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Tracy WeisertSynopsis by Tracy Weisert

We all had such a great time at our November 13 Inside the Industry seminar with producer, talent manager and former DeLaurentiis Productions head of casting, Karen Armstrong.  She had just attended the American Film Market and was energized.  She was going to do a mock audition/casting session at our seminar but the Q and A was so lively, interactive and enlightening, it kept going!  Also in attendance was Karen’s business partner, Ileane Rusch.

Here is Karen Armstrong’s bio and information about Ileane-

Karen has over twenty eight  years of experience working in television and film.  She spent ten years as Head of the Talent Department for DeLaurentiis Productions where she was responsible for providing talent for major independent and studio films, managing international projects, and developing projects for the independent market.  Throughout her extensive career she has worked with Hollywood A-listers such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dennis Hopper, James Marsden, Giovanni Ribisi, James Brolin, Jon Voight, and Val Kilmer among others.  In 2004, she opened her own production company, producing over twenty projects for Time Warner, Showtime and Warner Bros, along with multiple independent films.  Recently, Karen worked with Jim Brolin on the film “Mysterious.”  Currently, she is producing the $40 million film, “Silver Cord”, which will be directed by James Ordonez and distributed through Summit Entertainment.

Ileane and Karen were professional colleagues until Ileane’s diagnosis of breast cancer in 2008. Knowing Karen was a cancer survivor, she reached out to her and spent hours together in chemo rooms, hospitals, and her sick bed creating strategies for the future as to how each could help the other’s business. It was during this time that Ileane and Karen became the dearest of friends.  It was just one year ago on Dec. 27, 2009 that Karen and Ileane combined their businesses as a corporation to become what is Committed Artists Entertainment.  Karen is the President in charge of all Production matters with Ileane operating the management of notable actors and coordinating financing opportunities as well for Karen’s feature films. Ileane has a rich background as an agent and coupled with her nurturing style, she is a perfect combination of a successful manager. Karen’s department oversees the daily tasks of production from script revisions, hiring crew, casting, location preparations, budgets,and all other matters pertaining to filmmaking.  They have their hands full, however, both women are available to help the other with their tasks allowing each to keep a perfect balance.

Karen began by stating that she was referred to us by a respected commercial colleague who told her of our seminars, ‘I’ve been there.  You have to just put it on your calendar.  It’s so worth it.  These are really wonderful people’ then said, ‘So far so good!  I’m thrilled to be here.  I am an open book, so whatever your questions are, there are no silly or stupid questions.  I just want you to open up your heart, open up your mind and ask away.  I’ve been teaching for many years as well as acting…I hate to admit how old I am…but I’ll give you a hint.  I’ve actually been working in the entertainment industry 28 years.  You do the math!  I just figured that out!’

She continued, “I am so fortunate that I came out of the womb knowing exactly what I was supposed to be.  I don’t know if many of you have had that experience but the only thing that I can attribute that to is that I truly believe that we all have internal blueprints. We have a destiny.  Sometimes, life gives us smaller increments as to what our destinies should be which is why we wonder maybe at that point in time why we are where we are.  It’s only that life is giving us just a smaller window of vision but in the overall picture, there is a reason why you were there.  If you are fortunate, such as I, to where you know exactly where you’re supposed to be, then you are blessed.  I am blessed that I knew, it was always going to be Hollywood and knew it was always going to be entertainment.  I was not born into an entertainment-based family.  My Dad was a politician and my Mom was in corporate America.  I told them from the youngest age that I can remember that, ‘I’m going to do that!’ and I would point to the TV set.  Now my Mom actually works for me.  My Mom was the one that wasn’t always so supportive because she was very corporate minded and it was my Dad who took me to my acting lessons every Saturday.  It was my Dad that showed up at every performance that I had, but my Mom was there too.  My Mom would say (to him) ‘Why are you encouraging her?  It is not a good life.  This is not secure.’  Then, she was laid off after eighteen years of being with the corporation without anything. She had a cardboard box that she brought home.  It was then she started thinking, ‘Maybe my daughter isn’t so nutty…’ because I have never been unemployed.  Also, the beauty of this business is that I started as an actress and if you were to have talked to me at 21 years old, I would’ve said, ‘I never want to be anything else!’  As I grew, I got married and while I was pregnant with my daughter, I went to my pastor and said, ‘What am I going to do?  I can’t act!’  (any longer)  I was older playing younger and back then, it wasn’t popular to be pregnant looking 18!  [laughter]  These days it would have been like,  ‘Oh!  She’s a shoo-in!’  I could’ve been on every TV show there was!  Back then, it wasn’t so hip!  My pastor said, ‘Why don’t you teach?  You have been.  (teaching)  Even at the church.  You put on this musical or that show or this show…you’re a teacher.’ I said that I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”  Her pastor referred her to an arts academy where she interviewed, got the job and she taught there for six years and loved it!

