Monday, March 28, 2016

The Oregonian asks “What’s it Like?”

by Georgia Luke

Kristi Turnquist of the Oregonian chatted with Lana–as well as Costume Designer Critter Pierce and Producer David Cress–about what it takes to put together a television series. Here’s Kristi’s story, which ran in the A&E this Sunday, March 28th.

Lana and her dog Justin at her SE Portland office.

Job: Casting director; founder of Cast Iron Studios

Credits: Veenker’s company has cast actors in NBC’s “Grimm,” TNT’s “The Librarians,” TNT’s “Leverage,” and the movies “Twilight,” “Wild,” and “The Road,” among others.

How she got into this: A Portland native, Veenker moved overseas for about a decade, where she traveled and went to school. She completed her performing arts degree at Portland State University, then moved to London to pursue theater directing. “The job fell through, and it was winter, and I was starving, and I had no food.” After getting a job with a London casting director, Veenker eventually moved back to Portland.

“My parents were here, and I thought I could crash on their couch, save up some money, then go to Los Angeles. Somebody here found out I had experience, and hired me for a commercial. I hung up a shingle in 1999, and made it official. I started my casting company on a shoestring, with a cell phone and a card table as a desk.”

What a casting director does: After meeting with producers to find out what roles they need to cast for a commercial, TV show or movie, Veenker reaches out to acting agencies. “We look through hundreds of submissions, and we narrow it down. We do auditions and forward those clips, and they tell us who they want to see for callbacks. The actors come back and do the same thing for the directors and producers, who decide who they want to hire.”

Rising to the challenge: “One time an actor we booked on ‘Leverage’ walked into a glass wall and gashed his head. I got a call at 6:30 in the morning saying, ‘We need to replace this actor right now.’ Recently, on ‘Grimm,’ an actress who had signed a contract got a text from her agent saying she got booked for a job she wanted more. She left for L.A. the night before her shoot, and completely left us hanging. We knew who to call, and got someone on set.”
Casting for diversity: “Our clients are always asking us for more diversity. We put actors of color through a training program (in 2015) that TNT agreed to pay for. Hopefully, we’ll be booking them on ‘The Librarians’ and other shows. And I would love to see more women’s roles in shows. There are lots of good women in town who haven’t been cast.”

Familiar faces: “If you watch ‘Grimm,’ Bud the refrigerator repairman is a local, Danny Bruno. We cast another recurring role on ‘Grimm,’ Sgt. Franco, who’s played by Robert Blanche, who’s a local actor. We cast from five to 25 costar and guest star roles per ‘Grimm’ episode – it varies. Maybe they’re bringing two people up from L.A. as guest stars, but all the rest are budgeted to be hired locally. We cast mostly from Oregon, with some people coming down from Seattle.”

Can local actors make a living in Portland?: “There are a few that make a living full-time as actors. They kind of have to piece things together, doing voice-over, which pays pretty well, or commercials, or print modeling. Some teach acting classes, or have other little side businesses.”

Parting thought: “I went to the Fox Searchlight Oscar party when ‘Wild’ was at the Oscars, in 2015. I got to meet the director of ‘Birdman,’ Alejandro Iñárritu, and I got to hold his Oscar like, five minutes after he got off the stage. Mostly what we do is work, but every once in a while we get a little splash of glamour. So that’s kind of fun.”

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