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Talent Spotting
by Karen Pecota

For the past four years, a film training school called the Berlinale Talent Campus (BTC) runs parallel to the Berlinale. The campus is located in the World Culture Center building which is about a brisk 20-minute walk from Potsdamer Platz, the center of the Berlinale Festival. The BTC is a huge conference for up-and-coming film talent around the world.

This year 44% of the 520 participants were female. The top ten countries represented were Germany, United Kingdom, USA, France, Spain, Canada, Sweden, Israel, Italy and Mexico. Most of the participants already work in the area of filmmaking. There were eight fields of work represented: director, cinematographer, actor, sound designer, composer, screen writer, production designer artist, producer, and editor. The top two fields were directing at 40% and screen writing at 21%.

I wanted to attend a few seminars during the Berlinale Talent Campus in order to collect information for my two children, Kevin and Kathryn, who are just “getting their feet wet” in the entertainment industry. Kevin is pursuing film directing with an emphasis on screen writing and composing musical scores. Kathryn is pursuing stage acting with an emphasis on singing and casting. Unfortunately, they could not attend the BTC, so my motherly detective work would have to suffice. I was hoping the various seminars would prove to be as interesting as their write-ups.

The seminar on “Talent Spotting” (casting actors for film roles) with Hollywood producer Fred Roos looked fascinating. I calculated this into my schedule and looked forward to the event. I received my tickets through my press accreditation and on the appointed day, with ticket in hand, I trenched through the snow and slush on the way to the World Center building. I hoped that my concerted efforts of trekking would not be in vain and I would be able to glean more information than expected. I arrived just in time to be one of the first people in the auditorium and chose a front-row seat with a perfect view of the whole stage. In anticipation, I was confident that I would learn something new and exciting about the field of casting from a seasoned professional. But at that moment, I was just happy to be seated in a nice, warm room away from the cold elements of winter.

The seminar opened with a 15-minute tribute to producer Fred Roos. It was a delightful walk down memory lane, reminiscing his days as a casting agent. I was pleasantly surprised to know that he discovered many Hollywood stars of my generation. It was so cool to view the old casting film footage of stars like Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro, Diane Lane, Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton, just to name a few. Some of the takes were hilarious and unforgettable!

The tribute film paved the way for Roos to explain his introduction to talent spotting or casting. He graduated from UCLA film school and the first job he landed was in the mail room of one of the big production companies. It was only through a personal connection that he advanced from mail room clerk to working for a casting agency. He worked for this agency for only 18 months, had his own casting business for a while and then moved on to producing film. While Fred Roos was involved with casting, he was responsible for casting actors in some of Hollywood’s most beloved films, including American Graffiti, The Godfather I, II, III, The Outsiders, etc. Even though his casting days were very short lived, he loved the job. He enjoyed connecting the right person to the right film role, which ultimately was his successful and legendary calling card in the business.

He said that he always uses the “family style” approach to his hiring and directing. This style is to make people comfortable. He appears to have a loving father image and begins by asking lots of questions to get the person relaxed. He then goes in for the kill (so I call it) to see what the actor is made of. His whole goal is to assess their immediate talent and then to project their potential. It is at this point that he can identify for what roles they would be suited. He candidly mentioned that many of his clients were afraid of him going into their initial interview. He laughed and seemed to enjoy a mental blitz of reminiscing on those days.

One of the stories he told was about working with Francis Ford Coppola on the first Godfather film, when he interviewed Robert Di Niro. De Niro read for a small part and Roos wanted to hire him. De Niro turned down the role because during this time he was offered a bigger role in another film. Roos said that this was a big deal for an unknown actor to turn down even the smallest role in The Godfather. However, as it worked out, it opened the door for De Niro to be cast for Godfather II with a very significant role and from that point on his career took an amazing leap forward.

One question was how do the actors choose their roles? He quickly shot off the answer that actors actually don’t have many choices. It is not an easy career and one needs a lot of luck because the actor is not in control. You could have heard a pin drop and then Roos quickly gave some fatherly advice to the actors in the audience. He encouraged them to train like an athlete: keep busy, keep motivated, keep sharp and take command. He added, “Attend workshops and classes to better your skills. Go to every audition. Meet everyone you can. Be in control of yourself and your life.”

I could have listened to Roos’ commentary on casting and his experiences a lot longer than the seminar allowed. I was in awe of the wealth of information I had gleaned. My trekking through rain, mud and snow was not in vain. I had some awesome tips and stories to share with Kevin and Kathryn from a seasoned professional within their entertainment world. And who knows: maybe their paths will cross one day? It could happen!