Synopsis by Tracy Weisert
When I met Casting Director, Julia Kim at the 2013 Independent Spirit Awards this Spring, she had just received the Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble Cast. I thought she would make a great guest speaker for our free Casting Networks Inside the Industry Seminar. I was thrilled when she accepted my invitation to speak! It was also neat to see such a packed house for our seminar when she spoke the weekend before Thanksgiving on November 23rd!
Here is Ms. Kim’s bio-
Julia Kim is an Independent Casting Director based in Los Angeles. Through the years, she has been fortunate to have her work nicely recognized. Starlet received the Robert Altman Award for Best Ensemble Cast at the 2013 Independent Spirit Awards. Shit Year Premiered at the Cannes Film Festival Director’s Fortnight. Larry Clark’s Wassup Rockers was an opening night selection at Slamdance and Wild Tigers I Have Known debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Julia cast the Japanese remake of Sideways for FOX Japan and cut her chops on the cult favorites But I’m a Cheerleader and Two Family House, which won the Audience Prize at Sundance. Recent Films: Just wrapped feature film Dawn Patrol starring Scott Eastwood in his first lead role. Blood Shed (Horror) & Doobious Sources (Comedy) are in post-production. She is in active pre-production on a magical romantic-drama The Dead Man to shoot Spring 2014. Commercials: Julia has worked with clients such as VW, Sony, Dish Network, Budweiser, Pepsi, Coke, AT&T, AquaFresh, Google, Official.fm, ESPN, McDonald’s, Honda, Boost Mobile, Martell Cognac, Canon, Chevy, Spike TV and more. Industry related: Julia recently served on a SAG panel for this year’s Spirit Awards Nominees as well as serving as a panelist for a SAG discussion about transforming the perception of Asians on-screen. Julia is also establishing herself as LA’s go-to-gal for productions based in Japan, Korea and India. Julia cast a reality show for the Asian Cable Network AZN and was recently written about in the Korea Times, and Medium Rare, a Web site highlighting the contributions of women and minorities in the film industry. Julia is also involved in casting workshops and thankful for the nice comments from the people she’s worked with.
Here is an overview of a few of the things Julia covered-
Julia began, “Hi everybody. Thank you for being here. I did not expect such a healthy crowd! I’m pleased. I don’t really have a format but just came with information that I think would be helpful to the working actor and the striving working actor. If at any point, I’m on a subject where a question pops into your head, I’m happy to answer it at that time. There is no segmented situation at all. I’m an independent casting director in Los Angeles. I’m born and raised here, so I’ll tell you a little bit about myself before we kind of launch into it.”
She continued, “I never even knew a job of casting really existed, but I was a film lover for most of my life and I actually noticed a great cast because for me, it’s all about the performance when I’m watching something. If I’m moved by the genuine storytelling and the people portraying the story, that’s what stands out for me the most, not that the lighting was so great or ‘Oh my God. That was shot so beautifully.’ I respect all of those jobs because, of course, it is very vital and it is a testament to those jobs that I don’t really notice it because I think that’s the beauty of their jobs to make it so seamlessly correlate with the story. For me, it’s about the performance. We’re going to focus on that today.”
Julia then took a hands-up poll of the experience & and ratio of actors represented by an agent in attendance to know who she was speaking to and how to taper her talk and mentioned Pilot Season. Julia said, “I don’t do TV because I just really like a feature film format. I like focusing on one story. I like working with the director and collaborating in that way. Pilots are a whole other beast and I don’t think it’s exactly my fit but I do source a lot of talent from TV. For television, it’s great because they get to break a lot of new talent because they don’t always need ‘the name game.’ If there is a sitcom with Chuck Lorre involved, he somehow is the tent pole of the whole pilot, so he’s able to put people (actors) in who aren’t exactly recognizable. That’s really the trade-off for the new actor that gets their break that way.”
She continued, “I do commercials and I do independent feature films. Last year, I was fortunate to be the recipient of the Robert Altman Award for Casting and Best Ensemble Cast for a film called Starlet. It was such a low-budget and I really didn’t make a lot of money off of that project but I took it because of the filmmaker who is New York-based; I really had liked his previous features and I loved the script. It was actually what he called a ‘scriptment.’ It was about fifty pages and he had certain scenes fleshed out but then he had certain scenes that were just outlined, and it was really going to be about the actor and him filling in the gaps. He would tell you what he envisioned what was going on in the scene and then it was just the flow of the actor and him making it happen. I got a lot of mileage off of that movie. Not only was it recognized but it’s gotten a lot of other inquiries of interesting filmmakers and projects, so that’s a trade-off for you guys too. It’s not always about the money. It’s about a fulfilling role. It’s about artistic fulfillment. The money is certainly going to come if I think you do great work, it’s going to get recognized. I’ve always sort of dictated my career that way but it really rewarded itself for me with Starlet. If you get a chance to check it out because it was very little seen, I’m sort of promoting it because I think it’s such a great little film and such a unique story.”
