Ellie Kanner [Interview]
April 19, 2017 Leave a comment
We are moving right along with our Women of the Present Month here folks with another fantastic interviewee who is working diligently behind the scenes! Today we are talking with the amazing director and former casting agent phenom Ellie Kanner! As we try to hit as many gears in the machine that is show business, I realized we haven’t actually featured a casting agent and was very intrigued to find out what that part of the business is all about. And it turns out that we found one of the best in business who was so kind to tell us all about it!
Kanner was a casting agent for hit series like Sex and the City and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which are obviously classic television shows, but I kept seeing her name pop up because of a couple of projects that I still love and adore like Rory Kelly’s 1994 masterpiece Sleep With Me, and the short lived but brilliant series Two Guys, A Girl, and A Pizza Place. And when she moved behind the camera as a director, even more amazing credits starting rolling in, like the highly underrated 2012 gangster flick For The Love of Money, and the 2014 comedy Authors Anonymous. And the list goes on and on.
Ellie is a woman who has staked her claim in the world of film and television, and should serve as a real inspiration as to what women can accomplish behind the scenes, if we could only move forward and give them more of a level playing field. That’s not too much to ask, right? Remember folks, it’s not about superiority, it’s about equality. Alright, jumping off the soap box, and right into the wonderful career of the amazing Ellie Kanner!
When did you realize you wanted to join the world of arts and entertainment? Was it something that started at very young age, or did you just sort of fall into it?
I grew up in CT and loved watching television and movies. Our town was so tiny we didn’t have a movie theater so when we went to the theater it was a big night. When I was 10 years old I told my family I planned to move to Los Angeles to be an actress. When I arrived here I didn’t know anyone. I cold called talent agencies and ended up as a receptionist at a small agency. My first week there I saw all of the pictures and resumes that they received and realized there were many people who wanted to be an actress more than I did. That’s when I decided to learn as much as I could as an agent and then pay attention to other people’s jobs so I could figure out what I could do. I always loved the idea of working in the entertainment industry. That was my dream.
For those of us who simply are not in the know, and very out of the loop…can you explain the responsibilities of a casting director? What are some of the most important aspects of the job, and how do you know when you have casted a film or television show perfectly? Is it an after thought of some kind?
The casting director works closely with the writer, creator, director and/or producer in helping this ’team’ to hire the best actors for their project. Each project is different in terms of their team but there is always someone the casting director is working for.
A CD suggests actors for specific roles and can be creative in changing the minds of the team by suggesting changing the gender or ethnicity of a certain role. There are many opportunities for a CD to be creative. The CD auditions actors on their own and then brings the best of the people they have seen, along with actors the CD has already worked with or is familiar with and brings them all to audition for the team. Sometimes it’s a process of elimination. You take the best from each casting session and then bring back actors to audition again to narrow it down. Sometimes you search for months for that one role that you can’t quite cast, until that one actor comes in and nails it. The CD’s job is to put together a puzzle. Making sure the actors all compliment each other, with their styles, looks, depending on the characters they are playing. The CD’s office runs these sessions and is also involved in making the deals with the agents who represent the actors and making sure everyone on the team has the appropriate information once the actor is cast. The team often wants to offer a part to a big ’name’ actor and that requires checking availabilities and talking to the agents and managers who represent them. The CD also needs to be on the lookout for new talent who could fit a role so it’s constantly watching tv, film, web series, theater, etc., and being able to spot when an actor is right for a specific role. When an actor has never done a certain type of role that you are casting you have to have good instincts as to whether they are capable of playing a part that is so different from what they have played before. Part of the CD’s job is to explore that and allow actors to show what they are capable of. I believe a well cast project can make or break it but of course, it always starts with the script. If the script is great and you cast wonderful actors to bring even more to it AND put together a team to execute it, you have a real opportunity for success.
What made you decide to jump behind the camera yourself to start directing films and television? And what sort of benefits do you believe you had in tow with so many years in casting under your proverbial belt?
My favorite parts of casting were working with the actor and then going to the set. I never wanted to leave. I watched many directors in casting sessions and while some of them were amazing, some I felt could give better direction or could communicate better with the actor. I thought I should investigate if it was something I could be good at. With that, I started studying directing. I read books, took classes, seminars, etc., but really the best experience was going out there and finding something to direct. I directed plays, sketch comedy shows and finally got an opportunity to direct a feature film. My casting experience has helped my directing in many ways. Obviously working with the actors in casting sessions helped me do the same on set. Working with the agents/managers as I did in casting has given me wonderful relationships to help my access to great talent. I love being able to direct actors who I only was able to cast in the past.
As a filmmaker, what do you believe is the most important aspect of a film? What are you most wanting to accomplish with each project you have been behind?
I believe the script/story is most important. The casting can elevate it. Truly, it’s a team effort. The director must have the vision and ability to communicate with the crew but if there is no team to implement that vision, there is no cohesive story. I always want to make a project that has an affect on its audience. If it’s a comedy, my goal is to make the audience laugh. If it’s a drama, I hope to move the audience emotionally. The best compliment I get is if an audience member tells me that the project either made them laugh or cry and stayed with them for a long time. If it also made them think differently about the subject matter or inspired some kind of change then that would be the icing on the cake.
How much progress do you feel is being made for women working behind the camera in several different fields? Do you feel like women are finally getting the respect in your business that they have always deserved? Or are some things still stuck in the past?
There has been progress but there is a long, long road to go. The awareness that has been raised is a very good start but people, both men and women, in my opinion, need to truly make change, not just talk about it. Everyone says they ‘want’ to hire women directors but sometimes they say it’s difficult to find ‘good’ ones. I don’t believe that. The only way to find out if a director is good is to give them an opportunity. Every director needs experience to grow and explore. There needs to be more programs that don’t just allow directors to meet with showrunners and don’t just have directors ‘shadow’ (observe) another director but these programs need to be restructured to allow directors to direct. There usually is a director/producer on most shows and if that person could guarantee a newer, less experienced director then there would be no risk to anyone. But, I don’t think this has happened yet and I’m not sure why.
If you were given the chance to bring the story of any influential woman in American history to the big screen, who would it be?
There are obvious women like Oprah who I think is one of the most influential women in recent history. Her story of struggle and triumph is inspirational. There are also many women who were ‘behind-the-scenes’ like the women in Hidden Figures who I would like to explore. The woman behind the successful man. I’ll have to think more about that!
What is next for you? Anything coming up that our readers should be looking forward to?
My web series, Dropping The Soap, is now airing on Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play so that’s my latest. It’s a behind-the-scenes comedy about soap operas which explores the lives of the actors. We discover the actors are just as insane as the characters they play. There’s also a deeper story about having the courage to be who you are and discover and live your truth. But, it’s funny. 🙂 I worked with Jane Lynch who was hilarious and the team who created the show, Paul Witten, Kate Mines and Mandy Fabian are some of the most talented people I’ve worked with.
What was the last thing that made you smile?
I smile all the time so that won’t be interesting but, the last movie I watched that made me laugh out loud was Bad Moms. Very funny!