Hollywood 101: Interview With Casting Powerhouse Sarah Finn
The amount of “how to” books that stock the shelves of Samuel French, an LA and NY actors’ bookstore, on “breaking into the industry” would blow your mind. As a working actress myself, it’s hard not to get caught up in the idea that one of these books MUST have the answer to the casting problem that I and pretty much every other non-A-list actress has been having (i.e., getting cast at all). As I walk up and down the neatly alphabetized industry books aisle, I wonder, “How can I know which one of these authors really has this down? Who are these people telling me what I should and should not do to further my career?” It occurs to me that while there are certainly rules that can be followed by using common sense, it is not up to the author of an outdated “Hollywood 101” book to tell me how to go about my own career. After reading many of these books, each with a different take on the industry, I decided to take things into my own hands and do a little bit of digging.
Desperate to learn the secret of Hollywood success, I logged into my IMDB Pro account to research the movies I enjoy and who worked on them. What I found was a reoccurring pattern: the people who worked on big and highly-acclaimed films all work within the same circle. I quickly got to work contacting the casting directors, producers, and personal assistants for interviews about their experiences on these sets. Contrary to popular belief, these industry professionals were not the larger-than-life, intimidating big-shots that you see portrayed as characters on shows like Entourage. They were normal, everyday folks who worked hard (and are still working hard) for something they feel passionately about. Even more shocking, each individual came from a completely different background and followed a completely different process to get where they are today and where they will go tomorrow.
This article will be the first in a series of interviews that look into the industry from the perspective of the working women who encounter it every day. From casting interns to producers of Academy Award winning movies, these are the movers and shakers behind and in front of the men who run the industry, starting with my personal number one, Sarah Finn.
Sarah Finn is the powerhouse casting director behind The Avengers, Thor, Savages, Kick-Ass, Crash, and other films you may have heard of. Starting as an actress herself, she tells me, ”I loved theater from a young age and was writing and directing plays since second grade, as far as I can remember.” Being the brilliant woman that she is, and having many interests in the field of entertainment (producing, directing, writing, marketing, etc.) she went to Yale University and double-majored in drama and history, which proved to serve her perfectly. “Little did I know at the time, I would end up in a career that really utilizes everything I was interested in. The philosophy of researching, like when i’m casting a film, is almost like a research project. I feel like i need to see as many actors as I can, and learn as much about the director, the time period, and the vision for the film as possible. I get as much of a grasp for all of these elements that I can, and then come up with the best suggestions.”
After graduating from Yale, Sarah moved to New York, where she became a member of an interdisciplinary theater company called Ensemble Studio Theater. There, she was encouraged to do everything one can do in the theater. “If you wanted to be a director, you had better be good at lighting, and if you wanted to be an actress you’d better be able to stage manage. While I always thought I was pursuing a career in acting, I was always involved in other things. Casting I feel is a bit of producing, a bit of directing, and a bit of acting, and you kind of have to know all three areas really well.”
As a performer, I know its hard not to ask how long it might take before you can establish yourself and become a star. I sometimes look at my own life like it is a ticking time bomb, edging closer to its limit every day (even though I am only 22-years-old and have a whole lifetime to go). I, like many others, work extremely hard and watch as my life slowly inches in the right direction. I know that sometimes it feels like my dreams are impossible, but they’re not. In order to give myself some peace of mind, I asked Sarah how long it took her to establish her career.
“Well first of all, I worked very hard. It’s hard to say exactly how long because I would count all the years I spent studying acting, producing theater, working at theaters, in and around with actors, directors and producers etc. Actors who become ‘overnight’ successes have been working for 20 years! So I would count all my background that helped me jump into casting and move very quickly into an associate position and then into a casting director position. I didn’t really hit my turning point though until the feature film Crash. I feel that once that film hit the success that it did, which by the way no one anticipated, and won the Oscar, I did find it easier to get interviews. I would say that was around when I started to feel ‘established.’ That was almost ten years from the time I started working as an assistant.” Clearly Sarah has put her time and passion into her work, and that is why she has come so far. As she says, “If you don’t care, and you don’t love what you do, and you don’t give it your all, you’re not going to be great, no matter what you do.”
An inspiration to all women working in the entertainment industry, and any other career for that matter, Sarah Finn has done it all. Don’t be afraid to take chances and to live out your passion. Sarah is just one of many examples of working women in Hollywood who have made it happen – who will I interview next?
As a working actress living in Los Angeles, Hallie Jordan has access to many resources in the entertainment industry. Is there a woman who you would like to see featured? Leave a comment and see if she can make it happen!
Make sure to watch Feminspire as our series on ‘Hollywood 101′ and what it’s really like to be a woman in the entertainment industry continues!
Written by Hallie Jordan