's headed to Europe in the morning on another press tour for his new movie, "Annie," which opened nationwide in theaters Dec. 19.

Gluck is director and screenwriter for the movie, which stars Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, and Quvenzhané Wallis as Annie.

"I wanted to make a movie with my kids," Gluck said about one of his motivations for remaking the famous musical in a new way. "And I mean 'with' my kids, not 'for' them. They're such a part of the DNA of this movie."

Gluck's daughters read the script, listened to the songs and invited their friends to the movie's earliest focus groups, he said.

"I think kids want to see their parents being excited about what they do," he said. "I love writing characters and dialogue and making movies -- so that I can make more movies."

Cameron Diaz and Will Gluck on set

Will Gluck '93 on the set of "Annie" with actress Cameron Diaz. Photo: Barry Wetcher.

Gluck's version of "Annie" includes some of the traditional songs and scenes, but with twists and turns to make it contemporary, including new original songs and dialogue.

"Being a director is the most fun and the most scary thing I've ever done," he said. "You're ultimately responsible for the movie. If it's a complete failure, it's your fault, and if it succeeds, you get unwarranted accolades all around."

Gluck's penchant for writing started early, he said, as his parents encouraged his forays into acting, directing and writing.

At Cornell, Gluck majored in Asian studies and English and started his own theater group, Upstage Left, advised by Alison Lurie, now English professor emeritus.

Another mentor was English professor Dan McCall, who became Gluck's adviser. Gluck's senior thesis was a play, "Spinning Wheel," about a 22-year-old's affair with an older woman.

"In college, I was always writing and writing and writing," he said. "But I've learned that you have to do things over and over and fail so many times before you succeed."

In high school and college, Gluck said he would propose writing a play or making a film as an alternative to year-end essays.

The new "Annie" opened Dec. 19.

"It would take way more time, but it was a lot more fun for me," he said.

He was also a disc jockey on WVBR -- "my version of improv comedy," he says -- with NBC News' Kate Snow '91 as a newscaster and Whit Watson '93 (now a sportscaster with the Golf Channel) doing sports.

After graduation, Gluck said he still wasn't sure what he wanted to do. "Unless you're really driven when you're 18 to know what you're doing, it's just important to get a good education in many different areas," he said.

He took a year off, then moved to Hollywood to look for a job, landing one from a newspaper ad within two weeks, then eventually taking a production assistant job for a television production company.

"It's very easy to get your first job in Hollywood -- you'll be very underpaid," he said. "But don't stay in that job if it's something that you don't want to do."

With the production company, Gluck said he learned the ropes and started writing sample episodes.

He now boasts producer credits for numerous films, including "Friends with Benefits" and "Easy A"; TV shows, including "The Michael J. Fox Show" and "The McCarthys"; and Gluck has his own production company, Olive Bridge Entertainment.

Gluck said screenwriting and directing go hand in hand for him.

"I'm not an idea guy when it comes to writing. I like to start when the bones of something exist that already work narratively," he said. "Then when I'm writing, I visualize how this will look on the screen, so when it's time to direct, I'm ready to go."

Remaking the beloved musical "Annie," though, comes with some special challenges.

"I did feel responsible to the message of the movie," Gluck said. "It's a movie about hope, optimism, inspiration and never giving up. It's about trying to find your place in life and trying to find a family. And that's such a great message coming from an 11-year-old."

Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Will Gluck on the set of

Will Gluck '93 at work on the set of "Annie." Photo: Barry Wetcher.

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