Originally posted Thursday, June 21, 2018 by RODNEY HOfirstname.lastname@example.org on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
The role of Barb was not a big one for Netflix’s hit show “Stranger Things” season one, lasting all of three episodes. But it was pivotal given that she dies partway through the season.
The producers were seeking a girl with a specific look and feel. Atlanta’s Feldstein/Paris Casting did some fishing and found Shannon Purser from Roswell. She captured that classic nerdy-angst that worked for the character.
Then to the surprise of everyone involved including casting directors Chase Paris and Tara Feldstein Bennett, Barb became a cult sensation. Fans were outraged by her departure. #JusticeForBarb became a meme and trending topic.
“We had to been looking for that role forever seeing all different types of girls,” Paris said. “When we ran into Shannon, we actually overlooked her at one point. We looked at her tape. It didn’t work at that moment. Then we went back and take another look at this girl.”
The Duffer brothers, who created “Stranger Things” and casting director Carmen Cuba wanted to see her in person. Purser had no real experience, he said, but just embodied that “tortured soul of Barb. She was just perfect for the role.”
Ultimately, “it really launched her career,” added Paris, who is 35. “I have a stuffed doll of her character’s desiccated body at home.” (Purser’s agent did not respond to an email.)
That casting helped Feldstein|Paris win their first Emmy last year. In fact, they were nominated for both “Stranger Things” and FX’s “Atlanta,” winning for “Stranger Things.”
“There’s nothing like winning your first Emmy,” said Bennett, 32. “It’s an out-of-body experience.” They beat out “This is Us,” “Westworld” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” among others.
Feldstein|Paris have become pivotal casting directors in Atlanta well beyond “Stranger Things,” finding roles for hundreds of regional actors on Atlanta-produced shows such as Netflix’s “Ozark,” FX’s “Atlanta,” OWN’s “Greenleaf” and films such as “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Game Night” and “I, Tonya.”
They are known for their friendliness, accessibility, efficiency and efficacy in finding talent.
“I’ve now worked with them on quite a variety of projects and they are able to make the shift from different styles and genres pretty seamlessly,” said Cuba from “Stranger Things.”
And after seven years in town, they remain a lean, mean operating machine. They have zero staff. They only began renting a centralized office at the Battery by SunTrust Park this month, hoping it will reduce the amount of driving they have to do since they previously worked frequently from home. (They still often go directly to TV and film production offices around metro Atlanta.)
Thom Milam, an agent at the People Store talent agency in Atlanta which originally repped Purser, said he can always easily get a hold of one or the other. “That’s very helpful in building the agent relationship,” he said. “There’s no telephone tag. And they’re scheduling geniuses. They work on so many projects but are extremely organized. And they are cognizant that we have a life. They only contact us off hours when it’s an emergency.”
For one upcoming film, “The Hate U Give,” they cast a whopping 75 people in just a few weeks.
Paris, who is by far the gabbier of the two, said for now, they don’t mind doing the paperwork that other directors would pawn off. And they have no plans on adding another partner either.
“We haven’t found the breaking point just yet,” Paris said. “We like our situation and enjoy the minutiae strangely enough. I trust her implicitly. I can’t see bringing someone else into this work marriage.”
They say they rarely argue and even when they do, it’s never mean-spirited.
In the pre-digital days, casting had to be done in person and some agencies still like to do it that way. But now most casting for day players and recurring roles are done digitally. This saves an enormous amount of time and money. This is also how Feldstein/Paris can do so much work without staff.
“They’re rising stars and I think they’ve earned it,” said Ric Reitz, president of actors’ union SAG-AFTRA Atlanta. “It’s a new generation, a new time and a new style.”
On Netflix’s “Ozark” starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney, Feldstein|Paris cast many of the secondary characters such strip club owner Bobby Dean (Adam Boyer), the pastor’s pregnant wife Grace Young (Bethany Anne Lind) and hapless realtor Sam Dermody (Kevin Johnson). “We got a lot of nice big roles,” said Paris. Season two returns August 31.
“I’m really happy with the local casting,” said Patrick Markey, an “Ozark” producer. “I’ve been getting calls from other producers. They’re all asking about the local Atlanta talent base. We have to recommend them. They have great taste and they deliver.”
They also cast many of the quirky roles on FX’s “Atlanta.” “We found a lot of true Atlantans to be in it,” Paris said. “Ninety five percent of the new cast you see each season is local.” For instance, all the kid roles in the flashback episode were cast by them, including middle-school versions of Earn and Alfred. “Everyone was super happy,” Paris said.
Feldstein|Paris do not generally contact actors directly. Rather, they work through local talent agencies such as the People Store, Paris’ former employer Houghton Talent and Atlanta Models & Talent. Those agencies will suggest actors who fit whatever roles the films and TV shows are seeking.
But they are always open to meeting new actors and agents. They will occasionally send out Tweets saying they will be at a particular restaurant in a few hours, come on by!
As the talent pool in Atlanta has deepened, Paris said they have an easier time booking beefier, bigger roles for local actors. Atlanta has become a magnet for thespians nationwide. SAG-AFTRA Atlanta said membership has swelled to about 2,200 members vs. about 700 to 800 ten years ago.
“Some actors are getting four or five auditions a week,” Bennett said. There are some actors who try to book every TV show that shoots in town. You could potentially get a day in everything.”
“Brave producers have let us spread our wings,” Paris added.
Atlanta actor Steve Coulter, whose credits include “House of Cards,” “The Walking Dead” and “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” said Feldstein|Paris has “really raised the industry’s awareness of the talent pool in Atlanta. They really love actors and it shows in their work. They’ll push to cast local actors in larger roles.” They have brought him in for dozens of auditions and he recently nabbed a fun recurring role on IFC’s “Brockmire.”
Films and TV shows also save a lot of money by hiring what is defined as a “local” actor. Union rules define “local” as a 60-mile radius from the production base who do not need to be housed or flown in. “There is a lot of benefit for hiring local,” Paris said.
Before starting their two-person firm, Paris was a talent agent and Bennett spent several years at well-established Fincannon and Associates, which casts “The Walking Dead.” As the tax credits were starting to heat up the local TV and film scene, the two decided to combine forces and start their own Atlanta-based operation.
“When we started there was a vacuum,” Paris said. “We filled a void.” Early on, they did NBC’s “Revolution,” CBS’s “Reckless” and Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow.” And as their reputation built, they were able to nab the two big Netflix shows and “Atlanta” as well as Dwayne Johnson movies “Rampage” and the upcoming “Jungle Cruise.”
And they manage to do all this while each juggling marriages and two young children, born just weeks from each other. They also socialize when not working, playing mixed doubles on both ALTA and a T2 flex league. “Tara is the better athlete,” Paris noted. “I’m the better tennis player.”
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