The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) added an award for Best Casting in 2020. Will the Oscars soon follow suit?
When Hollywood gets together, either in person or via Zoom, for the 93rd Academy Awards, it will be a moment for the film industry to celebrate the work they’ve done over the past year and beyond during a period of immense strife. Champagne will be drunk, teary speeches will be given, and the various aspects of filmmaking, including many oft-overlooked departments, will receive some much-earned recognition. That is, except for some notable omissions. Actors will win awards, but the people who put them on screen in the first place won’t.
For decades, the job of casting has been one of the most overlooked and easily misunderstood aspects of entertainment, from film to TV to theater to video games and beyond. Yet none of those things work without it. Every time you see a person on stage or screen (or hear them in a radio drama or play them in a game), someone had to cast them. From the central ensemble to the background extras to the voices on the phone, all of those actors were hand-picked by a casting team, and that process is one of the toughest and most widely dismissed parts of the industry.
It’s hard to look at the face of modern entertainment in all its forms and not consider the indelible role that casting plays in shaping that. Consider the work of Sarah Halley Finn, the woman who is largely responsible for filling out the cast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, thus helping to define the blockbuster of the 21st century, or Nina Gold, the woman behind the multi-award-winning ensembles of beloved shows like Game of Thrones, The Crown, and Chernobyl, not to forget the most recent Star Wars trilogy and no fewer than six Oscar-winning films.
Finn told the Washington Post that she’s cast more than a thousand roles overall for Marvel, from Avengers to background dancers to voices in Tony Stark’s ear. Consider the risks made by Finn and her team in casting Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man at a time when he was considered unemployable by much of Hollywood, or in hiring an unknown Australian soap star as Thor. Not only did Finn have to anticipate whether these actors would be right for a role that could unfold over several movies, but she had to consider harmony between individuals who would not necessarily appear on screen together for years, interactions that fans were clamoring for thanks to their vast knowledge of the characters’ lore. How different would the MCU Spider-Man movies be if Finn and her team hadn’t anticipated that crackling chemistry between Downey Jr. and Tom Holland, putting the young Brit forward for consideration by the filmmaking team as the latest Peter Parker. For many fans of George R.R. Martin’s expansive saga, casting appropriate actors seemed like an impossible task, yet previously unknown players like Gwendoline Christie, Sophie Turner, and Jack Gleeson, to name but three, ended up being perfect choices. Our entire concept of a pop-culture hero has been remolded for a new generation by the behind-the-scenes work of people like Finn and Gold.
Of course, the director and producer are also part of the casting process, particularly on huge projects like the MCU or the like. And that only feeds into the problem for casting in that it’s something of an invisible art. As Debbie McWilliams, who cast the recent Bond films, told the Guardian last year, “If you notice the casting of a film, we haven’t done a good job.” But what goes into the art of casting?
“”In the same way that production designers and costume designers use their skills, creativity and discernment to bring a selection of options to the director—who then signs off on the final choices—casting directors amass a library of talent through the thousands of hours of auditions they direct, plays and showcases they attend, and films and TV shows they watch,” Lana Veenker tells IGN. She’s the Executive Board Member of the International Casting Directors Network and founder of Cast Iron Studios, which has worked on the casting of projects like American Vandal, Grimm, and Twilight. “The tremendous amount of labor this entails results in a keen eye that allows them to hone in on exactly the right actors for the part, elicit powerful performances in the audition room, and present a tight selection of the most compelling choices to the final decision-makers. When it comes to the cast, they are a production’s best resource, advocates, and guardian angels.”
The Birch, starring Portland’s own Xaria Dotson in the lead role as Evie, has been a blast for us to work on. And now Season 2 is about to premiere!
Season 1 of this killer Facebook Watch series has managed to tally millions of views so far, and the publicity stills of the next installment look amazing:
New episodes are scheduled to drop on Fridays at 3pm PT / 6pm ET beginning on March 26, 2021. The finale is scheduled to air May 28th.
