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Z NATION  SEASON 3 – FUN FACTS ‘n’ CASTING TRIVIA 

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Last week I  was reflecting on my  casting director’s mission statement from  2006. Back then I went from full time stage (Producing Artistic Director) to full time screen and began casting mid-sized feature films ranging from $1MIL-$10MIL.

Mission Statement:  To deepen, widen,  educate the Talent pool in the NW, cast as many Pacific NW actors possible so that they can enjoy their craft + living wage whilst living in the beautiful NW. 

When Sy Fy announced that Z Nation (which is shot in Spokane, Eastern Washington)) was to  be renewed for a 4th season, I thought about all the Actors I had auditioned for Season 3 including those  who had travelled 300+ miles to Spokane for producer callbacks. I recalled  the NW actors that had been on  hold, on avails, on right of first refusal or just on tenterhooks, waiting…  I recalled the hundreds of details that go into being the lead Casting Director for a cable show, whilst living in Seattle and casting throughout the NW and LA. Then I thought back to season 2, and then to season 1. I recalled the plethora of moving parts, the juggling and assessing, the ‘sensitive’ personalities and  fragile negotiations,  the high octane momentum from day one of casting …  and I came up with a new title for what I do: “Casting Producer”, and then I gave  myself an imaginary “Certificate of Diplomacy – on a Grand Scale”.

Below are answers to some of the FAQs, casting metrics,  and trivia about casting  Z Nation, Season 3.

  • The wonderful actress in the photo above is Kellita Smith who plays Warren, the leader of our heroes.  Within seconds of our first meeting, and on hearing my British accent, she nick-named me “High Tea”. The name has stuck for 3 years in our Z-fam.
  • *85% or more of recurring, guest and co-star roles in season 3 are Actors based in the NW.
  • The current SAG wage is approx $900+/day. A 3 day contract is approx $2300; a weekly contract is approx $3000/week.  There is usually overtime paid.
  • At an estimate, NW Actors earned, per person,  between $1000 and $20,000 for  days worked on set.
  • NW Actors newly cast in season 3 only, grossed collectively, approx $200,000+ during 5 months of filming.
  • The above does not include re-curring Actors from  season 1, 2 and 3 eg:   Nat Zang – 10K, (series regular) Russell Hodgkinson – Doc, (series regular), Lisa Coronado – Dr Merch (recurring S1,2,3)  Pisay Pao – Cassandra, (series regular) Mark Carr – Sketchy (S1,2,3) , Doug Dawson – Skeezy  (S1,2,3), Sara Coates – Pie Girl (S1,2,3) are all NW actors.
  • I received more thank you cards from Actors for season 3 then in any of the other seasons. Beautiful cards.
  • I selected a small cadre (of actors), trained them in the art of being a reader for the Actor while supporting the integrity and casting needs of the Producers. We call it ‘the NIC way’. They are now dedicated NIC casting assistants.
  • Portland Actors took Z Nation Producers  by storm in Season 3 prompting me to travel to Portland to audition Actors instead of having them  travel to the Seattle or do self-tapes.
  • In Season 3, Producers were insistent on having the best Actor for the role, wherever that Actor was on the planet!  There were only two occasions in 5 months and over 50+ roles when I questioned if the best Actor was  selected.
  • Of all the TV shows shooting in the NW, only Z Nation  offers the NW Actor the opportunity to star in a 40 minute episodes eg: Kate Witt (309).  Only  Z Nation offers NW Actors the opportunity to audition and be seriously considered for series regular and recurring roles.
  • NIC utlisies the casting software: Casting Networks to capture auditions and send ‘tapes’ to Producers.  In season 1 we also utilized Casting Frontier.
  • For Episode 306, we  received 900+ submissions from talent agents for 7 (seven)  roles, 500+ of the submissions were for women.
  • To cast a black actor (Brandon Marino) in the double iconic role of “Elvis and Elvis Impersonator” was my moment of casting joy! It remains one of my greatest moments casting for the screen.
  • I saw more auditions by female Actors between the ages of 30 and 60 (March -September 2016 ) then at any other time in my career as a casting director and/or Director in theatre.
  • At producer callbacks I sometimes serve as the Reader in order to raise the performance bar.  One actor was so funny, so present, so connected with me that I burst out laughing. I was literally  unable to finish the scene.  The actor was Austin Hillebrecht, Portland actor with Option Model and Media Agency.  He booked the gig! (Ep 306)
  • An episode of  Z Nation  is usually shot  in  5-6 days before going into post-production.  The ideal casting cycle would be 9-10 days. Sometimes episodes were cast in 2-3 days.
  • In Casting Networks there is folder labelled: “Still To Be Cast”. In this folders are NW actors who came very close to being cast.  At the close of season 3 – there are still 20 actors in the folder. The idea is that they ‘roll over’ into the next season.
  • Admittedly not every role goes to a NW actor. Competition is a good and necessary part of growth and excellence.
  • Youth Actors, aged 7-17  were  significantly featured in recurring and co-starring roles. Of the guest/recurring roles for youth Actors 50% went to the NW.
  • The most annoying habit from Actors this season in studio was ‘vocal fry’. The only thing worse than vocal fry was Actors having no awareness that they were committing vocal fry.
  • One time I viewed 273 on-line submissions for the role of “FEMALE DRIVER”. She  had  6 lines.

