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Remembering Casting Legend Lynn Stalmaster

Remembering Casting Legend Lynn Stalmaster

Earlier this month, we lost the person who some credit with creating the job of the independent casting director. After the studio system fell apart in the 1950s, Lynn Stalmaster, along with Marion Doughtery, helped define the role of casting director. And with Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair, Stalmaster became the first person in his profession to receive a solo title card in a film’s credits. He was also the first and only casting director to have ever received an honorary Oscar, and the 93-year-old industry veteran left behind the impressive legacy of his six decades in the industry when he passed away from natural causes on February 12. 

Amongst the more-than 400 casting credits attributed to Stalmaster on IMDb are titles such as The Great Escape, In the Heat of the Night, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Harold and Maude, Tootsie, Nine ½ Weeks and Battlefield Earth. A number of A-listers have Stalmaster to thank for early roles in their careers that helped them break into the business. He’s credited for having a hand in the castings of Dustin Hoffman as Ben Braddock in The Graduate, Christopher Reeve as the title superhero in Superman and John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in the 1970s comedy series Welcome Back, Kotter. Fans of LeVar Burton and Geena Davis can also thank Stalmaster for casting the actors in some of their early roles, the hit 1977 series Roots and Sydney Pollack’s 1982 dramedy Tootsierespectively. The career-starter also gave Jeff Bridges his first break in the film Halls of Anger, and the actor labeled Stalmaster the “master caster” during the 2016 award presentation for his honorary Oscar. 

Upon news of his passing, the Casting Society of America (CSA) honored the casting director’s contributions to the profession. “A pioneer of our craft, Lynn was a trailblazer with over half a century of world-class film and television casting credits. He was a friend and mentor to many of us,” CSA co-presidents Rich Mento and Russell Boast shared in a statement. Other casting directors took to social media to pay tribute to the frontrunner who paved the way for their profession. “He was so kind to those of us starting out,” wrote Sharon Bialy in a Twitter post. “He left a legacy of how to be a caring, considerate and dedicated casting director.” Sandi Logan named him “a giant and a role model for all of us who followed in his footsteps.” Simone Pereira Hind honored him as “one of the first and best.”

Not only did Stalmaster set the stage for casting directors who came after him, but he also encouraged them during his acceptance speech for the 2016 honorary Academy Award. “Casting is alive and well in the new millennium,” asserted Stalmaster. “I so admire the achievements of today’s casting directors, and I’m so impressed with their creative contributions.” So whether it be the next generation of casting people he inspired, the actors whose careers he impacted or the well-loved projects he cast, Stalmaster’s legacy will continue to live on in Hollywood. 

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Get to Know the Casting Director: Kimberly Hardin

Get to Know the Casting Director: Kimberly Hardin

For this installment of Get to Know the Casting Director, we’re featuring the person behind the cast of Regina King’s feature directorial debut, which is getting some serious Oscar buzz. Besides One Night in Miami, Kimberly Hardin has an extensive number of well-known credits to her name such as Think Like a Man, Hustle & Flow, Cadillac Records and Friday. The busy casting director took some time out to virtually sit down with Casting Networks and give us a window into the person behind all the credits.

Thanks for talking today, Kimberly. So take me back to the beginning. When was the moment you knew that casting was for you?

Well, first of all, I moved here (Los Angeles) from Chicago when I was 18 and right out of high school. I thought I wanted to be a production coordinator, even though I had no clue what the job entailed at the time. I invited a producer to speak at this film club that I started while I was in college, and he was the one that told me I struck him as a casting director. I attended one of his workshops to understand more about the job and realized it was something I liked. But, schools don’t teach you how to pursue being a casting director so it was something I had to figure out on my own. I applied for a job at the office of Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson, and they were interested in hiring me. The position ended up being an internship, which I couldn’t afford because I was putting myself through college. So, I took a position at a talent agency and worked my way up the ladder over the course of four years, building a lot of relationships with casting directors along the way. Then, one day I had a car accident, which kind of put things in perspective because I still wanted to pursue casting. I quit the agency and two weeks later I got a job with Jaki Brown, who was casting a Sprite commercial. Then she brought me on board I’m Gonna Git You Sucka in 1988, which was the first film I helped cast. I just kept going from there! 

I love hearing about the journey that led to where you’re at today, which of course includes casting One Night in Miami. The film has received a number of Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations, as well as a Robert Altman Award win for you at this year’s Spirit Awards. What can you tell us about assembling such a powerful cast for it? 

Casting a biopic is drastically different than casting a regular film because we’ve got to start with the elements of “look” for each given character. So, that eliminates a lot of people right there, and then you move on to other traits, like being able to do the right dialect in order to accurately play the role. I had to look all over the world for such specific casting requirements, and thankfully the shoot date was pushed back because of Regina’s schedule so I was blessed with a long span of time to really search for the right people. My approach to casting, in general, is to see as many actors as I can in order to give as many people as possible an opportunity. Plus, that allows me to provide an abundance of options to the filmmakers. But for One Night in Miami, we ended up having to replace the actors that we originally had for Sam Cooke and Malcolm X. It was a last-minute thing and certainly a whole process in itself. 