Check out the synopsis of S2:
Picking up where season one suspensefully left off, the second season of Crypt TV’s The Birch follows newcomer Rory, who calls on the vengeful woodland tree monster, The Birch, to help her combat the cyberbullying and harassment from her peers. As the second season unfolds, Evie gets her shot at redemption as she tries to stop Rory from making the same mistakes she did, leading to many thrilling and supernatural adventures along the way.
We recently helped cast around 25 supporting roles in the Netflix feature Metal Lords, written by Game of Thrones co-creator D.B. Weiss, and directed by Peter Sollett (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist). The film shot in Oregon in 2020 and early 2021.
Check out this Entertainment Weekly article introducing the filmmakers and main cast (hat-tip to LA Casting Director Richard Hicks!), and keep an eye out for the Northwest cast on Netflix, coming soon.
Metal Lords, directed by Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist filmmaker Peter Sollett and written by Weiss, centers on two kids who want to start a heavy metal band in a high school where exactly two kids care about heavy metal.
“In France Michelle is a Man’s Name,” the short film by Em Weinstein that we recently cast, has been awarded the 2020 Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Narrative Short at Outfest, the largest and oldest film festival–of any kind–in Los Angeles, and the preeminent and most widely-recognized LGBTQ film festival in the world.
Here’s what the Programming Coordinator said: “I am absolutely delighted to tell you that our U.S. Narrative Shorts jury fell in love with the film and has awarded IN FRANCE MICHELLE IS A MAN’S NAME with the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Narrative Short. Congratulations!! In addition to the honor itself, this prize officially designates the film as an Academy Award-qualifying title for the category of Best Live Action Short Film.”
A HUGE CONGRATS to the filmmakers, cast and crew!
A full article about Outfest’s 2020 award winners appears in The Advocate. Free The Work also published a great piece about the project.
For more information and updates, please visit the film’s website and follow it on Instagram at @infrancefilm.
“In France Michelle is a Man’s Name” shot in Portland, The Dalles, and surrounding areas last fall. The mostly-Northwest cast included–among others–the talented actors below, who were all hired by our office. BRAVO!
Cast Iron Studios celebrated the holidays by launching an all new fundraiser with a collection of old gems! Taking a break from the popular “Meals For Monologues” this year, actors in the community dug out their dusty old, vintage headshots from seasons past and let them shine for charity.
Entrance into the event was an old headshot along with a suggested $5.00 minimum donation. Participants were instructed to write their favorite charitable organization on the back of their photo and post it on the wall for all to see. As guests mingled and enjoyed holiday bevs and bites, a secret ballot box collected everyone’s vote for their favorite old headshot.
The winning photo revealed the winning charity where the evenings proceeds were sent. A big CONGRATS to ANNA NICHOLAS, pictured below, who was the WINNER. Her charity of choice was Planned Parenthood and all proceeds from the event went directly to them. Thanks ANNA!
Thanks again to everyone who came down to Cast Iron Studios and participated. Another page in the holiday history books!
Portland’s own Lana Veenker is celebrating 20 years as a casting director! In that time, she’s made a name for herself both here and abroad — having just returned from the Rome Film Festival where she rubbed elbows with Italian film royalty. Lana joined us to look back at the last 20 years of film and TV productions in Oregon. For more information about Lana Veenker, check her out on IMDb.
Many thanks to the team at AM Northwest for helping us celebrate this milestone! We’re so grateful for our community.
Plans to celebrate a milestone anniversary for Cast Iron Studios were postponed after the company’s founder, Casting Director Lana Veenker, was invited to serve on the jury of the Rome Film Festival’s Alice Nella Città program on October 26th, 2019.
“Spending my 20th anniversary in casting as a jurist at the Rome Film Festival was an offer I couldn’t refuse,” said Veenker. The other jurists included Talent Agent Frédérique Moidon (France), Cinematographer Alfonso Maiorana (Canada), and Producer Uliana Kovaleva (Russia).