*All dollar amounts approximate and based on my own calculations.

 

 

Headshots! It’s a Process … Even for the Casting Director.

 

thumb_img_2901_1024I have a Trainer, a Life Coach, my ‘Lady Doctor’, a Dentist, a Lawyer, a Naturopath. I don’t have a personal shopper, but I do have a BFF and a Spiritual Counsellor. During my last photoshoot I acknowledged that I also have a Photographer; the guy who takes my headshots. Unbeknownst to him, he is part spiritual counsellor, life coach, therapist, and BFF! Actors often ask: “how often should I have a new headshot done” and I say every time  you experience a significant life change. It is then that you deepen emotionally and psychologically. It is then that you relinquish your  weapons,  emotional weapons, and come to the camera vulnerable and open, too dazed by growth to weaponize or mask your core being. In that moment it is time to renew your commitment to your Actor with a headshot session.

 

thumb_img_2915_1024Exactly a year ago, I had a significant and ‘uninvited’ life shift. This year I turned 50 (with considerable joy on the 50 part, I must say. I do love getting older!). I could feel the deepening of my life; a life lived fully as an Artist and I  knew it would soon be time to  check in with my ‘Headshot Guy’ even thought I didn’t feel ready. The first attempt to book a session failed; March 2016, which is when I started casting Season 3 of Z Nation. Why would I schedule a headshot session just as I start to cast 15 episodes of a network show!?  I tried again in July. And cancelled a week later with Sorry J…”busy”. (Notice a pattern? 2 words: Avoidance. Tactics.) Finally I told myself that after casting 15 episodes of Zombie Apocalyptic mania for Sy Fy channel,  I would schedule a shoot. My Assistant held me to it;  she is fearless!

thumb_img_2919_1024My Photographer is brilliant. We usually talk for about 4-6 weeks before our session via email. And in our session he asks me more questions. In email he asked me what I wanted to achieve and why?  He makes me accountable.  I sent him a pinterest board of about 40 images showing tones, styles, lighting, looks,  to help him to understand what I saw and ‘felt’ in my mind’s eye.  He co-creates with me. He fills the studio with the music of my choice, he supports me to giggle, to be shy and bold, strong and uncertain, vulnerable and confident. He exudes the patience of a Saint. After an hour we review the shots and he asks if I am seeing what I had imagined. We discuss the shots taken thus far and he advises me on posture and stance. He gives me important and much needed feedback and I invite more of the same. I want to the benefit of his skilled  eye; what he sees that is, and is not, working. He tells me the story of myself from the perspective of his lens. It is illuminating, the camera.

nike_imoru_2016-1202 hours into the session and feeling a little fatigued I throw all caution to the wind and throw him a goofy not-me-but-totally-me-when-i’m-with-my-kid-brother pose. And then I am opening up about all manner of things, that somehow flow from me, as he  clicks away agreeing with everything I say, laughing and sympathizing in all the right places, right on cue. And right then he  becomes my best BFF, ever.

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At one point I said to him you’ve known me since 2004 and  seen me in multiple artistic contexts. At the moment I delight in wearing three hats and they are distinct from one another but with crossovers. Can you capture that?  Casting Director, Ultimate Actor’s Coach, and  Actor? I’m thinking simple … simplified …I’m all about the work … no frills … a classic sort of black ‘n’ white, … jeans n tee … relaxed but present, warm, grounded, a little bit of shy … confident … direct, I’ve got your back … ultimate actor’s coach, casting director, Actress, London, #justdoitNikeImoru, #Be.

 

 Could  you capture that in a single click?

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Join me in my next seminar “Inside the Casting Director’s Studio – SHOW ME YOUR HEADSHOT!  Bring a hard copy (only) headshot and I will tell you if it is working for you – or against you – commercials, TV, movies.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/inside-the-casting-directors-studio-tickets-28509434486 (copy and paste into your browser)

 

Photographer: John Ulman

www.johnulmanphoto.com,

 

My Story. My Type. How 10 Actors Cast Themselves To Perfection In A Short Film

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In times like these I’m certain that every artist is stymied when bloodshed and battery shatter into our daily lives and leave our hearts in shards and  pieces.

Stymied.

But after a positively mind-altering on-camera bootcamp weekend, (July 9-10th) my shattered heart and mind was able to begin stepping away from the relentless on-screen killings being telegraphed by the cameras now embedded in our phones. My heart whole, but bruised somewhat, went back to the work. I told the group at the top of the day that I felt unsettled and the mood resounded around the room.

