In the June 2013 Horizon edition of the Alaska Airlines Magazine, Eric Gold explores the Portland locations and local businesses that play an important part in the film and television industry.
The 10-page article features Oregon location scout Roger Faires, Portlandia producer David Cress, the Oscar-nominated animation company LAIKA, prominent animation-industry players Will Vinton, Jim Blashfield, Joan Gratz, Joanna Priestley and Bill Plympton, directors Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes, Shelly Midthun of the City of Portland, Ray DiCarlo, Chel White and David Daniels of Bent Image Lab, actors Carrie Brownstein, Fred Armisen, Danny Bruno, Robert Blanche, Diego Velazquez and Gabe Nevins, and Vince Porter of the Governor’s Office of Film and Television, among others.
His segment on Cast Iron Studios is excerpted below.
Cast Iron Studios
For live-action needs, many filmmakers and TV producers call Lana Veenker, founder and owner of Cast Iron Studios. The onetime stage actor, originally from Portland, learned casting in Europe, where her employers included a London casting office. When she returned to Portland in 1999, she thought it would be just a pit stop on the way to a bigger city, but “people found out I had done casting and started hiring me,” she says. “Next thing you know, I’ve got a company.”
As casting directors, Veenker and her associates find actors who fit specified parts, then represent producers in contract negotiations with the talent agents who represent the performers. “We’re like the buffer between the creative artists and the money people,” Veenker says. Her firm draws primarily from talent-agency rosters and from its own database of unrepresented local actors, but occasionally uses other methods, such as when it turned to social media to find cast members for Van Sant’s Paranoid Park. Van Sant wanted “real kids,” not movie stars, for his film focused on a high school skateboarder, Veenker says. A post on MySpace invited teenagers ranging from skaters to honor roll students, from shy kids to class clowns, to attend cattle call auditions. The posting drew 2,971 Portland-area teens. One of them, skateboarder Gabe Nevins, landed the lead role.
Generally, out-of-town productions will come to Portland with a few celebrities attached, then hire everyone else locally, Veenker says. The requirements for each role are different and go beyond acting. A director’s preferences, the physical stature of the stars the other actors will play alongside, and stunt ability can all be considerations.
A typical episode of a TV series such as Grimm, which Cast Iron Studios handles, could involve five to 20 roles. A feature film could involve 30 or more roles. In recent years, Veenker’s company has cast the gothic phenomenon Twilight; the Harrison Ford film Extraordinary Measures (including casting Portland’s Diego Velazquez in the role of a son); and the romantic comedy Management, starring Jennifer Aniston. Two Portland actors her company cast for Grimm—Danny Bruno (as a beaverlike refrigerator repairman) and Robert Blanche (as a Portland police officer)—have seen their roles evolve into recurring parts. Television commercials for companies such as Nike, Intel, Apple and Facebook keep her staff busy between film and television work.
When not casting, Veenker travels internationally to speak about the industry, and locally, she lobbies legislators in Oregon’s capital of Salem. The industry generally has strong bipartisan support, she says, especially when legislators are able to visit a set. “It’s not just these Hollywood types drinking lattes,” she says. “It’s a lot of local carpenters and electricians. Good jobs.”
Many thanks to Eric Gold for his thorough coverage of Oregon Film & TV!