“I basically interned for a summer at David Rubin’s office who is a very established casting director. I just fell in love with the [casting] process. I had a knack for it. I have a real nice memory with names and faces and I remember people from something I had seen before to think of them for something in the future and things like that. It was a perfect fit for me. He introduced me to his associate who was working with him. Her name was Debra Zane and she was just starting out and she needed someone to join her for her first foray into being her own casting director.
At that time, we hadn’t really done the ‘crossover.’ Now everybody is crossing over but at that time, you know musicians and people who were poets or performance artists or things like that. We really were only sticking to actors at the time but we started to think ‘outside the box.’ That was really a time when that was just beginning, so we put Mark Wahlberg in one of his first features. I really believe that if you are a performance oriented person, you don’t have to be a trained actor to just to have it but there is a difference. When I’m casting, I think, ‘Does this person have presence and he or she just fits the role because of who they are or does he/she have skill?’ There is a difference. Actors should have skill. They should be able to be directed. They should be able to change it up if the director wants less or more, the director wants bigger or the director wants more nuance. These are adjustments that the actor should trained to be able to do. I believe that someone who has a presence, they just sort of have it…they just have what it takes to be engaging on camera, to be able to hold the screen…to be able to watch them for a long length of time and not get bored because you know what to expect. But there have been those errors definitely in casting where you’re watching something and you’re kind of like, ‘Okay…I am kind of knowing where all this is going and I know where this person is taking me…’ and it’s pretty obvious. To me, my goal is to work opposite that and keep surprising the audience.”
Julia said, “One of the films of this year that stands out for me is Nebraska. I just love that movie for its subtleties, for its small town humor but not making fun of them but just portraying them…the way that they are portrayed. It’s really easy to overlook that movie and be bored but it’s such a gem and it’s so subtle and it’s just a delightful film. I continue to be a fan of Alexander Payne because of the way he directs actors and how he just picks these really ‘under the radar’ people and puts them in these great roles like June Squibb. If you’ve seen it, she plays the Mom and I just love that a woman of her age and stature and physicality was given this really wonderful role. I realize that the business is a beast and you have to keep putting people in that seem to be the ones that draw audiences in but I get really refreshed seeing new faces. I mean, that’s part of my job to put new faces in, so the ‘usual suspects’…we all know what they can do and it’s great that they do it so well but it’s great to unearth talent.
I saw lot of films this year. I’ve seen close to 70 films this year and when I open up the paper, I try to see the smallest advertised ones because they need audiences and I think that there’s some great ones that don’t have the marketing because that’s another part of the deal. You have enough money to make the movie but then to put it out there and promote it, you need a whole other budget for that. Beasts of the Southern Wild from last year was fortunate enough to get picked up by Fox Searchlight but it did the festival circuit and created this great buzz. It’s the rarest occurrence to have that happen to your film when you have no names attached and you just have a beautiful story and a studio get enamored with it, picks it up and then supports it the way that it did, so kudos to that film.”
Julia spoke of the variety of casting opportunities she has had with the various directors and casting colleagues that she has worked with. Of her style as a casting director, “I got to figure out how my style is. What my style is and how I like to work. I am definitely a nurturing giver versus like, scaring the actor. [laughter] You don’t get what you need from being intimidating or intolerant. I’m intolerant of thoughtlessness. I like a thoughtful actor. I mean, who doesn’t? I do a lot of things where people come in and they haven’t given it much thought. That really kind of burns me. Each (audition) slot is super precious. Each audition time, for me, is thought out: I go through everything thoroughly; I open the resumes; I look at the pictures; I see if there is extra-curricular activity that shows me this actor really loves what they do, and they keep themselves busy always greasing their wheels and constantly improving themselves and the craft. I definitely do my homework, so if someone comes in and disappoints me with their lack of preparation, excuses, continual canceling and things like that, that miffs me. I think that it’s just such a competitive town, so you should be dedicated.”