Ten actors had signed up for the bootcamp. We were variously, Koreans, African-Americans, Native Americans, Russians, as well as “ethnically ambiguous”, Caucasians, Black, British, multi-lingual …  This was not Dallas or Minnesota, Chicago, New York or even Seattle.  It was  Spokane, WA.

Day 1 ‘Type’, what is your ‘type’?  how does ‘Type’ works for the Actor in film/tv.

Was it inevitable that we should encounter tensions and emotional struggles around the questions: “who are you? what role would I cast you in? why?” my perennial question to Actors in coaching.  I noticed some of my Actors of color struggling to come to grips with this ‘type’. From personal experience I empathised. African-American fiction and non-fiction is replete with  theories about multiple identities  (not personalities) and the ensuing multiple jeopardies and multiple dilemmas that ensue as a direct result of this schism.  In the 19th century WEB DuBois referring specifically to African American spoke of the agony of embodying two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings and the inner conflict that must arise out of that dualism. Numerous other writers have written of these multi-versal selves doing battle in a “universe”.

As Actors and artists we have a  unique voice. Just as our vision, our lenses onto the word are unique.  We do not all don the same lenses, thankfully!  In fact, some of us have a strong sense that our lenses are differently shaded, or coloured, some are cracked (perhaps), some held together with band-aids or…. Nevertheless they are our own unique and remarkable lenses unto the world and our  individual Power as Actors lies in these unique lenses along with our unique voices. Rarely does our power lie in the neutralizing and politically correct pseudo- unifying voice of neoliberalism, rather it lies in the Actor’s striving;  in the two-ness, in the fines lines where characters and intentions and motivations play out their differences and struggles.  Yes, that is where we stand up and declare our type, the type that has a story so powerful it moves, touches and then inspires others to declare their stories too, causes others to celebrate the rugged and relentless contradictions in life and in art, on stage and  on screen; the very differences as opposed to the samenesses.

Each individual Actor is a multiverse of stories

 

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We battled. We wrangled. We struggled over the two days of that unforgettable weekend. We would not have it any other way.  They invited it from me and I, in turn, demanded it  from  them.  All I could guarantee them was this: that in the coaching process I would move, touch, and inspire them individually and collectively, to see their own greatness/possibilities (strengths and weaknesses) and act on them.  It was my intention for them. NOT to resolve or “make better” (anyway there is no sickness or wrongness!) their struggles as Actors but to hear them, embrace that which I heard, make it good (whole, complete, perfect)  and  then  offer cogent ways forward out of the mire, into their might. Why offer less?

Day 2 – ‘Type’ Casting and Diversity – How 10 Actors Made it Work!

I will always remember the role-play. I gave the actors a  short film to cast and they each took on the role of casting producer.

In role I was strict Executive Producer. For the role play I informed them I had put $250.00 into an $8K, ultra-low budget project and I was not confident, as an investor, that I would get my money back.  I asked them to each invest an amount and to  liquidate assets if need be.  In this way they had a stake in the game as casting producers. And could think seriously about eg: casting a real nurse in the role of a nurse, or casting a “really good actor” or casting their buddy, and directing them to “act like” a nurse.

They were to cast the film using only Actors in the room, or they could send me as their CD to do a casting session in Seattle, or even LA although this would  incur further $$$. Of the 8 roles the script only called for 1 person of color, (Latina) and 7 Caucasians. We had no Latinos, 3 Caucasians, 8 Actors of Colour/“ethnically ambiguous”

But they did it.

By working with type (which the day before had caused such pain/discomfort and  consternation)  and with strict adherence to the story being told, each team cast this film to perfection using actors in the room and/or casting actors they knew within their immediate community. Mostly they cast people in the room, especially for the lead roles. What did they do given the call for 99% Caucasian actors and  a room with only  30% Caucasians? They recognized the value and power of ‘types’ and story. Both the story in the script and the story in each Actor. Suddenly a “Korean Actor, adopted by white parents married to African from Mozambique who shared  about her crippling sense of multiple identities and multiple dilemmas, was PERFECT! for the lead role intended for a Caucasian actress.  Her being resonated with the lead role:  her faith shaken by life … keeps searching for her own north star to sail by …powers through life’s challenges … sheer determination.  woundedness … comfort in her own skin, razor sharp wit … surfaces in sarcasm … common defensive maneuver.   “Young reserved actress”, also Korean who had shared, with great vulnerability, her anxiety around certain issues was PERFECT for the role of the silent, unspeaking, yet all-seeing, highly intelligent daughter. And so it went; the story on the page resonating at deep, core emotional levels with the Actors, the types in the room.  It was magical to observe the casting producers speak to the individual stories,  the Actors they would cast and why.  In one moment, a short story unfolded into multiversal acting possibilities for the Actors in the room. With one simple exercise, everyone came to a profound understanding of their type.