Wow. It’s so interesting to hear how you ended up with the final cast because now after watching the film, I can’t imagine anyone but Leslie Odom Jr. and Kingsley Ben-Adir respectively playing Sam Cooke and Malcolm X. My next question is in regard to your social media presence since you make a lot of inspirational posts about life on your @castingwithkim Instagram page. Can you share a related piece of advice?

I’d recommend figuring out your own way of remaining humble and determining what in your life takes precedent over your work. You have to set boundaries because it’s easy to get absorbed into a project or too focused on what you want to achieve in the industry. Everything else can get put on the back burner and you may end up feeling the effects of that later on in your life. I know there are certain couples in Hollywood who coordinate so that one person can be with their kids when the other is traveling for work, which can mean passing on projects. I tip my hat to that level of commitment to one’s family. So overall, don’t let work put your life on hold because it will end up passing you by.

That’s such an important message to share. Now here comes one of my favorite questions to ask casting professionals. If someone made a film about your life story, which actor would you cast to play the role of Kimberly Hardin? 

I can’t say I’ve thought about that before, but I’ll give you what comes off the top of my head. I’m going to go with someone like Carmen Ejogo for a drama. But I’m always trying to crack everybody up so it could also be a comedy. If it were that type of film, I would probably say Taraji P. Henson. It’s a hard question to answer, in general, because there are a lot of different sides to me.

Those are some great choices! As we wrap, I’d love to hear what’s on your watchlist. 

Well, I’ve been trying to catch up on all the screeners that the Academy sends out. And I must say that I liked Bridgerton. I also really enjoyed that new French series on Netflix called Lupin, which stars Omar Sy. Plus, I’m waiting on the next seasons of other series I like, such as Ozark and Lovecraft Country

Regardless of one’s role in the business, Hardin’s words serve as a great reminder to maintain a healthy balance between work and life, even amidst all the demands of the industry. The casting director also shared the importance of helping one another out in Hollywood. Besides her approach to casting, which aims to give actors as many opportunities as possible, Hardin’s story highlights how she was offered a chance at the beginning of her career. “I started out as Jaki’s assistant, she bumped me up to being her associate, and then she started sharing her credit with me until I was ready to fly on my own,” Hardin recalled during the interview. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at without Jaki.” Between the ideas of paying it forward and keeping one’s priorities straight, getting to know this casting director comes with the offer of some important life wisdom to boot. 



This interview has been edited and condensed.

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3 Times Casting Director Jason Kennedy Championed Actors

3 Times Casting Director Jason Kennedy Championed Actors

As the primary writer for Casting Networks’ Get to Know the Casting Director series, I’ve talked to a number of people in the profession, and there’s a pretty obvious throughline that’s become evident. At some point during our conversation, the casting director will almost always talk about how they’re rooting for actors’ success. And a number of people in the profession have demonstrated in very tangible ways how much they support actors, such as by issuing open calls during the pause on productions caused by COVID-19 last year. There are a number of instances in which casting directors have shown incredible altruism toward members of the acting community, but this article is focusing on one person in particular. Keep reading for three times Jason Kennedy took action to champion actors in incredibly impactful ways.

 

1. He allowed roughly 70,000 video submissions for the Bluestein/Kennedy Casting Virtual Open Call so that an extraordinary number of actors could be seen and practice their self-taping skills. 

As mentioned, some casting directors conducted free open calls during the pause on productions to give actors the opportunity to practice their craft and showcase their skills. Each open call was unique to the casting director who created it, and all were certainly invaluable to the actors who were able to participate before the submission deadline or limit was reached. However, I have yet to hear of another open call that allowed for a staggering 70,000 actors to be seen. Even with a team to go through all the submissions, many might view the undertaking as an overwhelming task. But Kennedy called the response “incredible” during our interview last year. “We were happy that we were able to do something like this that could offer some positivity, some support, and a brief distraction from everything that’s going on,” he noted. 

 

2. He utilized his @kennedycasting Instagram page as a platform to take action toward needed change in our industry.

Kennedy harnessed the power of social media to contribute to the ongoing fight for better and more accurate onscreen representation of the Black community. “I had no idea how this initiative with #PromoteBlackActors would be received,” said Kennedy in a post about it. “It soon evolved into discovering new faces through our open call who I felt were ready for representation, hence the hashtag #UnrepresentedButNotForLong.” You can search both hashtags on Instagram to see how the initiatives had positive, tangible effects on the careers of some of the featured actors. Nondumiso Tembe was an actor featured in one of the #PromoteBlackActors posts, and when I interviewed Tembe last year about her experience as a Black actor in Hollywood, she referenced Kennedy’s efforts as a good example of allyship. (Since the fight for change in our industry is far from over, industry members who want to be allies and gain understanding can read the full article on Tembe’s experiences here.)