Veenker, who spent about a decade overseas before founding Cast Iron Studios in 1999, has always incorporated her love for travel and languages with her vocation in the entertainment industry. She studied theatre in Paris and Cambridge, and performed on stages in four countries and three languages prior to landing a job in a London casting office in the late 90s. She has lectured in more than 20 countries, and in 2008, was one of the sole Americans to have been inducted into the International Casting Directors Network (headquartered in Berlin), where she currently serves on its first official board of directors.
On October 26th (the date of Cast Iron Studios’ first casting session 20 years prior), Veenker was on stage again, this time in Rome to present the DO Cine Rising Talent Award for Best Young Performer (International Panorama), which was awarded to Belgium’s Anna Franziska Jäger for her performance in Cleo. Other award presenters included Carlo Verdone, one of Italy’s most renowned actors, and Screenwriter Nicola Guaglianone.
“It was a whirlwind weekend, with an incredibly warm welcome from everyone at the Rome Film Festival, especially Talent Agent Daniele Orazi and Producer Carla Mori,” said Veenker. “Once they learned about my 20th anniversary, they rolled out the red carpet to make it an unforgettable experience.”
While Cast Iron Studios’ anniversary celebration back home has been postponed to a yet-unknown date, the weekend’s events in Rome represented a full circle for Veenker.
“I began my career with the dream of working internationally, and have somehow realized that goal, even while remaining based in Portland. It felt like an affirmation of more than two decades of hard work.”
Click below to listen to one of Lana’s interviews in Rome:
THE VERDICT IS IN: The Wonderland Murders Season 2 is live!
Word is out that Season 2 of the hit true-crime series, “The Wonderland Murders”, has just premiered on Investigation Discovery.
Set in the backdrop of the vast and oftentimes dense and dark PNW, the series tells the real-life stories of local Pacific Northwesterners who encountered tragedy, and the subsequent pursuit for truth, answers and closure.
Production kicked off last winter, and took over the region leaving no clues uncovered. With a host of characters from all corners of the state, our local actors brought these stories to life, portraying real people and giving a voice to the voiceless.
Be sure to catch it Wednesdays at 6:00p PDT on ID. (Check local listings.)
Kicking off the summer season with new connections and old friends
Cast Iron Studios hosted an intimate happy hour this week, celebrating a few new members of the Oregon Media and Production Association. This select group was joined by the Cast Iron team, along with a handful of studio friends, to connect, discuss the latest up-and-coming production buzz, and enjoy some delicious bites and bevs!
Thanks to everyone who joined in on the fun and conversation. Cheers to a new season with plenty of exciting, fresh projects barrelling down, or shall we say ‘shooting’ down the local production pipeline!
Z&Z will have a one-week theatrical run in Los Angeles, opening May 17th. Join some of the cast and crew for opening night, or any time that week. The film will run four times a day at the Laemmle Noho Theater, times TBA.
WATCH THE FILM ON VOD, PPV or DVD
Can’t make it to LA? Z&Z comes out on DVD and VOD/PPV in mid-May. Like the project’s Facebook page for updates.
Leading up to the event, improv and comedic actors paired up and threw down their best British accents in one of the loudest and most eventful casting sessions on this side of the Atlantic. Ultimately cast for the cheeky roles were actors Josh Edward and Damon Kupper, who held court on April 19th in Director Park as passersby were encouraged to gather round and egg on the royal duo as they “made way for the Queen”!
The boisterously hilarious and engaging Town Crier interacted with the crowd in attempts to crack up and make guffaw the ever so straight and stoic Queen’s Royal Guard. The best wisecracks and wittiest of jokes reigned–and the further the Royal Guard’s guard was let down, the chance for someone to win a trip to London went WAY UP! Congrats all around on a successful live event.
…And the flight hasn’t officially taken off yet! There’s still time to jump onboard and enter the contest!
