Above: Kristina Haddad, Zee Tompkins, Marquils Hunter
Local casting company Cast Iron Studios launched the Talent Diversity Initiative in 2015 in response to the need for more diverse actors in shows like The Librarians and Grimm, both filmed in Portland. The 36-hour intensive acting course gave 32 diverse performers the opportunity to hone their skills with two of Portland’s finest acting coaches and a myriad of guest speakers, at no cost to the actors. Participants were nominated by their agents as committed and talented individuals who would benefit from the initiative.
Cast Iron’s commitment to promoting a diverse and inclusive talent pool in the Northwest connects with Prosper Portland’s own aim to honor diversity and inclusion in its work to build an equitable economy.
Within weeks of graduation, the Class of 2015 began reporting an increase in their callback and booking rates on film, television, web and commercial projects, so Cast Iron committed to a second year for the program. The 2016 sponsorship by the Portland Film Office provided additional funding to bring back 16 of the first year’s graduates for another 36 hours of training.
Turner Network Television, whose series The Librarians shoots in Portland, was a primary financial partner in both years of the project.
Lana Veenker, president of Cast Iron Studios, said, “We realized that we shared a common goal in that we all want to see more diversity represented in the projects that shoot in the Northwest. The bonds that have formed among the students have been powerful; they have become each other’s support groups, as they make their way in the industry.”
Credentials: The Wonderland Murders, Grimm, Stalked (web series)
Day job: Client support at Mercari
What have you learned?
I started acting two years ago and was very intimidated by the industry. But some lovely people involved with our local scene have had positive impact on my career (more importantly, my life).
I had the pleasure of attending the last two seasons of the Cast Iron Studios TDI Program. The tools and insights I gained so early in my career have helped me in the following ways:
Booked my first cable television lead role; newfound confidence in the casting room; industry know-how; networking; a better understanding of the craft; lasting friendships. The list goes on! My sincerest gratitude for your kindness!
I’m co-starring in a one-night showing of “The God Couple,” a play at World Trade Center 2, downtown. My co-star is Adam Klugman, whose father, Jack Klugman, was one of the original cast members from the TV show, “The Odd Couple.” I also will be starring in a music video for a local rock band, “The English Language.”
Credentials: Commercial work for Oregon Department of Transportation PSAs; Banfield Pet Hospital; Microsoft Mixer/Minecraft. Extra/background actor, In Plain Sight (TV series), Better Call Saul
Day job: Technician at Lam Research; U.S. Navy veteran
What have you learned?
Since being a part of the Talent Diversity Initiative, I have seen significant growth in my acting ability and my auditions reflect it. Kristina Haddad did an exceptional job with helping me work on the mental aspect of the craft and simply being myself in the scenes. This approach has gotten me more callbacks than I ever had prior to being a part of TDI. I am very thankful and grateful for being a part of this program.
Auditions and callbacks!
Credentials: Commercial work for Papa Johns, The CW, Next Adventure, Buffalo Wild Wings, short films
Day job: Fitness instructor
What have you learned?
Participating in the TDI program has boosted my confidence in the audition process and taught me how to approach scripts. Most importantly, it has taught me my self-worth in the industry, and how I have the power to shape my career.
I have met some amazing peers as well. The relationships that we are building and have built through this program have been great, and that includes Kristina, our amazing teacher. I feel so blessed and grateful to be chosen to be a part of this program to learn from one of the best acting teachers in the Portland area. I would do it again over and over every single year, because every time I do it, I only see more growth in myself as an actor and as a business. I am so grateful for the TDI program.
I will be starring in a couple of short films shooting here in Portland. I’m excited to see where my career goes next.