 

3. He assembled a list of SAG-AFTRA actors on the verge of losing their health insurance so that he could keep them in mind for roles. 

In order to be eligible for coverage under the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, union actors have to meet the requirements of certain earning minimums or days worked. The pandemic’s effects on productions extended to actors’ job opportunities and the restructuring of the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, resulting in some actors being at risk of no longer qualifying for coverage. Cue Kennedy. “I cannot make any promises that anything will come of it, but having this info MIGHT help me, and possibly my colleagues, KEEP YOU IN MIND,” the casting director shared in his Instagram post calling for union actors about to lose their insurance. “Yes, this is very personal stuff, but we are a community that supports each other and lifts each other up. If this helps one person, it’ll be worth it.”

It often goes unnoticed when someone goes out of their way to altruistically help people, but recognizing such efforts may encourage others to follow suit. As our industry adapts and continues through these pandemic times, Kennedy exemplifies what it can look like to support one another through it. And the idea is not limited to just casting directors helping actors. Industry members in various roles can alternatively offer assistance and lean on one another as we all move forward together. 

 

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Get To Know the Casting Director: Dean Fronk

Get To Know the Casting Director: Dean Fronk

With the holiday season still a recent memory of happier times, we’re featuring someone with a number of Christmas titles to his name for this installment of Get to Know the Casting Director. Dean Fronk is known for his work on a variety of projects that span genres, such as Netflix’s Fatal Affair, the Nicolas Cage-led Left Behind, and the NBA 2K motion-capture video games. He’s also a self-identified “geek” for horror films, and the versatile casting director took some time out to virtually sit down with Casting Networks® and talk more about his work. Keep reading for a window into the casting person behind the credits.


When was the moment you knew that casting was for you?

It was when I started working for Don Pemrick, who is now my business partner at Pemrick Fronk Casting. We’ve worked together for 20 years now, and he’s also one of my best friends. But back when I was an assistant, I experienced running an audition for the first time, and that was when I knew casting was for me. There’s still nothing quite like that moment when you and the director are in the room, and the actor comes in and nails the read. You know without even looking at the director that that actor is the one who’s going to book the part. It’s such a great feeling, especially when you get to tell the actor they got the role. Just seeing their reaction to what they’ve accomplished is awesome. Right now, things are a little different with virtual auditions, but it’s still exciting.


I love when casting directors share about how they’re rooting for actors. And I’m interested to hear more about your work on holiday movies. Can you tell us a favorite memory from casting one of them? 

Yes, and first I’ll say that we’ve been doing holiday films for almost 18 years now. The biggest thing that’s changed over the years is that at first, people didn’t want to do them. But they have such a shelf life, like there are ones still airing that we did 15 years ago. So now we have reps contacting us because actors want to be a part of them. As far as a specific favorite memory, though, I’ll give the example of when I did one of my very first ones called The Santa Trap. It was directed by John Shepphird, who we’ve worked with for many movies, and it starred Robert Hays and Shelley Long. I grew up watching the movie Airplane! and the series Cheers so to get to meet people who’d starred in both was just really special. And we’ve done Christmas movies all over, such as in Utah, Mississippi, New York, Vermont, Louisiana, and Canada. No matter where you are, though, one thing doesn’t change. Everybody loves coming in for a Christmas movie. Actors always seem to be happy when they audition for them — there’s just a good feeling about them. 


What a fun genre to cast! Now I have to ask one of my favorite questions for casting directors. If someone made a movie about your life, which actor would you cast to play the role of Dean Fronk?


I would go with Tom Cruise for sure. That comes from growing up in the ’80s, and I’ve been a huge fan of him ever since Taps. I mean, the first-ever expensive pair of sunglasses I owned were aviators, inspired by Top Gun. So I’d love to have him play me.


That is a fantastic choice. And I’m going to pivot here to your work teaching audition technique. Is there one big takeaway you have for actors on that subject? 

Listen, I have one thing that I say to anyone and everyone who ever asks me about the topic. When an actor auditions, there are a lot of aspects about it that they can’t control. But one thing that is in their power is to make sure they’re the most prepared actor we see that day. You need to come in completely knowing your material inside and out. That applies to self-tapes, too, and even more so since you’re not in the room with the casting director. Your only chance to connect with them is through that screen so you don’t want to be looking down as you read off the page.


I hope actors reading this, take note! So before we wrap, can you share what you’re watching at the moment?

