Copper leaves dwindle down the Broadway strip, as Autumn sweeps over Manhattan once again. With this changing of the seasons comes a new gust of aspiring entertainers hoping to build their mark amongst the towering skyscrapers standing in the city of dreams. Yes, despite the lingering notion that “e;show business” is one of the toughest industries to infiltrate, masses of hopefuls continue to migrate to New York City wishing for their big break. What a lot of people don’t realize is that beyond all the city competition and just down the picturesque Hudson River, exists a secret hub of production, brewing with opportunity – The Hudson Valley.
A speedy train ride can be your escape from the intense and, occasionally, brutal monster that is the New York City audition circuit. Film and television production in the Hudson Valley has been growing at a steady pace, attracting award-winning filmmakers and actors with its’ delicious scenery and appetizing tax incentives. “e;War of the Worlds” (with Tom Cruise), “e;Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” (with Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener) and “e;Taking Woodstock” (directed by Ang Lee) are among notable films that have ventured to the Hudson Valley. In addition, television has a presence there, with Lena Dunham’s HBO series “e;Girls” filming an episode in New Paltz. One of the premiere casting companies that has been assisting in this recent boom of production is Hudson Valley Casting. We were lucky enough to pick the brain of the company’s fearless and talented leader, Heidi K. Eklund, who’s worked on such projects as All My Children and, the 2013 breakout indie hit, Francis Ha.
Check out what she had to say:
RP: First of all, how would you best describe what you do?
Heidi: I think of what I do as the Human Resources of the project or production I am working on. I help talent find their way into a job and I help the production get the best people to fulfill the story they are working on telling. I am the liaison between the two. I am a filter basically. Many people think I am an agency – NO! Agencies represent talent and are paid by the talent when the talent books work. Casting Directors are hired by production to find talent for a specific project.
Here is an abbreviated list of what we do:
- Keep a database of actors we believe in.
- Call agents to ask for talent submissions
- Run ads on websites like NYCastings.com to find talent.
- Run auditions to show the director/ producer/ final decision maker the talent available.
- Weed out people who don’t fit the vision (so actors shouldn’t take this process personally).
- Quickly, concisely and efficiently send people talent photos and information. (so if a CD asks you for information, you had better follow their directions or that might keep you out of considerations).
- We facilitate the negotiation process between producers and agents.
Here is what we don’t do that people often mistake us for doing:
- We do not “e;represent” talent.
- We do not make final casting decisions (at least I don’t at this level).
RP: There’s really no school for becoming a Casting Director. How did you get started in it?
Heidi: I grew up on the stage and had a career on the stage and one day I decided I needed to do something M-F with evenings and weekends off. So I started working as an Assistant in academia (NYU).
In 2004 I started working at Vassar in the Film Department after having several years as a roving Yoga Instructor and Shiatsu Practitioner and working at Skydiving Centers where the jumpers really needed bodywork.
Each year at Vassar the seniors would make 20-minute narratives. My first year, there was one group who couldn’t find an actress old enough to star in the film, so they asked me. It was great to work on the film, but when I viewed the collection that year, I noticed that the roles were miscast and their stories suffered because of it.
The next year, I asked if I could compile a list of local actors and organize a casting session so that the students could see who was available in the Poughkeepsie and surrounding areas. They allowed me to spend some time working on the casting. That year the narratives really showed a significant change and the films were entered into festivals. Some of the films showed at festivals that year.
I think it was the very next year, that some of my favorite actors that we had worked with were turning SAG. So I called up the union and asked what we needed to do to work with SAG actors. Once I found out what we needed to do, I worked out the details with the production professors and we started working with union actors. This also gave the students a taste of what it means to work within a system of rules that can make or break your indie project.
Over time, people in the community realized I was doing this and started asking for my help finding students for their projects. Amy Hutchings would call me and ask for students for films. There are many project shot up here in the Hudson Valley and in those films have been cast, many Vassar students. (By the way: the past tense of cast, is cast, when I hear people say casted it makes my skin crawl).
One summer I was working on two different projects so I decided to start Hudson Valley Casting.
RP: Yes, can you tell us a little bit about your company, “Hudson Valley Casting”?
“e;FINDING THE BEST TALENTFOR FILM, COMMERCIALS,PRINT, VOICEOVER, THEATER AND CORPORATE EVENTSIN THE HUDSON VALLEY AND BEYOND.”
That is our slogan. As a family run business, we live and work in the Hudson Valley of New York, home to Woodstock, Vassar College, the Culinary Institute, Walkway over the Hudson, Bard College, SUNY New Paltz, Shadowland Theater, Shawangunk Mountains, Catskill Mountains and countless other fun and famous landmarks. Twelve to Fifteen feature films are shot in the Hudson Valley each summer and we are one of the primary casting companies finding talent for these projects and yes, we seek talent from NYC as well as local talent.
Wayne Pyle is our resident acting coach and provides coaching in voiceover, acting for the camera, acting for stage, audition coaching, dialect reduction, and coaching for Shakespeare as well. He has an MFA from PTTP at the University of Delaware and has acted in countless films and on stages all across America. Wayne is also a lecturer and acting instructor for colleges and universities.
RP: Why did you choose to locate your company in the Hudson Valley and what do you think it offers for NYC actors?