From its yearly Talent Diversity Initiative, to its participation in nationwide casting calls for transgender actors and performers with disabilities, to its commitment to always questioning the way roles are written—in order to create more opportunities for women, LGBTQ performers and others—Cast Iron Studios has long been an advocate for underrepresented performers.
Now, inspired by the work of the Annenberg Institute, Cast Iron Studios is working on incorporating an inclusion rider into its casting deals. “The idea is to challenge ourselves,” said President and Founder Lana Veenker, “as well as the production companies we enter into contract with, to more affirmatively seek opportunities for actors who have been historically underutilized.”
This inclusion rider will serve as a benchmark for all future projects; celebrating and ensuring the widest possible range of equity, diversity and inclusion. Based in part on the Annenberg Institute’s open-source template, Cast Iron Studios’ rider will also invite clients to make an optional financial contribution towards the Talent Diversity Initiative (TDI), which provides high-quality, intensive actor training to performers of color (and potentially, in the future, to other underrepresented groups) at no cost to the actors.
The goal of the TDI is to create a larger pool of qualified diverse talent for productions to choose from when shooting in the Northwest by removing the financial barrier to high-quality training, opening doors to networking opportunities in the local film and television community, and funneling participants towards bona fide acting coaches, talent agents, managers and casting companies.
“Graduates frequently go on to book roles in local productions,” said Veenker,” reducing the need for our clients to hire outside of market. By including this provision in our rider, we’re asking clients to not only hire more underrepresented artists today, but to help us build the talent pool of tomorrow; one that more accurately reflects the demographics of the world we live in.”
Roles for Women Hired Locally Increase by 20%
We’re also very happy to report that a recent snapshot of the stats for roles for women cast out of Cast Iron Studios shows an increase in roughly 20% over the past couple of years—and we’re determined and passionate about keeping this momentum going in all areas.
However, there’s still plenty of work to be done, as the stats for women across the board in Film/TV are still pretty dire, both in front of and behind the camera.
According to a recent study by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, male leads vastly outnumber female leads—71.3% compared to 28.8%—over a ten year span. This means that men’s stories were featured twice as often as women’s stories.
Behind the camera, according to a survey released by the Center for the Study of Women in TV/Film at San Diego State University, “The Celluloid Ceiling” by Martha M. Lauzen, Ph.D., women made up only 20% of all the directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers who worked on the top 250 films in the last year.
In the words of Geena Davis:
“How do we encourage a lot more girls to inspire to lead? By casting droves of women in STEM, politics, law and other professions today in movies.”
For women, performers of color, LGBTQIA+ performers, and performers with disabilities, here’s to (cast) ironing out the gaps!
Renowned Oregon actor Robert Blanche received a life-saving double lung transplant in August, but has had a difficult time recovering. A Portland resident, Robert has been in ICU in Seattle for six months, with his wife and daughters (ages four and six months old), living nearby. Local SAG-AFTRA members therefore dedicated their January 27th SAG Awards Viewing Party to him, by hosting the “SOS: Salute to Our Star Robert Blanche Fundraiser.”
Our team first met Robert nearly 20 years ago, casting him in various commercials and print campaigns. Since then, he has appeared in many of Cast Iron Studios’ film and TV projects, including NBC’s A Walk In My Shoes, TNT’s Leverage (recurring as Detective Captain Bonanno), and over 30 episodes of NBC’s Grimm as Sergeant Franco. A beloved actor in the community, Robert and his work continue to be celebrated today amongst industry colleagues, union members, friends and family.
The SAG Awards Viewing Party and “SOS: Salute to Our Star Robert Blanche Fundraiser” was a standing-room-only smash hit. One hundred “friends of Robert” showed up to the Lake Theater in Lake Oswego, and raised over $2,500.00 for Robert and his family. The raffle was an amazing success and many union members walked away with delightful goodies, including Amanda Fugate-Moss and Myhraliza Aala, who each won an actor career counseling session, donated by Cast Iron Studios. Additionally, Kristina Haddad won a 2-night hotel voucher, contributed by Casting Associate Ranielle Gray.