Julia was kind to accept hard copy headshots from all the actors in attendance. When an actor asked about the hard copy headshots and casting directors who have “faded away” from them, and being that the seminar host company, Casting Networks was an electronics submission company, Julia stated, “We do fade away from hardcopy and I think it’s a good thing to fade away because environmentally, it’s better. People ask me if I collect headshots and keep them and you can imagine that my storage would be at capacity if I kept that. I have a personal file of that I do like to keep to remember people by, but for the most part, it’s all electronic now.
I collected these today because I also want to touch on headshots. I wanted to see who is here today and the variety of people who are here today. It’s all electronic. You need to have an online presence. You just do. I think it’s really great to have a personal website that “houses” all your stuff. I mean, this is LA Casting, right? I use them quite a bit and I do like to have multiple (actor) shots online. I like to have something that I can see your body, so I can see physically, in a nutshell, what your physical type is and then I also want to see something more tight, so that I can see your eyes. It’s about connection with the camera.”
Julia continued, “I can kind of tell physically what you’re like from your headshot but when I’m online and I do commercials especially, I just like to see basic physicality because a lot of commercials require specific physicality. Nice hands. Whatever your weight is. I need to have an idea if that fits what I’m looking for, so that I don’t waste time and have someone come in and be wrong and waste your time too.”
In closing, Julia said, “I read this really great article that had all these directors talking about Day Players and I’m going to just be frank. That’s going to be your foray into it. Day Players are a tough gig because the bigger roles have been on for multiple days or the duration of the film and they’ve bonded and you can really feel like an outsider coming in. They’re not going to go, ‘Oh hi, how are you? How do you do?’ Maybe the director goes, ‘You just stand over there.’ You just have got to be prepared for all kinds of greets or non-greets or feelings on the set. The set in itself will be exhilarating because…’I’m here in my element and I’m doing it. I’m making money doing it. I’m doing what I love!’ You have one line as something non-descript in the storyline. It’s somebody who is a working person…whether it’s a merchant or whatever it is.
These directors that I respect said it in this interview that they usually watch a tape. They don’t have time to be in the session with Day Players. What we do is bring in a nice body of variety of Day Player types, then he makes his picks based on the DVD. Then the day of, is the first time that he meets you, it’s the first time you meet him and you’ve got butterflies and you’re super excited and he basically just says, ’Okay, stand over there’ or he may not even tell you how to do it. He may just go, ‘Well, you’re a cashier. I don’t need to tell you how to be a cashier.’ [laughter] You’re all wanting to shine, so you say your cashier line in a way that’s so un-cashier-like. [laughter] Then the director yells, ‘Cut!’ Whoa! What was that? Dude, you should be seamless. You should be unnoticeable.’ Do you notice your cashiers? No. There’s chattier ones, there’s one who just hand you your change. There are all kinds but whatever choice you decide to make, first of all, hopefully, you have privy to the script but they may not even give you the script. You just may have your scene. You know that scene consists of Matthew McConaughey. He’s going to come and buy something at 7-11. And you’re like, ‘Oh my God! My scene’s with Matthew McConaughey. I’ve have to say my cashier line really, really great!’ [laughter] But you don’t. You just have to say it without messing up and you have to say it in a way that’s very natural to the scene and they may go, ‘Great! Two takes. Done. Thank you so much. Bye’ or it may be, ‘That’s it.’ That was like your big climactic moment…. [laughter] but that is what it is. That is what it is. You’re going to be noticeable in a very unappealing way. He will notice to never hire you again as a Day Player if you chat him up too much, if you start trying to garner wisdom from various people on the set. When people have jobs to do and time is money on a set, they don’t have time to teach you or educate you on a set. You just being on a set is enough education. Be observant but be quietly observant. Bask in the glory of Matthew McConaughey or whatever but I think that’s a real detriment to be like, ‘Hi, my name is so and so and I just moved here! Oh my God! It’s so exciting!’ [laughter] And everyone’s like, “Okay lady, can you go stand over there?’ Actually, those directors said that they had had Day Players experiences where they come in and I can’t recast because they are here already, so you’re going to end up getting cut, so I would just be very wise with your line, or lack of line or whatever if it’s a featured extra or something. Stay in the context of the story. Remember that when you watch a movie, if you notice somebody for the wrong reasons, they’re not doing their job well.”
Thank you Julia Kim for your terrific pre-Thanksgiving seminar!