 

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Now each Actor recognized and embraced their strivings, their jeopardies, their dilemmas and their multiplicities rather than battling or feeling the wounded by them;  now self-acceptance and self-love begins. Thus the  extraordinary gift and power of the Actor to the self, and  to others.

 

 

 

This blog is surely dedicated to the 10 participants of the On-Camera Bootcamp, Spokane, WA ,July 9th-10th.

Photos top: Academy of Motion Pictures event, The Art of the Casting Director, April 2016

Middle: Henry Thomas (Elliot in ET), Mike Fenton CSA , and dir Richard Donner (The Omen, Goonies, Lethal Weapon)

 

An Embarrassing Confession … (By A Patron Saint!)

 

One day whilst preparing to teach a practical class (acting class) with my flagship group at the University of Hull, in Yorkshire, England I suddenly stopped and allowed myself to see the wall of  18-20somethings standing in front of me.   I looked at them; all raw energy, moody,  a-surge with exquisite ‘tude; pouting their frustrations, souped up on existentialism and high on critical discourses from Barker to …

They stared back. Who knows what they saw. Perhaps …?

As I contemplated this rather intimidating force; a force majeure indeed that would eventually  go on to become renowned and respected Actors, Directors, Musicians,  academics in their own right,  I said something that I still  remember 20 years later because I have NO IDEA what  propelled me to say anything so preposterous.

I said to them (paraphrasing now), I said:

“I think you are remarkable, amazing

As actors.

I look at you now and

I see your potential. Now. And I know that you will do great things.

You will fail (indeed you must fail)

And you will do great things.

And what I want you to know is that whether you fail or do great things. I will always be here for you.

Always.

And why is it that?

Because I am the Patron Saint of Actors.

Like you, they paused. And stared.

It being England, some sort of averted their eyes, politely.

Some looked at each other with furtive, nervous glances.

What the?

Is up

with

The Imoru, now?

Internally I startled myself awake and realized I had said something “wierd”.

And still they stared.  I let the moment land and then I remembered,  the feeling of embarrassment, dissolving.  I had spoken an emotional truth that I was not in any way embarrassed about.  Okay the words sounded weird but not the truth. The truth, amplified or not,  is never weird. It  just sounds incongruous relative to so-called reality.

And  it was all very slow in its motion. But as  they began to lose their discomfort at my obvious weirdness they simultaneously began to take in what I  had said and realized that whatever else, I completely believed what I had said.

(I do remember thinking, God help me, I don’t really know what  a patron bloody saint is but I’ve said it now.)

I don’t know why I always remember this, but I do.  One day I stood amongst a group of hip, rad, kids and said out loud, with the earnestness of a medieval pilgrim, “I am the Patron Saint of Actors”.

Not much has changed in my attitude to Actors in the past 20-odd years, blessedly.  The difference is that now I neither need  to say it nor  feel embarrassed about my occasional regression into Medieval fervour!  I simply show it.  I live it.

Some two decades ago, I dared to utter a dream, an inner knowing. It was a  big dream, still relatively small in the wording, in the fine print. A nascent dream  felt and then passionately followed, yes Pilgrim-like.  And yet isn’t that a part of what the Artist says and does? “Weird shit” that we pursue as Faith in what we hope for, and with a complete assurance about what we do not see.  Is that not what we as Actors also do?

I said what I felt and then with complete certainty, with utter and unwavering faith, I continued the walk of my talk for  twenty years until one day I said (with an altogether more modern turn of phrase, thankfully!), I said

I am the ultimate Actor’s coach.

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I sat in my studio last week, casting a tv show,  marvelling at my day job as a casting director. An Actor walked in to audition.  I took a moment to connect with her. Instantaneously Awe!struck, I took a breath.

I heard my casting assistant say: “are you ready Nike”?

I gave her an imperceptible nod.  I tuned into my actor. I tuned out the rest of the world.

 

 

Standing Up For My Self

awards_oscars_statue“I was at the Academy of Motion Pictures HQ the other day and…

 

… and  Juliet Taylor CSA, casting director extraordinaire was being interviewed about her illustrious career as a casting director. Ms Taylor has cast 40 of Woody Allen’s film alone! A sprightly delightful ‘young thing’ she was regaling us with casting tales, such as giving  Meryl Streep her feature in Julia (1977). I listened …. transfixed by the  reverent, plush and  rarified location, The Samuel Goldwyn Theater. Two idol-sized gold sculptures of ‘Oscar’ book-ended the stage; like a temple it was all hallowed and hushed as Juliet spoke.