I have to say that there are two big ones. We’re watching Big Sky, which is just a great whodunit series. But my absolute favorite show is The Blacklist because James Spader is beyond brilliant. I grew up watching him in all of my favorite shows in the ’80s, and he’s just this fantastic actor. If you ever watch The Blacklist, you’ll see that he captures the screen the whole time. I mean, it happens every episode. 

Fronk’s interview reinforces the idea that casting directors are rooting for actors’ success. Plus, his enthusiasm for the talent he gets to work with, as well as the jobs he books, display Fronk’s passion for what he does. The casting director wrapped with an anecdote about when he was offered a very memorable project, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & the Island of Misfit Toys. “I remember sitting there and thinking to myself, ‘I would do this for free,’” Fronk recalled. So no matter what part of the industry you’re in, the casting director reminds us of the importance of getting to do what you love. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

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Remembering Casting Legend Mike Fenton

Remembering Casting Legend Mike Fenton

If you’re a fan of classic titles such as Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, E.T., The Godfather: Part 2, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Goonies, Footloose, Aliens, Back to the Future, Blade Runner, and Chaplin, then you’re familiar with the work of casting legend Mike Fenton. The Los Angeles native with nearly 300 casting credits on his résumé passed away from natural causes on December 30, but his legacy will continue long past 2020. 

Variety credits Fenton with helping launch the careers of A-listers like Harrison Ford, Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., and Richard Dreyfuss. Fenton co-founded the American Society of Casting Directors, which evolved into the Casting Society of America (CSA). “His remarkable accomplishments and his incredible work in elevating the awareness and appreciation of the craft of casting defines his legacy in the entertainment industry,” CSA co-presidents Russell Boast and Rich Mento said in a statement.

Steven Spielberg’s production company Amblin Entertainment also paid tribute to Fenton, calling him “inarguably one of the top casting agents in our industry for decades.” The well-known auteur had a lot to say about him, as well. “Working with Mike Fenton was like working in a candy store — he made casting a blast,” wrote Spielberg. “His fervent support of actors was the stuff of legend, and after landing a part, any actor’s smile was rarely as wide as Mike’s.” 

Fenton, himself, spoke to his appreciation for actors during an AMPAS interview. “That’s the joy of being a casting director, to meet all of these different [actor] people,” asserted Fenton. “They bring such wonderful, wonderful abilities to the screen.” An audition tape for Spielberg’s E.T. displays Fenton discovering such talent in real-time. During Henry Thomas’ read for the role of Elliott, you can hear the casting legend off-camera as he works through the scene with the then-child actor. The impressive performance — complete with real tears — ends with the victorious announcement, “OK kid, you got the job.” 

Fenton’s work was admired by many, including those within his field, and a number of casting directors took to social media to honor his legacy. “What a loss to the casting world,” Sharon Bialy stated. “He was so kind and encouraging to all when many weren’t at the start of my career.” Erica S. Bream called Fenton “a gem of a man, an incomparable CD” while Michael Sanford named him “one of my casting heroes.” 

The career of the casting legend was an enviable one, and those hoping to have similar success in the field would do well to follow his example of trusting your gut. “What makes a casting director is learning that little, tiny ‘something’ that the actor who has just come into your room has,” Fenton noted during the AMPAS interview. “You can’t bottle it, you can’t sell it, you can’t even describe it, but you know.” Such natural intuition led Mike Fenton to become one of the casting greats during his lifetime, and his work will continue to live on and inspire those who come after him. 

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Acting Up: Nick Robinson

Acting Up: Nick Robinson

Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.

The Snapshot: Nick Robinson plays a high-school student who finds himself in an illicit relationship with his 30-year-old married English teacher in the FX on Hulu series, A Teacher

(Series premiered on November 10 with new episodes dropping every Tuesday.)

The Performer:  Nick Robinson

The Series:  A Teacher

The Performance: 

When it comes to how you could end up in a secret romance with your 12th grade English teacher, I submit a few quick foretelling moments from episode one of A Teacher:

Like when soccer-playing senior Eric Walker (Nick Robinson) first meets new-to-school teacher Claire Wilson (Kata Mara) in class, and she reads the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas – which plays beautifully to his ears. Or later that day, when his friend Logan sees teacher Claire for the first time and tells Eric: “She is too hot to be a teacher.” 

Then, of course, there’s the fluke meeting at a café later where Eric and friends approach a seemingly bored Claire at the counter. After the two friends leave, and some idle chitchat, Claire agrees to tutor Eric for his upcoming SATs at his request. At this point, there’s more than a strong sense that these two will be bumping up more than Eric’s math/English scores.

All of this would be fine of course – if it didn’t then lead to a sexually charged love affair that puts their illicit tryst at the center of what’s sure to be a swift kick in the ass by society. Not to mention Eric’s mother and Claire’s husband, who she’s been lying to from the beginning. 

