Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
What a treat it was to have the dynamic and warm casting director Jakki Fink as our year-end Inside the Industry Seminar guest speaker. It was a terrific way to say farewell to 2013!
This is Jakki’s bio-
Jakki started casting in New York and later moved to Los Angeles, working as a casting associate on such diverse films as Basic Instinct and Single White Female. After casting, Safe for Todd Haynes, Jakki worked for three years as vice president of drama casting at CBS, then returned to film, with partner Shani Ginsberg, casting the films Thirteen (Catherine Hardwicke) and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Ken Kwapis). Recent credits include the independent film, Pretty in Green (Stacy Sherman )and the Red Bull sponsored web series, Exit Vine. Despite a challenging economy and an ever-changing competitive environment, both projects were successfully created and driven by teamwork, energy and focus…and occasionally blood.
Here is a brief overview of some of the things Jakki covered-
Jakki began, “I feel like I’m giving a TED Talk. I’m totally wired here in case any of you have noticed. [laughter] I wanted to break this up into two parts. One, I’d like to talk about getting work which I think is important and I think the other part we can talk about is sort of the acting portion of it if you’d like—Auditioning, what to do/what not to do…interpreting a casting director’s non-verbal language.”
Jakki then took a hands-up poll of the attendees as to who had auditioned and who was from the Los Angeles area. She stated that she grew up in Philadelphia, then later worked in New York, and came to Los Angeles about 20 years ago to work in films.
Jakki said, “To give you a small summary of my background, I started out in New York with the intention of going to law school. I had studied Chinese investment law… [laughter]…so go figure that but I had two sisters who had been actresses and had always been involved in theatre. There is no formal training for casting, although they would like to change that, and in the midst of sort of trying to determine if I was going to work a non-profit or law school, I ended up working in a casting office fresh out of college. I started in commercials, then I worked in daytime television, then I worked in theatre and did my first film in New York. Then I came out here and worked both on my own and with Howard Feuer and David Rubin and some really, wonderful, wonderful talented people. Shani Ginsberg and I were partners for a while. We did a movie called Thirteen and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I cast a movie for Todd Haynes who is so brilliant and wonderful and then I worked in television. I went to go be a television executive at CBS, I was Senior VP of Drama which was an interesting place to be too and to be part of development. I then left that, had a kid, then that’s when I sort of returned to consulting and film work and continued to raise this said child [laughter] who is now 18. I sort of dipped in and out of casting. Last year, I produced a movie, cast a movie then also worked on a web series. I’m sort of interested in how everything works. I had a little experience in producing, working with writers and casting as you can see. All types of things.”
Jakki then touched base insightfully on how the film and television industry has changed because of technology and the economy. She continued, “My interest in the world right now, as I have sort of dipped in and out, is what’s happening here in this industry? Something’s happening. The movement of technology is happening so quickly and it’s affecting everything from the top down. I mean I think some of us who consider ourselves here in the feeding pool in the chain of events and survival think that it’s happening down here but it’s actually happening up here. It’s affecting what’s getting made, who is getting roles and who is getting any kind job in production. I would like to talk about that a little bit and how that change affects our looking for work. Does that interest anybody?”
After a resounding “Yes!”, Jakki proceeded, “Okay, let’s talk about the transition and what kinds of projects are making money and what isn’t, and where we need to focus our abilities. We had that 2008 crash which was good for no one and eventually, it is trickling down, not only in our society as a whole that we were an industrialized nation but everything is transitioning. The 2008 crash assisted in that. The traditional model is sort of you have a boss, you get hired and maybe or not you hire an assistant, and it’s this tiered kind of idea. I would like to suggest that that model or paradigm no longer exists. Not for any of us. That we are au privave. (Meaning, the concept is moot.) As an actor or a casting director, it used to be the idea that you got hired when you were looking for jobs. It’s not so much that way anymore. It’s about creating your work and that model is going to continue to happen, which is why we are seeing more people creating web series and wanting to do this and that…to make things. I think that collaboration is where we’re headed. Distribution is much more available in terms of the Internet. There is a little bit of stickiness there that I will address but what I see from us now is that that paradigm that we are looking at to get hired, has to go. We have to start to thinking about what we can do to create our own work. As actors, I would suggest keep updating your skills. Your acting skills are really important because we get so focused on getting the job that we forget it’s a muscle. You have to keep your craft going and so you’ve got to keep working on your acting skills whether is taking an acting class or an improv group which I think is sensational exercise for your acting muscles. I love that. I love that for everyone. Comedy… whatever it is, keep working on your acting skills.”