Heidi: I came to the Hudson Valley from Williamsburg. I came to jump out of a plane, once (or what I thought would be once).
After that one time experience, I knew I must return again and again. It was to skydive and get my jumping license, yes, but then it turned into need. A need for breathing fresh air and seeing the mountains and the lush greenery, taking in the more wooded parts of our great river and vibrating at a lower pace in the relaxed environment. There is nothing more amazing than stepping on that bus or train and riding your way to relaxation. Even if you will be working.
I watch actors when they come up here. Now, I take the beauty for granted, but when you first step into it, it captures you and draws you in. You can’t help but want to explore all it has to offer. When I am not working, I still like to hike the rail trail, walk around the shops in the little towns, take my son to the Hudson River park in Poughkeepsie, walk over the stunning Walkway over the Hudson, and eat amazing food from all the terrific restaurants. It is like exploring the City… it takes a long time, if you do it right.
RP: And, of course, the rest is history. What is your favorite part of being a Casting Director?
Heidi: I really enjoy seeing how beautifully an actor can tell someone’s story. It is like facilitating a marriage. When it works, and you find that perfect someone, it is magical, like falling in love.
RP: As a Casting Director, what’s your best piece of advice for aspiring New York actors?
Heidi: FOLLOW DIRECTIONS on your submissions and label all your materials with a filename that includes Your Name! Make it easy for me to cast you.
Be concise, efficient, on time, unfettered, open, aware, considerate, humble but not self-demeaning, HUMAN, and authentically you. Be ready to tell a story, for real, in the moments we spend together. Connect.
RP: If you could change something about the “audition process” what would it be?
Heidi: What would help the audition process is if every actor had a 2-minute reel ready to go on Youtube, photos that are honest and look like them (that aren’t cluttered and messy or overly glamorous), and skill plus the availability to make a connection (a real human connection). Actors who follow submission instructions make the process easier, while actors who don’t cause it to become confusing. To me, the audition begins with the submission and you would be surprised at how many actors make this part of it difficult. Remember, there are just a few of us looking at 500 to 1000 submissions sometimes.
RP: Generally, where are some of the places you discover new talent?
Heidi: I am always looking for new talent. I found twins the other day in a local park where I was playing with my son. All the usual places too (Online, Facebook, All the NY/LA Casting websites, Mandy, etc). When I am casting local extras, I have a lot of fun going into the area where we need the people and putting up flyers, meeting people in the neighborhood, and watching the joy spread that they are going to “e;be in a movie.” Honestly though, I find that the people who come through to the director and book speaking roles, are the people I know from other film projects. Experience and skill are important so I often remember people by what role they played in a prior project and how the end product turned out.
RP: What’s the biggest struggle you’ve had to cast a role, and why?
Heidi: Restrictions, locations and low budgets. Recently, I worked on a short that Melissa Leo and Stephen Spinella starred in. I was looking for actors over 18 to play kids of 13 and a little younger for little to no pay and up in Chatham NY. I failed to find anyone. It was frustrating that they cut the roles. The restrictions on children, combined with union rules and shooting schedules combined with the low budget and location made it impossible to find the right people. I have also had to find Pigeon speaking Hawaiians in NY, and Orthodox or Hassidic people willing to be filmed.
RP: What has been your most rewarding project to work on?
Heidi: “e;Mi America” screens in November… I am on the poster in the Casting by section… nearly 70 speaking roles! That was fun and rewarding. I love every project. They all have different challenges and overcoming those challenges is like climbing a mountain. Commercials are fun because they are a short and intense commitment.
RP: Can you share with us some of the upcoming projects you’re working on?
Heidi: Right now I am in the script reading stage. I have at least 4 feature length screenplays to read right now.
In December I will be holding auditions for Vassar Films (in Poughkeepsie). I am also a Mom of a 4.5 year old actor child, I do act occasionally myself, and I am writing two of my own projects. Some day in the next year I will likely be working on “e;This is Nowhere” with John Russel Cring, Tracy Cring and Heidi Philipsen, casting extras. My busiest time is in the summer. This past summer I worked with Amy Hutchings on “e;The Outskirts” and solo on “e;The Ticket,” and in September I did “e;Damnation.”
RP: Anything else, you want to let New York actors know?
Heidi: Keep trying! Never stop growing! Live life and be well!
Heidi K. Eklund (http://www.imdb.me/heidieklund) has played upon stages and in film from Massachusetts to Arizona. While living in NYC she worked on “All My Children,” in countless Off Broadway theaters, and primarily as an ensemble member of the Irondale Ensemble Theater.
Heidi has been the Casting Coordinator for the Vassar College Film Department for the past 10 years and has cast somewhere between 30 and 40 short films in that position. She grew her casting role from her assistant position when she saw a need to connect students with professional actors in the Hudson Valley Community.
Heidi is now the owner of Hudson Valley Casting and has served as the casting director for “Mi America,” casting associate for” Lychee Thieves,” extras casting director for “Dovid Meyer,” and coordinated talent and production assistants for “Francis Ha.” Heidi also serves as the Programming Chair of Upstate Women in Film and Television.
For more information please check out hudsonvalleycasting.com or follow the specific links below:
You can also like our Facebook page for casting alerts: