August 31, 2006 in Business

Agencies give local talent a good showing

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review
 

It’s easier than ever to have talent.

Would-be performers can post photographs, video, audio, even audition for parts without straying very far from home.

You never know, says Becky Reilly, when a sleepless casting director might get up at 2 a.m. and cruise the Internet for someone suitable for a hard-to-fill character role.

Reilly owns Big Fish NW, one of two Spokane agencies that handle acting talent. Take 5 Talent, owned by P.J. Trzeciak, is the other. Both say they are active despite the relative lack of film production this summer.

Reilly started Big Fish here a decade ago after selling a business of the same name in Denver. The agency has a database of 3,100 performers doing everything from acting to voice-overs to magic to handing out samples.

“Need a balloon clown? We’ve got one,” she says.

But maybe a dozen out of those thousands make a living on performing alone.

Reilly says actors and models must view themselves as small businesses that need ongoing reinvestment and marketing. Take classes that will teach you how to act with a camera, she says. Hire photographers who can present you in the best possible light. Keep all your information on the Web current.

“Your competition is literally worldwide,” she says.

You never know where lightning will strike. Los Angeles is heavily Hispanic, but Big Fish NW turned up two bilingual Hispanic boys needed for the 2005 version of “Bad News Bears” in, of all places, Burien, Wash. Reilly says casting directors often search far afield for children with the right look.

Look, not surprisingly, is critical. And not always what you would expect. For “The Postman,” the 1997 Kevin Costner film shot in Pend Oreille County, “I needed disfigured people,” Reilly says.

She cruises bowling alleys and golf courses trying to recruit “the active elderly.” Finding anyone with an ethnic look is always a challenge in nearly all-white Spokane. Yet she has a need right now for 30-something white males.

Over her 10 years booking talent in Spokane, she figures an average 2.71 Big Fish talent have been on the job on any given day. Big Fish charges talent a 20 percent commission, 10 percent on jobs less than $50, and also collects a fee from clients.

Although area industry workers suffered severe heartburn when labor issues temporarily sent “Home of the Brave” packing for Vancouver, British Columbia, this spring, Reilly says the pay issues that touched off the dispute had been simmering for some time.

“It was a point that needed to be made,” she says.

Trzeciak spun Take 5 Talent out of her modeling agency, PJ & Co., five years ago. Her roster of around 60 actors is much smaller than that of Big Fish because she does not work with extras, Trzeciak says. Like Big Fish, she placed talent on “Home of the Brave” as well as “End Game,” which filmed in Spokane last year with Cuba Gooding Jr., James Woods and Burt Reynolds among the cast members.

The star power – Samuel L. Jackson has the lead in “Home” – attests to the quality of the local industry, she says. And more talent is coming, with the potential for Spokane to become an industry hub.

“We are very quickly progressing,” says Trzeciak, who opened her modeling agency in 1981.

Reilly says Spokane still lacks some of the assets it will take to give the city a long-running part in the industry. Talent coaches, for example, or a resident casting director. A sound stage would be dynamite.

“Right now, we are very location-dependent,” she says.

Reilly, who works from her Cheney home, says she has been on film sets only twice, and hesitates to tell people what she does. Chance meetings can turn into mini-auditions. Although she personally auditions her talent, Reilly says organization, not casting, is her strength.

She’s helping Big Fish in Denver refocus on voice-overs, and has kicked around the idea of franchising Big Fish. There’s already a Seattle office.

But her feature production will always be the Inland Northwest.

“Spokane has a hub of creative people,” Reilly says.

Got talent?

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