My Casting Origin Story
My Grandmother can easily be credited with kick-starting my Casting career.
When I was 15 or 16 years old, we were watching a movie together and as the end credits rolled, I saw “Casting By Ronnie Yeskel.” I turned to my Grandma, “Are we related to Ronnie Yeskel?” (My Grandma’s sister married a Yeskel.) “Yep! Distantly,” she answered.
My interest was piqued. I had ZERO idea what “Casting” meant, what it involved, how you did it or how you became someone who had a career in it, but I had a good guess that Casting was related to actors. And through Ronnie, I sort of “knew” somebody who did it. Those two things seemed pretty awesome to me. My Grandma, ever the educator and go-getter, saw my interest, (and also saw that I was in North Dakota where I was unlikely to gain any sort of relevant experience or find any information on the career,) and set out to help me learn more about it.
During one visit to Manhattan, she bought me an issue of the Ross Reports. There was a big article listing that year’s “Top 10 Casting Directors” with interviews and the occasional (gasp!) email address. (This was the late 90s… Casting was still very much a messenger/snail mail field.) I wrote to every CD who listed an address, asking how they became Casting Directors and what I should do to follow in their footsteps. One of them wrote back. I don’t remember much about our exchange (and those emails have gone the way of my aol account,) but I do remember him saying that there’s nothing you could study in school to be a CD and that I should start interning immediately.
Thus, my NJ-based Grandma set out on a quest to find me an internship. She doesn’t have any direct connection to the industry herself, but she has friends who have friends and she’s not afraid to ask. A few months before I graduated high school, my Grandma called to tell me that she had gotten me an internship at a NY talent agency for the summer. If I wanted it, I had to call this number and say I was Marion Landew’s granddaughter and yes, I’d be thrilled to have the opportunity.
So I did exactly that. I was 18 years old, taking the train from my grandparents’ house in Jersey into Manhattan every day. After a few weeks doing all kinds of tasks from calling to release clients after a commercial hold (ugh,) to sorting head shots, to working the front desk, some kind agents asked me what I REALLY wanted to do. “I think I want to be a Casting Director,” I said. The next day, one of the assistants called to tell me that instead of coming in to the office, I should go to this other building. I was going to help out a commercial Casting Director for a day while she had a session.
I sat in that hot waiting room, (July in New York with maybe a whiff of window AC,) checking actors in, taking their Polaroids, answering phones, pointing people in the direction of the bathroom… it was a (sweaty) three hour day of work and it might’ve been the most exciting three hours of my life. After that, I had no doubt that I wanted to be a Casting Director.
Flash forward a few years… I’ve just graduated from USC and I’m trying to find a job as a Casting Assistant in Los Angeles. By now, I’ve had about eight different internships, many of them coming by way of the previous thanks to that very first Grandma-supplied opportunity in New York. Lo and behold, one day I see a notice that Ronnie Yeskel is looking for an assistant. I’m literally panting with anticipation as I shoot her an email and not-so-subtly say that “if nothing else, it would be great to meet a member of my family.”
A few days later, I go in to interview with Ronnie. She asks me some cursory questions and then after a few minutes blurts, “so, HOW exactly are we related?” I explain: my grandmother is Marion, her sister is Evelyn and she’s married to Stanley. Ronnie nods and then dials someone on speaker phone. A woman picks up and Ronnie says, “Mom… do you know Marion Landew?” “Oh yes!” her mom says. “That’s Stanley and Evelyn’s sister. You’ve met her before at so-and-so’s Bar Mitzvah.” The conversation goes on a few more minutes. Ronnie is smiling ear-to-ear by the end of the call and I leave that meeting having been given a job assisting the woman who first piqued my interest in the field.
If it weren’t for my Grandmother, there’s a decent chance I would be doing something else right now. When I was first interested in Casting, there were not many places I could go to find information. It was at such a pivotal (about-to-apply-to-college) point in my life, that I could’ve just as easily gone on and studied some other part of film (or something else entirely.) She guided my research and knocked on doors when I had no idea where or how to begin doing either.
I name-dropped the hell out of her to get my first internship and my first full-time gig. But then, I have always been proud to introduce myself as “Marion Landew’s granddaughter.”