The interviewer asked her what it was like to hold  auditions for Woody Allen back in the day.  We were agog! People often ask me what it is like to be with the Actor (perhaps because the Actor is my first love) but few ask what it is like to run the studio for a Director.  Ms Taylor paused. She started to speak. She stuttered. “Well, he was very … shy”, she said hesitantly.  “He would sit … at the back of the room and … and not talk to the actors, he… he …didn’t know what to say to them (laughter). “What was that like?” the interviewer asked. She faltered as though wondering whether to reveal more about ‘Woody’. She paused for many seconds. And then her energy shifted from hesitant to confident, she threw caution to the wind and started  giggling with delightful abandon before saying through giggles:  “I  had to go into therapy to learn how to run the room for him”!

1000 film-makers erupted into gales of  laughter.imageHow often have I  thrilled at the prospect of hosting Directors and Producers in my casting studio. And yet there  are those occasions when the prospect of a casting session with a Director or Producer gives rise to a sense of  morbid anxiety!  I observed Juliet’s relief at finally sharing with the world  that being  “Woody’s CD” sent her into  therapy.  I felt a  sense of connection with her vulnerability in that moment.

imageI am in a place of allowing vulnerability anew.  Firstly recognizing it in myself and then allowing it to be a part of who I am. I realized just a few months ago, that the next stage of my life’s journey  was about being  vulnerable, which for me also means being visible. Being visible means allowing my obsessively-guarded interior world to unfurl gently and radiate outwards into the world.  To allow this practice of  vulnerability is daily work. Make no mistake,

It is DAILY&

It is WORK.

It is as much a process as any kind of committed practice.  It is also sublime.  It promises openness and renewal  with each moment. It is a gift to the world, to the self  and it yields the return of  trillions of tiny filaments, called feelings. Of course as actors we are always challenged to be vulnerable, to “let go” to “just be”, as we hustle through life, burrowing into introverted selves that  engage in silent dialogues many of which should have ended decades ago, yes.

For Juliet Taylor being vulnerable was acknowledging, some 40 years after the fact and in public,  the  emotional challenge of running  a casting session for the preternaturally awkward  Woody Allen skulking in the back of the room; watching. The casting director’s art (rather than her power)  is delicately poised between serving two titans: The Actor and  The Director/Producer. She aims to ‘match’ them. It has been called a ‘dark art’ perhaps because multiple variables (some incalculable) collide at the same time (or not)  and voila! an actor is cast … or not.

imageThat evening, at the Academy,  I did something that made me feel unspeakably vulnerable. When host David Rubin, (Governor of the Casting Directors, on the  Academy’s Board of Governors) asked the casting directors to stand, I stood up.

It sounds ridiculous I know but I have lived with a  lifetime of  visibility-blues, so standing up as myself felt very uncomfortable.  I enjoy my customary suit of  invisibility; I also prefer to stand for others.  Yet having just witnessed the vulnerability of Ms Taylor, I wanted to experience a significant breakthrough or a breakout, here, now, at The Academy; only one chance.  There were no friends to urge me to feet, to prod me in the ribs. I faltered. I hesitated. I panicked for a second and  then …I felt myself gently rising from my 2nd row seat.  I heard the applause as my casting colleagues also stood. I turned around to look at the packed auditorium that included past Academy Awards winners and nominees, and I  allowed myself to be seen and  applauded for our casting contributions to the motion picture industry. imageJuliet Taylor CSA, has worked with Woody Allen, James L Brooks, Nora Ephron, Lous Malle, Mike Nichols, Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg. Among her credits are The Exorcist, (1973), Taxi Driver (1976), Terms of Endearment (1983) The Killing Fields (1984) Dangerous Liaisons (1988) Working Girl (1988)Mississippi Burning(1988) Schindlers List (1993) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993) 

The Power in Limitation

 …today I recognize that the very  limitations and contrasts that provoked a sense of futility, fear, doubt, even depression at times, yes, also provoked my imagination and  artistic sensibilities to awaken and thrive. 

 

 

As an Artist I discovered my sense of true abundance later in life. And when I did, I gradually began to see how to transfer this sense of abundance from my craft to my daily  life.

Abundance! Finally I  understood that I possessed it and I  no longer had to convince myself  with unconvincing affirmations that I had it. I simply experienced it; abundant energy, abundant artistic flow, abundant inspiration, abundant creativity. On good days I felt able to command the flow of  abundance. I felt connected to it.  Present. Awake. Recently I came to a deeper understanding about abundance: that my willingness to embrace it  is directly related to my willingness to know and allow  limitations.   Abundance alone will not create and bring forth the conditions necessary for the imagination to thrive.  Limitation, or Contrast,  will.

Today, as perverse as it seems even to myself,  I recognize that the very limitations and contrasts that provoked a sense of futility, fear, doubt, even depression at times, yes;  also provoked my imagination and  artistic sensibilities to awaken and thrive. It was not easy and it was never welcomed. Yet counter-intuitively and with reflection, I must acknowledge the fact that stringent limitations and contrasts, if I consciously engaged with them, created their opposite:  massive creative fecundity and possibilities that gave rise to unending choices; abundance. So certain am I of this symbiotic dynamic that I believe I have a formula for success based on contrast and limitation.