For all its impropriety, nothing is completely black and white in A Teacher except for the fact that this type of affair is technically statutory rape and against all ethics and morals of teaching (and wedding vows for that matter). But A Teacher studiously tackles a gray area, where complexities and consequences muddle what seems to be a happy couple. Especially for Eric, who tells himself he’s “the muthaf*ckin man” in several post-coital chats he has with himself.

Having said that, Eric’s maturity far exceeds your average high-school kid due to having a single mom and two younger brothers he’s in part responsible for. This is where Robinson’s acting abilities impress to no end – as he straddles the fine line between responsible human and lovestruck teenager. He plays it right, balancing certain pride in his conquest with a believable blindness to what’s right and wrong, given what he’s fallen prey to. A notion that gets even blurrier when the teenager gets taken away by his 30-year-old teacher for his 18th birthday.

It all feels spot on… a testament to A Teacher series creator Hannah Fidell, who based the series off her 2013 film of the same name. (Incidentally also available for viewing on Hulu.)

For all the inappropriate things that go down in A Teacher, it’s not hard to keep watching as it spirals further into cringe, reminding us that predatory behavior isn’t always cut and dry to the victim. Meaning: Eric may feel like “the man,” but his inner child may suffer for a long, long time. Thanks to Robinson’s adept acting, we get to experience – and feel – his messy plight.

The Career:

Depending on your viewing tastes, you’ve either seen Robinson grow up over the years – or you’re first being introduced. If it’s the former, then you’re well aware A Teacher is far from the first time the actor has played a high-school student. In fact, one of his finest roles to date was as the title star in Greg Berlanti’s coming-of-age dramedy, Love, Simon (2018). In it, Robinson played a closeted gay teenager forced to come to grips with his sexuality ahead of schedule.

Born in Seattle, Washington, the 25-year-old Robinson was accepted to NYU back in 2013 but deferred his first year because he was starring on the ABC Family sitcom Melissa & Joey at the time (2010-2015). During that run, Robinson would land his first film role in The Kings of Summer (2013), nominated for the Grand Jury prize at Sundance that year, about a group of friends who build a house in the woods one summer. Not long after, his career would enter a new era when he landed a lead role on the run from prehistoric beasts in Jurassic World (2015). 

That’s when Robinson really never stopped working. The last few years have seen the promising young actor do a slew of action-packed film projects including The 5th Wave (2016), Everything, Everything (2017) and Strange But True (2019) before appearing in the war-themed horror film, Shadow in the Cloud, released this past October co-starring Chloe Grace Moretz.  

A Teacher marks a return to series TV/streaming for the former 2018 Teen Choice winner for Breakout Star, and in a role that won’t likely be forgotten because of its risqué themes, falling somewhere between after-school special and shock-u-drama, depending on how you see it. 

As for what’s next, Robinson is currently shooting the new 10-episode Netflix dramedy, Maid in Canada, where he plays the father of a three-year-old daughter in a story about a single mom struggling to make ends meet. It seems he’s finally graduated from high school once and for all.

________________________________________

 

Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.

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Insider Insight Into Running a Virtual Casting Session

Insider Insight Into Running a Virtual Casting Session

Most commercial casting sessions are done virtually now as opposed to in-person. It is obviously safer, more talent can be auditioned, and fewer expenses are involved by eliminating a nurse requirement to set up and oversee the correctly sanitized environment. There is also an extra step for the casting director with virtual casting, which means extra hours of work. But, no one is complaining because it is most important to keep the work flowing. 

One scenario of how a casting session can flow goes like this: After the casting director puts out the breakdown, we look through all the submission photos and résumés, and then at the talent’s demo reel. For years, I have been urging commercial actors to have a reel on their profile, because it definitely gives you an edge over someone who does not. We get a much better idea of who you are by seeing a video. Now, more than ever, time for experimentation has narrowed.

Your first call.

When we feel you are right for a role, you will be invited to send in a self taped audition. This in essence is your first call. Depending on which breakdown service you are using, the method for us receiving your self tapes will vary. This can range from a casting director’s Dropbox link, to emails, to a built-in delivery method on the breakdown service site. Updates of the main breakdown services are being updated to keep up with casting needs. With the volume of talent and details involved, the goal for the most efficient flow is to keep all elements of a breakdown on the system being used.

Follow directions very carefully.

Talent, you are now part of the casting director’s organizational process. With so much excellent talent competing, anything you do that makes the process more difficult can easily knock you out of the running. To help talent follow directions, some casting directors, in addition to writing out the instructions, are sending a video acting out the detailed slate instructions and showing talent examples of the requested labeling. If you think this is picayune, remember, depending on how many characters are involved, a casting director can easily first have to possibly sift through 4,000 photos and resumés, and then have to view 400 to 800 invited self tapes.

After we view all the self tapes, selected talent will be invited to the virtual casting session with the director.

The virtual casting session.