With $17,000 left to raise in order to reach their goal, there’s still time to donate! The campaign runs until Valentine’s Day – and what better way to celebrate than a heart full of love and support for Robert.
Casting Director Eryn Goodman and Casting Associate Ranielle Gray made a whirlwind trip to Los Angeles in late January to attend the 2019 Artios Awards, and meet face-to-face with members of the casting community, who are so often only at the other end of a phone or email exchange from our cozy corner here in the Pacific Northwest.
Among those honored at the Casting Society of America’s annual awards ceremony were Robert J. Ulrich, Eric Dawson and Carol Kritzer. UDK Casting received the Hoyt Bowers Award for Excellence in Casting.
Also taking home a top honor for the night was Laura Dern, presented with the Lynn Stalmaster Award for Career Achievement by #OregonMade Wild director Jean Marc Vallée. Cast Iron Studios cast around 30 principal roles in the Oscar-nominated film, based on Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir.
And though we of course cheered for all nominees and winners, we were especially glad to see so many of the casting directors we’ve worked with over the years be honored for their achievements, including David Rubin (Wild), Corinne Clark (Timmy Failure) and Jennifer Page (Timmy Failure) for Children’s Pilot and Series (Live Action) “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, Meg Morman and Sunday Boling (“In the Vault”) for Shortform Series “Relationship Status”, and Margery Simkin (Extraordinary Measures) with Michael Donovan and Associate Richie Ferris for Special Theatrical Performance Mamma Mia!.
Thank you so much to everyone who showed their support for the Oregon Food Bank by participating in the 8th annual Meals for Monologues event on December 14, 2018. We were thrilled that The Studio NW invited us into their beautiful space and hosted us all for the day.
Official word from the Oregon Food Bank is that we as a community pulled together 336 pounds of food and $453.07 in donated funds this year. All combined, that’s enough to provide approximately 1,611 meals for hunger relief directly to our neighbors.
In addition, we were given amazing total numbers that Meals for Monologues has gathered over the 8 years we’ve been doing this! Since 2011 we’ve helped to provide over 16,000 meals! We couldn’t do it without you, and we’re thrilled to spearhead this event year after year.
We here at Cast Iron Studios are firm believers in giving back, especially during the holiday season. We’re happy to announce that our eighth annual “Meals for Monologues” canned food drive-slash-holiday get-together will be a co-production with The Studio NW!
Be sure to note the new address: The Studio Northwest, 1633 NW Glisan.
Live in Oregon, but outside of the Portland Metro area and still want to audition? Repped by an agent, regularly seen at our office, and helping us out by leaving audition slots open to unrepped talent who may be new to us? We will accept demo reels or self-tapes from Oregon actors, in exchange for a screenshot of your donation to the Oregon Food Bank. Submission must be received by December 14th to guarantee viewing by our casting directors. See instructions below.
SELF-TAPE SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS FOR OUT-OF-TOWN ACTORS
You must be an OREGON LOCAL HIRE with a permanent Oregon address to submit for this general audition.
Self-taped monologue or professional demo reel must be no longer than TWO MINUTES.
If self-taping, be sure you are framed in LANDSCAPE mode, in a CLOSE-UP (head and shoulders), with good lighting and sound. Typically, you would direct your lines to the side of camera, not directly into the lens (it may help to use a real human off-camera).
Submission MUST be a LINK to view your video online, NOT a FILE attached to your email. Upload your video to Vimeo, YouTube or a similar platform and send us the direct URL only. Emails containing video attachments will be deleted.
You may password-protect your video, but be sure to send us the password with your submission.
Special thanks go out to Brian Lord of the Portland Film Office/Prosper Portland, who encouraged us to keep the program going, even if on a smaller scale; to Tim Williams, Executive Director of Oregon Film, for his unwavering support over the years; and to the coaches, who helped us to nearly double the value of our available funds.
We are thrilled to have these wonderful and talented actors as part of this year’s Talent Diversity Initiative!