How does this abundance/limitation-contrast  show up in my actors?

In many ways.  All equally fascinating.

I am most struck by actors who, when faced with multiple opportunities or when they get what they want – in some small or large way – seem to disappear into a sinkhole. Choices (options, abundance, possibilities) create in them an anxiety usually reserved for those about to be tortured. At least it is so to my eyes. Why would they shrink from the magic inherent in choosing, having, experiencing, I wonder?  When I coach  actors  I move them to see the possibilities that DO exist, not just in a particular choice but in the act of making a choice. That is where power and creativity lies; in the very act of making a conscious choice, within the limitation.  If the actor can unglue herself from the details of the choice and simply make a conscious choice with her  scene partner, she will sense possibilities open up for her, immediately. But she must make a choice first.  She must take a risk. If she does not she will miss the abundant possibilities that open up with choice. She will be stagnant in the face of possibilities that remain locked within her,  seemingly unattainable.

When I coach I limit myself even as I limit my actor. I do so in order to engage the power of  my own imagination. I restrain her over-active mind and bring her to focus on her heartbeat. I bend his unbending will into a moment that holds nothing but his breath. I hold the space. I leave them free to breathe, to listen,  to be present to something simple and always perfect:  a pure and unadulterated breath, a simple beat. Limited to breath and (heart)beat, the actor is liberated to dare, to risk, to be spontaneous and to act from a place of conscious choice rather than blind fear.

With practice and given time, Being will re-awaken. Brain and Imagination will recognize Choice as playful and liberating. Fear (masquerading as boredom or indifference),  and Self-doubt will slink away, shame-faced.  Abundance will flow as a giggle-headed inner-child once more. Possibilities will thrive, it’s what possibilities do.  And the impersonal teachers, limitation&contrast will stand aside, awaiting their next moment.

Say It Loud….

 

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As a black, female, casting director, actress, director, for stage and screen, it’s … interesting to observe the current furore around #oscarssowhite.

From this English woman’s perspective: “we are quite Bemused”!   Finally, a clamorous  noise is being made in Hollywood.  Be it roles for women, recognition for  black artists, or pay differentials and the gender gap, I hear the clarion call for equal recognition. In my guild, the Casting Society of America, there are a total of about 600 of us in the US. The CSA Board is fighting to get recognition for casting directors within the Motion Picture Academy. Casting Directors get minimal recognition  for the work that we do.  In terms of recognition heaven help those casting directors that happen to be female and black.  Fortunately for me, Heaven usually does!  I have to maintain a sense of humor because as a newly-minted US citizen, when I see  protests and placards, in 2016, extolling the fact that “black lives” do actually matter, I am at best … puzzled. When did we forget that fact? It is a bizarre thing to me but then, I am biased. I am black.

The truth  is  LIFE matters. Animal, Vegetable, Mineral, Human LIFE matters.

A fellow CD in LA is scrambling to cast a show. Suddenly diversity’s a must, producers and directors only want African American actors.  “We’ve run out of black actors”, we joked conspiratorially.  I dropped into a webinar the other day and learned that I, as a black woman, am suddenly at a premium! Why? Because society’s collective amnesia has been re-addressed by placards and protests? And for how long do I have the ‘privilege’ of this premium status, I wonder to myself?

We are NOT amused

and

We Refuse to Keep Calm and Carry On;  (I think Queen B would agree.)

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At the time of writing I am enjoying my perennial retreat on the Oregon Coast, just before gearing up for the 3rd season of Sy Fy’s  Z Nation. In past years my close friends and followers have cheered me on to the coast knowing that  it is my place of ultimate RnR. One dear friend noticed that I ‘fuss less’ when I am here. This particular retreat is especially needed and welcomed. Two and a half months ago I underwent major surgery and deeply traumatic life-changing events. Overnight I began to experience the darkest and most haunting period of my adult life. I have felt  profound sadness and what I can only describe as unchecked grief. That said the journey has also transformed me yes; and deepened me and my practice  in significant and subtle ways.  Mostly my inner being has magnified in ways that I could never have foreseen, imagined or welcomed.

Just before my operation I moved from Spokane to Seattle and earlier this month I opened  a stunning new casting  studio in West Seattle. For almost  three decades I have worked with actors and other artists to take their craft and  their lives to  levels of  achievement and  success that they actually dreamed of.  I have done this globally.  A few days after my operation I decided to evolve my global reach and add Humanitarian and relief work, to my bucket list. I am also creating powerful, exciting talks and seminars that will inspire and motivate Everyone (not just actors)  to do great and magical things in their own Lives. We are all actors in our own lives, ultimately.  Of course Shakespeare said it first:

Jacques: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts” (As You Like It: Act 2 Sc 7)

For now, I find great peace here on the Oregon Coast, as I go on my walking meditations, cry with relief and gratitude, and listen to the Ocean’s magnificent roar. I also reflect on the the futility of waiting for “Hollywood” or anyone to acknowledge that

my Life, 

completely shattered and now beautifully re-invented  – again

(all that it has been, and all that it will be), 

matters. 

iMatter. My Being Matters.