The virtual casting session allows us to see as much talent as a normal pre-COVID in-person audition. Because of the amount of characters involved, I recently had a virtual director session with 215 talent scheduled.

Each virtual casting session can of course be different. At this session, when you arrived at your appointed time, you waited in a virtual waiting room until we let you into the session. Here, we went over the directions with you before you saw the director. We also took a look at your lighting and made sure your camera was in the correct direction, which is usually horizontal rather than vertical.  

The session director, who is now also our tech director, was simultaneously manning a breakout room. In this breakout room were the session director, the director, and other creatives. Through technology, I was able to see what was going on in the breakout room, as well as enter in and out and speak to my clients to introduce the next talent. I could then select the talent, or group, and send them into the breakout room to audition with the creative team.  

After they finished auditioning you, when you left, you had the choice to sign straight out or stop back into the main session to say “thank you and goodbye” to me. It was actually a nice touch to say goodbye to the talent who stopped back into the main room.

Here are some tips to help your audition run smoothly.

Be on time. It’s always been important to be on time, but now that there is less wiggle room, timing is more important than ever for the success of the virtual casting session. 

Know your phone. Your phone is your lifeline to your audition. Know how to position your phone in the correct direction, and enable it to stay in the right position.  

Maintain your professionalism.

Just because this is a virtual casting session doesn’t mean you should audition from your car, or hang out and lounge on your balcony or sit by your pool during the time we are prepping you.  Keep everything focused on being professional and on the audition task at hand.

All and all, running the virtual session and working with talent and agents only solidifies the great community we are all a part of. This time is a testament to our industry’s tenacity and creativity. 

Terry Berland is an award-winning casting director for commercials, voiceover, film, television and theatre. Her casting awards include Clio, The Houston International Film Festival, Art Director’s Club, Addy, and the International Film and TelevisionFestival. Her former Head Of Casting staff position for Madison Avenue giant BBDO/NY has contributed to her deep understanding and involvement in the advertising industry. She is known throughout the country for her talent development, and is the author of the how-to industry book, ”Breaking Into Commercials.”

For more information about Terry Berland Commercial Acting workshops click here.

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Reproduction or usage of this article on other websites must be credited to Terry Berland, Casting Director.

 

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Our Dream Cast for Disney’s Upcoming Live-Action ‘Lilo & Stitch’

Our Dream Cast for Disney’s Upcoming Live-Action ‘Lilo & Stitch’

Lilo & Stitch is one of the most recent Disney films to get the live-action treatment, and it was recently announced that Jon M. Chu is in talks to direct the upcoming feature. The 2002 animated film centers on the adventures of a 6-year-old Hawaiian girl named Lilo and her older sister Nani, who adopt a blue alien named Stitch that has escaped from his home planet. Together, they fight to keep their little family intact, despite the obstacles presented by a strict social worker and other extraterrestrials seeking to recapture the runaway alien. The original Lilo & Stitch garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature and offers rich source material for the upcoming adaptation. But with no actors yet attached, we’re here to give you our dream cast for the live-action Lilo & Stitch.


Lilo — Siena Agudong

The young actor may be past the age of the original character, but as a minor, she would still fit into the storyline that involves Nani fighting to be Lilo’s guardian after the sisters lose their parents. And aging up the character so that Agudong can bring the role to life would be well worth the adjustment. The budding star is known for her work on series like Netflix’s No Good Nick and Nickelodeon’s Star Falls, which respectively demonstrated her impressive emotional range and comedic timing. Both capabilities are necessary to play the character of Lilo, and since Agudong recently starred in the Disney Channel movie Upside-Down Magic, she’s also no stranger to working with larger-than-life material. The young actor displays in her various roles an endearing mixture of sweet and spunky qualities that make her the perfect fit to play Lilo, so it may come as no surprise that rumors have already begun connecting Agudong to the upcoming film.

Stitch — Jason Momoa

It may seem like an against-type casting to have Momoa voice Stitch in the upcoming adaptation, but the choice has many merits. For example, despite his small size, the blue alien encapsulates a certain degree of ferocity. Stitch eventually softens once he discovers the meaning of “ohana” and the love of his newfound family, but one New York Times review describes the initial character as “a connoisseur of chaos.” Such a role would likely come easily for the actor known by many as Khal Drogo. Plus, Momoa happens to have a great Fozzie Bear impression that bodes well for the actor’s ability to capture the unique voice quality of Stitch. And we think that the Aquaman star could easily handle the physicality of any motion-capture work needed to bring the extraterrestrial to life on the big screen. 