Jakki continued, “If you have any other skills, work on those. If you can direct, if you can write, if you have a friend who is a DP. (Director of Photography) If you have some ideas and you suck at writing but you have a friend who has an ear for dialogue, collaborate. Collaborate with people. That’s what’s happening. Instead of this hierarchal paradigm, it’s becoming lateral. This is what it’s going to be across the board. That’s what’s happening and getting work has a lot to do with that. Our whole society is changing to that. So the first thing I would say is to keep working on your acting skills.”
Jakki made another great point when she went on to say, “The other thing about getting work is that you and I have chosen a profession where our work is all about, I would say, 90% of the time is about trying to get work, so our job is looking for work. That’s kind of a ‘sucky’ occupation [laughter] for a number of reasons. What I’ve found because I’m a freelance casting director is that you have two things going on. You need a job while you are not working, right? While you’re working at this job, you need to be working at getting that job. It’s very schizoid and I‘m just going to say now, for anyone who can do anything else, you need to do that. [laughter] If you have a skill that you can do, other than acting, you do that. But…if you’re compelled and I say compelled because artists are compelled. It’s not a choice. It’s not something that somebody can say, ‘Do something else’ because you can’t do anything else. Artists are compelled to create. They may be compelled to create in different ways. Sometimes painters can find out that they are fashion designers and they can make money. I have a friend who was a painter at $14,000 a year for her whole life and became a fashion designer who is very successful. I think you can parlay your skills into something else. Also, just because you are producing, directing, and writing, doesn’t mean you still can’t act. I would say, if you’re compelled to do this, stick with it and if you’re not, don’t do it. I have to say that I took time off from casting for about five years for a number of reasons. I was getting bored and it was a weird time. Things had really changed. I had to reassess to see if I wanted to do it. I love actors but it used to be when I started in independent film and you had a million dollars, you could make a film. You can’t do that anymore really. Having worked with independent producers and trying to get money, the financing is completely different. The industry changed so much and what’s required to make a film has changed so much, that we’re all feeling the repercussions of it.”
- “You have to know how you are to present yourself in the world. So I’m just going to just jump for a second over to this acting thing. You’ve got to be specific about your work. You have to target yourself. Would I come in like this for CSI? No. You have to know how you are presenting yourself each time for your audition. Also meeting with agents, managers and everything, you want to be specific unless you want to be Tom Hanks like ‘I’m an every man’ and that’s something too. That’s a brand too. You have to brand yourself otherwise, you’ll get branded by people who just see you. You’ll be that kooky, crazy casting director who wears a harness. [laughter] People just see you. We make decisions. It’s the way our brains work. Our brains work really quickly. You look at someone and think, ‘Is her face symmetrical?’ or is he, ‘Hmm, age range?’ and it’s all really instantaneous. Our brains do it for us, so what you’re feeding in the world in terms of your image with your picture and when you go in for an audition, make sure you’re making conscious choices about who you are and what type you are.”
- Movie directors and actors who were all not making movies jumped down to television where there is excellent writing these days.
- I write people whose work I admire.
- I went to the Big Bear Film Festival. I want to see the new filmmakers. What is coming.
- People don’t respond to neediness. As humans, we just don’t.
- As an actor, continuing to do theatre is so good for your heart and soul.
- Our jobs, as artists, are to be innovators.
- Be generous in our connections and less about ourselves.
Thank you Jakki for your insights, kindness and enthusiasm!