#iMatter.

#Be

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

©  | Dreamstime.com

“GREAT ACTORS OF THE NORTHWEST, USA, 2006-2016”

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When I met Z Nation producers for Season 2, they had some criticisms about  the casting process for Z Nation, Season 1. It was to be expected and, in truth, it was to be welcomed and dreaded at one and the same time.

They said: “we want to click on a link, ONE TIME, and see ALL there is to see of ALL the  auditions that you send to us.  We don’t want  to click and open, click and open, click and open,  numerous youtube or vimeo links.  NO! We want EVERYTHING – resumes, headshots, tapes, comments – in ONE location.  NOW! Oh and AUDIO!”,  my fave exec said.  (He is my ‘fave’ because audio is to him what sensitive ears are to me.)  And on they went, my beloved Producers. I recalled the spaghetti junction links for hundreds of self-tapes and playlists embedded in emails that I gave them in Season 1.  I shudder still at the memory.

Not.
This.
Year.

Rather than geek out about the delight I had in creating and facilitating every Producer’s whim (at least in terms of casting and auditioning), allow me to share with you how  I began to pacify our Producers, thereby making them more amenable to NW talent auditions. We can also see how NW actors are benefitting  from having a presence in  the Nike Imoru ‘casting warehouse’.

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Nike Imoru’s Casting  warehouse is available exclusively  to Sy Fy and Asylum Studio Executives,  Producers, Writers and Directors for Z Nation Season 2. Every Z-audition and callback is stored in  the ‘casting warehouse’.  None are deleted. Each audition is  cross-referenced at least twice  in different episodes (folders).  An actor may be ideal for different roles, in different episodes, and their ‘tapes’ will copied into each episode (folder) for Producers and Directors  to review. In this way, actors are being viewed repeatedly, without having to re-audition repeatedly.

Because North by Northwest Digital Productions is supporting us (CD has been casting NxNW movies since 2006),  the NIC quality is  both consistent and consistently high. On the rare occasions that we accept a self-tape, the NIC  ‘warehouse manager’, uploads it to the database, troubleshooting as she goes and declining the self-tape if it does not meet NIC standards. (On rare occassions we have to submit a self-tape that falls below the  NIC standard and we will make this clear to our Producers.We will also  list the pros and cons of the tape.)  Our goal is to ensure that Execs and Producers focus on the actor, rather than the production values of the self-submitted tape. A number of actors in the  NIC database are being considered for  future episodes, but have only auditioned once. At some point they will receive a Producer callback.

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After  6 weeks of the database being up and running,  the NiC challenge is to name at least 5  NW actors to fit any breakdown. Any age. Any ethnicity (ooh  … almost!)  It  is the best Trivia night ever:  “GREAT ACTORS OF THE NORTHWEST 2006-2016”

 

 

 

 

Great and Gracious thanks to Rich Morris of Casting Networks; Danny Heigh  of  North by Northwest Digital Productions; Monica Holm, NIC casting assistant,  aka ‘Mo’; for bearing with me as I went through one “brilliant idea” after an other about the database ‘must haves’.

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Z Nation – Season 1 pics by Nike
Top pic: CD with NW actor Richard Sloniker, Patient Zero in Episode 13
2nd ic: Nat Zang (10K) taking a moment to breathe outside of the plastic nuclear-protected suit,  Ep 10
3rd pic: Our extraordinary Z Nation  stunt actors, on set for Ep 13
 
For Artists the struggle is not always financial

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One of the most  fascinating things for me to observe in an Actor  is the  dance of self-doubt and the degree to which we will lie to ourselves. It often takes a coach (or a therapist, yes) to unmask the skilfully masked self.

For a few months now I  have been doing battle in my own personal-emotional trenches. This battle is peculiar to me. You might call it my Artist’s way.  Either way I have been stuck. A lot. As an Artist  when I am stuck  it feels as though the entire axis of the planet is off-kilter, which is silly really because why would an entire planet go off-kilter because I happen to feel out of sorts?  It doesn’t go off kilter.   I do. At best this state helps me to appreciate the unique peculiarities of the  Actors and Artists that I work with and  coach.  We are off-kilter in a seemingly  ‘kiltered’ world  We are introverts in an extroverted existence. We are intense beings in a casual dimension. But what I always re-discover is that  connecting, authentically connecting, through the morass of seeming impossibilities makes a world of difference  and can alter my  off-kilter reality within seconds. That is why I know that connecting with a scene partner (or reader) works, yes …
Every.