Nani — Auli’i Cravalho

Cravalho is very familiar with Disney projects, considering her breakout role voicing the titular character in Moana. And she’s since moved into live-action work, with roles such as Ariel in The Little Mermaid Live! and Amber Appleton in the recent Netflix drama All Together Now. At 20 years of age, Cravalho would be a good fit for the character of an older sister trying to hold things together and take care of her younger sibling. Plus, between her previous Disney roles and portraying Lilette Suarez in the NBC drama series Rise, the actor has proven her musical talent. We’re hoping that the upcoming Lilo & Stitch adaptation incorporates some version of “Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride” in its new soundtrack, and Cravalho could provide some serious pipes for it. 

Agudong, Momoa, and Cravalho are just our picks for the members of the central “ohana” in Lilo & Stitch. You can also anticipate which actors will bring to life such characters as the alien scientist Jumba, his sidekick Pleakley, and the imposing social worker Cobra Bubbles, whether it be via voice or on-camera acting. The original animated feature received a glowing review from esteemed film critic Roger Ebert, who called the film “a jewel.” In the capable hands of the Crazy Rich Asians director, the upcoming live-action adaptation may also meet with much critical success, especially if it comes with a dream cast list for the lead roles. 

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Acting Up: Odessa A’zion

Acting Up: Odessa A’zion

Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.

[Disclaimer: Plot spoilers ahead.]

 

The Snapshot: Odessa A’zion plays a woke teenager dealing with serious high school trauma in the Netflix dramatic series, Grand Army. (Series dropped: October 16th)

The Performer:  Odessa A’zion

The Series:  Grand Army

 

The Performance: 

Much like high school itself, watching Odessa A’zion bring rebel-teen Joey Del Marco to life is a beautiful – yet sometimes painfully awkward – experience. Being a teenager is tough enough, but when you have to deal with a terrorist attack, sexual assault and rescuing a condom lodged deep inside your friend all in the same school year, you know it’s going to be a doozy. 

That’s just a cursory glimpse of what aspiring feminist Joey Del Marco deals with in Grand Army, a fictional high school in Brooklyn, where she and her best friends navigate the minefield of adolescence. It’s also a place where you realize this may not be exactly the high school experience you had … and yet that’s probably a good thing when you see how it all plays out.

Joey is a 16-year-old molded by the 2020s. Prides herself in being super woke when it comes to “the system,” one reason she stages a mini-coup with friends by wearing a relatively translucent “Free the Nipple” tank top to school. The stunt ends with Joey in a counselor’s office, where she proceeds to convince him of the school’s female double-standard in an impressive logic burst.

What A’zion does really well in this series (with the help of show creator Katie Capiello, who based Grand Army on her award-winning play, SLUT) is present Joey as a byproduct of a generation raised on devices. A teen culture where supposedly “good friends” feel comfortable posting pictures to Instagram of Joey posing with a sex toy. And one where those same friends feel fine to essentially assault her with it in the back of a taxicab, with her boyfriend watching.

That’s one of the central storylines of a series (that has many going for it) – and one where A’zion’s performance hits next-level good. Joey’s traumatic downward spiral that morphs her quickly from woke butterfly to can’t-wake-up-from-a-bad-dream is a cautionary tale for all.

Joey coming to terms with a drunken betrayal at the hands of her friends is the grayish area this series embraces, and rather well. It’s also where audiences are destined to remember A’zion’s portrayal for what it is: raw, real and a true-to-life snapshot of how rape/victim culture works.

 

The Career:

If you’re thinking A’zion’s whole vibe feels familiar, a small debt of genetic gratitude goes to her super-talented mom/actress Pamela Adlon (co-creator/star of Better Things and “the Marce”/“Cokie Smurf” from Showtime’s Californication amongst other notable roles). 

Given her showbiz blood, the 21-year-old A’zion was born in Los Angeles (not surprisingly) and landed her first role in the film Conception (2011) that mom Pamela starred in alongside David Arquette. After cutting her teeth on film at the ripe old age of 12, A’zion would eventually land her first significant TV role in CMT’s Nashville (2017), where she played an unhoused teenager. She then earned a series regular role on the short-lived CBS sitcom Fam (2019), where she starred as the high-school dropout half-sister of star Nina Dobrev during the show’s only season. 

The networked may have slammed the door shut on Fam, but that’s when A’zion’s window of opportunity swung opened – with 2019 marking the same year she got enlisted for Grand Army – a show destined to be a breakout for the talented young actress despite its mixed reviews. 

More good news if you’re a fan of A’zion’s work – it appears she won’t be leaving our screens anytime soon. Confirmed by IMDB, she has no less than four new projects in the works including the young adult film, Supercool, co-starring Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Short.

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Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.

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Get to Know the Casting Director: Jon Comerford with Associate Sara Dang

Get to Know the Casting Director: Jon Comerford with Associate Sara Dang

Jon Comerford won an Emmy this year for his casting work on the sixth and final season of Schitt’s Creek. The show itself collected a record-breaking nine Emmys at this year’s awards show and became the first comedy series to win the four main comedy acting categories in the same season. The feat was made even more impressive by the fact that the Pop TV show hadn’t received one Emmy before its final season. We spoke with Comerford and his associate Sara Dang about their experience casting such a record-breaking series, as well as what it’s like to be a part of their New Life Casting team. Keep reading for a window into the casting people, including their stories of where their careers began.


