You know that kid in school, the theatrical one? The one who’s always going to singing lessons, dancing lessons, stars in all of the school productions and dreams big dreams about Broadway success? That was Liz Lewis -- the self-described “theater kid” from White Plains, NY-turned award-winning casting director and founder of Liz Lewis Casting Partners (LLCP), New York, Los Angeles, nationwide and worldwide, the 25 year-old casting agency, and certified woman-owned business by the WBENC, known for its solid track record of successfully casting for some of the biggest names in the industry, expansive network of contacts resources and skill for discovering new and untapped talent.
“I started dancing when I was 3 years old,” Lewis remembers. “My parents would take me into the city for my dance and acting classes until I was old enough to go on my own, and they took me to my first Broadway show, “Guys and Dolls,” when I was only 5 years old. I was mesmerized and knew right then that was what I wanted to do with my life.”
After studying Theater and Dance at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, Lewis returned back to New York intent on starting her own stage career. Rather than suffer through the usual waiting table gigs in between auditions, Lewis’s parents wisely advised her to find a job that was actually in the entertainment industry.
Answering an ad in the late-great entertainment trade paper Show Business for a casting assistant led Lewis to Claire Shull, the legendary casting director whose company at the time was one of the preeminent casting agencies in New York.
Acting Vs. Shoes:
After three months working with Claire, while simultaneously auditioning for acting roles, Lewis remembers being asked to meet privately with Shull. Thinking she was going to get fired, Schull instead asked Lewis a simple question: “Which do you prefer, acting or buying shoes?” It was Schull’s way of telling Lewis, if you want to pursue acting, go ahead and try, but get used to the struggle and the rejection.
“I picked shoes and still would,” Lewis says. “She gave me a big hug and said ‘you have a knack and an eye for casting; I will teach you everything I know and maybe you will take over my business some day,’” Lewis says. “I didn’t have that desire to make it as an actor anymore, my new love was casting. Claire became my mentor and wow did I learn a lot.”
Lewis never did take over for Claire, but rather after 5 years casting with the best, Lewis was brave enough to carve her own path in the ultra-competitive world of casting by starting her own business. Twenty-five years later the company she founded remains a top pick and leading resource for producers looking for the right talent for everything from TV spots and voiceovers to feature films, theatre, episodic TV and reality programming.
“I used to be the youngest in the business, and now I am one of the old guard giving opportunities to so many people in our beloved business,” Lewis states proudly. “Last week someone came up to me, hugged me and thanked me for giving him the career he now has. It felt so good knowing that I have done that for so many others.”
Lewis is quick to point out, she hasn’t done it alone. In fact to hear her tell it, she has the best staff around her.
Lewis notes, "To become successful I always knew to surround myself with people with different skills that stimulate me intellectually and creatively. To be a great casting director takes an eye for talent, good multi-tasking skills and most of all a love for actors." That’s exactly what the LLCP team is: a tight, like-minded, collaborative and passionate group that wants nothing more than to see actors experienced and new get their chance.
“Myself and my team chose this profession not because we couldn’t make it in front of the camera, but because we love the art of casting,” Lewis says. “For us, every project no matter the genre is like a puzzle, and we love fitting all the pieces together to make a perfect picture.”
The LLCP team currently includes:
• Angela Mickey, the uber-talented and experienced 18-year veteran Managing Director of Casting been with LLCP longest and is Lewis’s right hand. With extensive experience in literally every genre and aspect of the business, Mickey is well respected by everyone in our business, with clients always coming back for more of her brilliant work.
• Lynn Taylor is a 12-year veteran of LLCP who in addition to her role as manager is a licensed CPA, a skillset that has proved invaluable to LLCP throughout her time at the company. Taylor is the company’s rock who keeps the business running like a well-oiled machine, and also happens to be a strong casting director in her own right. Lynn pushed to open their office in LA and from there go nationwide.
• Rachel Reiss joined the company six years ago and is known for her calm demeanor and organized nature. She came from theater and film casting experience, but quickly added commercials and reality to the mix. Lewis notes, "She excels at taking a big project and simplifying it into a plan of action and following to the perfect result."
• Caitlin Jones started at LLCP as an intern working on lots of reality projects with us before she was hired full time as an assistant. She quickly moved up the ladder and is now casting projects in all areas. She also has a knack for casting musical theater as well.
• Derek Stusynski started working with LLCP a few years again and possesses a wonderful work ethic and is terrific in the studio -- actors love him, as do our clients. He cast the “Doritos Dogs” spot that won the Super Bowl challenge, and is also a reality maven that worked for years casting the Food Network show “Chopped”.
• Rebecca Lagore is the newest member of the team. She started out as an intern in the fall and when the internship ended they couldn’t bear to lose her. She was hired full time right before Christmas and the LLCP team and its clients are happy to have her.
Having a top flight team around her has helped Lewis navigate the many challenges the casting world today confronts – not least of which is that the creative process is one where everyone involved has an opinion, from the casting director to the director, to the producers and the agency creatives.
“Our job is to meld those together and come up with the choices that will make everyone on the entire creative team satisfied,” Lewis says.
Keeping clients satisfied is something that is evident on the company’s most recent noteworthy work, which includes a heart-warming PSA for the Central Park Conservancy, the exuberant “Perfect Day” spot for Samsung and the powerful suicide prevention music video “Ghost Story."
Adapting To Changes:
While the casting industry has traditionally been female dominated, Lewis has seen reasons for further optimism for women in the industry, namely the advancements made by trade organizations like Women In Film & TV (WIFT) and Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), Association of Commercial Producers (AICP), Casting Society of America (CSA), Directors Guild of America (DGA) and the Producers Guild of America (PGA), as well as the fact that many film and arts colleges now offer majors in casting, something that was unheard of just ten years ago.
Despite those changes, the increased demand for casting pros thanks to a seemingly endless amount of content that today’s on-demand, online world can accommodate, coupled with advancements in video communication technology like Skype and Facetime, as well as high-quality, HD cameras found in just about every smartphone today, the art of casting still comes down to a few simple principles that LLCP continues to excel at 25 years in.
“With all the great advancements, casting is first and foremost a people business,” Lewis notes. “We are known for casting the unexpected and creating an environment that is a safe place for an actor to do their best work. We want to see them succeed because at the end of the day we all succeed when we get the most out of our talent. Whether they’re up and coming actors or well-known celebrities, we always treat everyone with the same amount of respect and kindness. That core philosophy is one of the main reasons why our team is so respected in the community.”
“We pride ourselves on bringing in new and untapped talent,” she says. “It is easy to cast stars but to find the new you have to dig deeper. Our clients always leave our office feeling they had many amazingly talented actors to chose from.”
So what advice does Lewis offer college grads? Not surprisingly, it’s pretty much the same as the advice she received from her mentor Claire Shull all those years ago.
“If you have a passion for the entertainment business, quickly jump in and learn as much as you can,” she advises. “Work long hours and ask a lot of questions and volunteer. The more you do, the more indispensible you become. This is a tough business, but so rewarding when you find the right work environment. You will eventually find your mentor like I did and that makes all the difference.”