 

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After many years of coaching actors on set and  in studio (12 max) I have the privilege of now coaching just two actors. As we began our process I noted habits they needed to address if our process and agreement was to work. Simply, they  had to  communicate with me more than they have ever communicated with me before.  Of course I can “make them” communicate because I am a highly effective communicator. By all accounts I  can make tree trunks communicate their needs to me, yes! But my actors, descendants of Thespis, have a tendency to hide. This  itself is a beautiful, poetic lie, but a lie nonetheless. In truth, their collective emotional energies could power the  entire US grid and reveal the darkest recesses in any mind. It is what the actor does.

So our agreement is writ thus:  though it can seem or feel impossible, even “inconvenient”  to communicate sometimes, they must communicate with me.  I, in return,  will  accept any mode of communication.  This includes a smoke signal, a flare, (forget text or email or dare I say it: “a phone call”, not necessary!)   I’ll take breadcrumbs leading up to their trailer on set but honest communication is key; however vulnerable they feel.

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I have been (re) learning  the same in my own day to day reality.  One day, the Artist remembers that  it is simply time to let go of the beautiful lie and, in light of liberating truths, to make connections that would normally seem impossible to make; be that on Set, on Stage or in Life.

 

Original photographs by Nike

 

 

CD’s Purpose

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I am  driven by Passion and Purpose. While Passion alone (in any context) is what so many  artists are propelled by, it is really our sense of Purpose that keeps us on task and brings us desired results. That said, I  never assume that the Purpose which drives my Actor is “good”. I have worked with many whose unremitting purpose has been (self) sabotage or destruction, whether they realise it or not. Purpose itself knows no ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It’s is simply a moving, powerful and sometimes unconscious drive.

And so, to the Purpose.

I was reflecting on my casting sessions in LA for Sy Fy’s Z Nation  I was in LA for a week  to cast the series regular role of Vasquez, as well as the recurring role of Zeta Leader.

I thought about my NW actors. For this particular role we were looking for highly skilled actors of colour. Our NW Region does not fare so well (yet!) in this demographic, in terms of quantity. TV wants numerous options for a single role, still we had  seen  and submitted to the Producers some  superb auditions from the NW.  I thought about the time spent watching the actor, my face inches away from the screen of my laptop, I observe every choice, every breath and nuance  comparing, contrasting, re-playing, analysing the audition in microscopic detail so that I become as informed about the instrumentation and performance ability of a NW actor, as I would with any  actor in film or theatre history.  Yes!

The Purpose …

As a CD in WA, (Washington State) the  purpose is simple: Keep Film in WA or #KEEPFILMINWA. It has become such an ingrained purpose for so many of that we float on it as effortlessly as we draw breath. My Purpose has not changed much since 2006 although it has evolved.  2006 –  develop the talent pool for film/tv in the NW. 2014 – now pay those in the developed talent pool a living wage. Pay them such that that they can, if they so choose, remain in the Regions (specifically WA) with their families while contributing to a  competitive arena that allows them to consistently develop their craft.   The Purpose is to make all  the  films and tv shows that are queued up and waiting for the Motion Picture Tax Incentive to happen here in WA State; because it will continue to create an economic boom in our State.  THAT is the Purpose.   Last year I ‘Purposed’ to cast  WA state actors as  series regular roles on  Z Nation.  I then ‘Purposed’ to cast  as many Regional actors in the remaining 13 episodes. What the cynics thought or said was their Purpose, not mine.  (Approx 95% of the remaining cast of Z Nation were from WA state)

Purpose has no questions or doubts about its identity or  its …  purpose.
And yet, we must allow that  Purpose will show up in surprising and even humorous ways. This is necessary in any process.  Humour brings a levity to the strident and focussed Purpose. So … when we cast LA-based actor Matt Cedeno as Vasquez, in Z Nation Season 2,  I enjoyed many minutes of  private giggles and celebrated with oodles of  jelly beans  and gummy bears.

Matt Cedeno is from Moses Lake, WA.

Moses Lake is precisely 104 (One Hundred and Four) miles from Spokane, where we shoot Z Nation!  Hours of nerdy satisfaction and cosmic giggling ensued.  Purpose, greater perhaps than passion, often speaks back to us and reminds us to follow our bliss, while keeping a  sense of openness and  humour along the way.

Imagine if you will your CD, all a-giggle in her studio with jelly beans and gummy bears,  scrolling through thousands of on-line profiles. She whirls dervishly in her wheelie chair, spinning with a Purpose that is  collectively lit with the Passions of film makers all over the State. And each film-maker has their own Purpose which serves our State-wide endeavour to #KEEP FILMINWA

Welcome home Matt and welcome to set!

(The gummy bears at craft services? Yes Sir, those are on me.)

Sincerely,

N