I always like to hear how people got into the profession of casting. When was the moment that you knew it was the career for you?

Comerford: I was in love with television from an early age, and I would spend hours every night watching it with my mom. It was our family thing to do growing up, and I became fascinated with TV. So I was an actor from the time I was about 17 until I was about 23, just trying to make a living. I remember being unemployed, and a friend of mine asked if I wanted to help work on some short films for the National Film Board of Canada. He figured that since I knew a lot of actors, I could help get them to be in the shorts. There were four shorts all together, and I cast Kathleen Robertson in one of them when she was just 13. And the head of CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] casting came when they were screened at the National Film Board. After the screening, she asked me if I had cast the four shorts. I replied, “I’m not sure, but I got all the actors for them.” Then she asked if I’d done it by myself, and I told her I had. She said, “Well, how would you like to come in on Monday morning to my office?” So I went that Monday morning, and she offered me a job as a casting assistant at CBC. And that was the moment I knew that casting is what I wanted to do.


What a way to break into the business! What about for you, Sara?

Dang: My story is a little different and starts when I was working as a receptionist at a salon while planning to go back to school. At the time, Jon was working with Lisa Parasyn, and they were looking for an assistant. Lisa asked me about the position twice, and I had turned her down both times. The third time she asked, though, for some reason I said yes without even thinking about it. I don’t know what changed my mind, but I came in for the interview and they hired me on the spot. I was shocked because I didn’t have any previous experience. And I’ll say that prior to working in casting, I was very timid and shy and didn’t want to go out of my comfort zone. This job actually made me the person I am today. Now I stand up for myself when things aren’t right, and Jon has played a big part in all of it. He’s shown a lot of trust and belief in me, as well as provided endless opportunities to grow my career. I will never forget the things he’s taught me along the way.


It’s inspiring to hear about the genuine care and mentorship that’s happening with your team.

Comerford: We are a team, which includes [New Life Casting assistants] Tannaz and Camille. Sara calls us a little family, and I agree. I also want to add that Sara is going to be a really great casting director. She started as my assistant and is now working as an associate, putting casting sessions together. There’s this amazing ability she has for names and for putting lists together of actors that would be right for certain parts. And I think it’s important to note that we’re always on the actor’s side. It’s the grandest job in the world to be able to work with actors to get the take that they’re happy with and that we’re happy with — that’s the one we use. 


Speaking of how your team is very pro-actor, are there any inspiring stories from casting Schitt’s Creek that you can share?

Comerford: Well, before booking the role of Alexis, Annie Murphy hadn’t worked for around two years. So the day she was cast was unbelievable because she had been about to give up and leave the business. And then I already knew Emily Hampshire, who plays Stevie, from casting her when she was 16 in a movie of the week called Every 9 Seconds. When she came in to audition for Stevie, she didn’t give a great first read for the role. After she finished the scene, Emily pulled the top part of her sweater over her head and ran out the door. I went and got her, and she came back to do the scene again. From there, it was such a slam dunk to cast her in the role. It was amazing finding the core cast members, but casting additional roles on a weekly basis was exciting in a different way. That all works in a very structured way like a puzzle, which was something we had to learn.


You learned it very well, according to your recent Emmy win for Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series. How did it feel to win for the show’s sixth and final season?

Comerford: I mean, it was an unbelievable feeling to receive it after six years. Sara and I had won a CSA [Canadian Screen Award] for it, but to win an Emmy was … I still pinch myself. It was very exciting, and I think the first person I called was Sara because she’s been with me on the show for almost its entire run.

Dang: I joined toward the end of season one, and it’s been so fun to cast the characters because of how good the show is. We were always so excited to read the scripts when they’d arrive. But when I heard that Jon had won, I just couldn’t believe it. It was so unreal.

Amongst other new projects, Comerford and Dang are casting the upcoming BET mini-series entitled The Porter. And knowing the New Life Casting team, it’s sure to be an enjoyable experience. “Because if it’s not fun, we’re doing something wrong,” Comerford noted. It’s a fitting work mantra for someone Dang likens to Ed O’Neill due to a physical resemblance and Comerford’s sense for comedy. “Sometimes Jon doesn’t mean to be funny, but he is a very funny person,” Dang shared. Comerford added that if a project were made about his associate, it would be a stand-up comedy piece that would star Ali Wong as Dang. “It would be called ‘What the Heck?’ because that’s her office line when things go wrong,” Comerford said with a laugh. The casting director and his team demonstrate that a fun approach to casting can lead to great things, demonstrated by his recent Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series win for Schitt’s Creek

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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