Karen added, “During that time, they opened a management company and I worked at the management company a solid ten years.  The only reason that I eventually let it go is because I was casting working with DeLaurentiis Productions and they asked me to come on board working twelve hours a day fulltime.  I let the management company go, but it was kind of overlapping.  I was at DeLaurentiis Productions for almost ten years, I was the Head of the Talent Dept so I know everything that there is to know about contracts, inter-relations between managers, agents and publicists, and international and domestic distribution.  Even when I was there, colleagues would ask, ‘Why aren’t you producing?’  I had the opportunity.  I mean I was an associate producer of DeLaurentiis, but I said, ‘Oh no.’ I was a Casting Director and I really loved being a Casting Director!  To me, I really enjoyed that.  The truth was, the people I was observing who were producers, seemed so unhappy.  [laughter]  I didn’t want to be unhappy.  But I am a cancer survivor.  I was working on a film called 10TH & WOLF in Pennsylvania for about three months…all-star casting that was a really big, big, big undertaking and I came home to another diagnosis of cancer, so I thought, ‘Wow…I’ve got plenty of money.  If I ever took some time off, it’s now to reevaluate what I want for my life and what’s really important to me.’  I took a year off and had surgeries and treatments and it was during that time I began to produce because I could do so little from home, so I did all the business aspects of putting films together, then the films started taking off!  That has launched into a six year term of producing and acting.  Casting has been a cake walk for me.  I feel like it’s Christmas when I’m casting because I love it so much!  I love actors, I love the process, I love imparting wisdom and things that will help you because I truly believe that if you are here today, you know your destiny.  Maybe you are just coming into it because you’ve had to work in a short term basis with little visuals along the way, but I believe that if you are here today, especially on a Saturday morning, there’s a calling in you that you need to listen to.  For whatever purpose that may be, it’s for a purpose, so don’t deny it.  Work with it.”

Karen continued, “I met a financial advisor recently and he said something that absolutely blew my mind!  He said that with the economic crisis of the last two years, the only people that will survive are the entrepreneurs because we think forward.  We think in creation.  We think in manifestation.  We don’t wait for other people to make those decisions for us.  We make those decisions…we create a path for ourselves even when those doors are closed.  So if you are in this room today and you feel that maybe your life has been…“unnavigated”…or navigated by forces that you are not in control of, today, you’re in control.  Today is your day to create your path, your destiny and the road that you want to be on without anybody else dictating it.”

(From this author- Wow!  As I write this article, what a wonderful and powerful thing to be reminded of as we start afresh in 2011!!!)

Also covered were-

Actors target marketing ourselves-

Karen said, “Actors tend to have a ‘shotgun mentality.’ You want to be everywhere.” Instead-

  • Target five TV shows that we know that we are right for type-wise
  • Target TV shows that have a lot of co-star/guest-star roles
  • Research the Casting Directors’, creators’ and Directors’ work
  • Write a 3 line letter to them.  Make it about them and their work. Engage them with a compliment.
  • Build your first five, then build with five more industry professionals.

Building a resume-

  • “Do every student film that you can do because you only have until June.”

Building industry relationships- (in addition to what is listed above)

  • With auditions and workshops- “With workshops, you may not get called in right away.  Do your due diligence.” (as an actor)  Then Karen gave an analogy that we all enjoyed.  She said, “It’s like when you have a first date.  Are you going to take that person home for Thanksgiving?  I’ll learn to trust you.”

In closing Karen’s seminar, she had encouraging words for the audience that left many with joyful smiles and tears of inspiration.  The line to shake her hand stretched from the stage to the door and she did not leave until every person wishing to meet her had their chance.  Karen left her audiences with “the challenge to embrace life now, acknowledging the internal blueprint for your divine design and purpose, and above all cherishing your beautiful gifts as an artist.”

Currently, Karen is offering an on-camera theatrical class on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. The classes are limited to only 12 actors.

Contact Karen.

From Tracy- Many thanks to all our knowledgeable and very actor friendly guest speakers this year.  Also, thank you very much for reading my articles!  It is thrilling when fellow actors come up to me on sets, at SAG and other events to thank me for them.  I am very grateful to Casting Networks for my Inside the Industry hosting opportunity for the past six years with our valued core of seminar volunteers-Kate, Terri, Jessica and Richard.  Let’s all have a fabulous, healthy and BOOKING 2011!  Thanks!

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