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Arts & Life

Colorado Film Industry Works To Keep Local Talent Local

Stacy Nick
Orlando Baker auditions during an open casting call for actors for commercials.

For 30 years, Annie Hamilton has handled casting for many of the television and film projects made in Colorado -- including, most recently, the Jane Fonda/Robert Redford Netflix film, “Our Souls at Night.”

Recently, Hamilton helped conduct an open-casting call for a brand of actor that is becoming more and more sought after in Colorado: “real people.”

“We’re steering away from the beauty and skinny,” she said. “They want real because that’s who the consumers are. That’s who their audience is.”

More than 50 people showed up with ages ranging from 18 months to 80. Some with zero experience in front of the camera -- like Deborah Coyote, a 58-year-old grad student from Wellington who is studying psychotherapy.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Deborah Coyote talks about her theater background during an open casting call.

Coyote said she hopes that her age sets her apart from the pack when it comes to commercial auditions.

“Because I think you do need older people reflected in TV and films and commercials,” she said. “So it would be great if my age makes me competitive that way.”

“We constantly struggle to find local people who want to perform on camera,” said Doug Usher, creative director for The Via Company.

The Fort Collins-based production agency has created commercials and video projects for companies around the world, but Usher says they like to hire local when they can.

“Because the budgets are really very small locally, generally speaking, it’s hard for me to find $1,000 or $2,000 a day to pay an actor when my whole budget might only be $3,000 or $4,000,” he said. “So today I was just looking for a - let’s open the floodgates and see who’s out there that maybe wants to act.”

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Doug Usher and Annie Hamilton watch an audition during an open casting call in Fort Collins

That included Orlando Baker. Now living in Fort Collins, the 49-year-old does everything from landscaping to building bike racks. But before coming to Colorado Baker spent time in Arizona and Hawaii, doing occasional work as a background actor for projects like the mall scene in the 1980’s film “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” and four seasons of the TV show “Lost.”

Baker, who moved here for the lower cost of living and to be closer to his children, said he knows opportunities like those won’t be as likely here. But it’s about being open to the all the possibilities.

“I guess it’s just a matter of whatever is available or open because it’s hard to be specific about what you want because the industry is so flexible, you’ve got to be kind of flexible to get into wherever they want you so -- it’s all good,” he said.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Paige Carmichael fills out a casting sheet with her background information before heading in to audition.

Kiernan Angley, 28, works as a property manager in Fort Collins but he also does a lot of local and regional theater. He showed up at the audition with the goal of expanding beyond the stage.

“I want to build a resume that I can take into a larger film community and show that I have the chops, I have the experience, it’s not just Shakespeare, I’ve actually worked on camera before so that someone could look at my resume and say, ‘Oh, this guy knows what he’s doing,’” Angley said.

To Usher, this casting call is the first step toward bringing more productions to the state -- especially Northern Colorado -- in an effort to keep people like Angley here.

“(Larger production opportunities are) mostly restricted to Denver/Boulder,” he said. “We don’t see a ton of it come to Fort Collins. And unfortunately when we do get it here, they do tend to bring people in from those bigger markets. They’re not hiring local (...) So what I’m trying to do is shift that paradigm a little bit to make an awareness that there are resources here.”

Eventually Usher hopes to create an online database where production companies can access local actors along with local crew members -- everything from camera operators to score composers.

Credit Stacy Nick / KUNC
Cianna Seese was one of 50 people auditioning during a recent 'real people' casting call in Fort Collins.

“My hope and my goal is to get people who are talented to stay,” he said. “To not feel like they have to leave to go to New York or California to work. That you can have a successful career in the arts in Colorado if you want it. That’s the dream anyway.”

While that idea might sound far-fetched, Usher said all you have to do is look to markets like New Orleans and New Mexico.

“If you’d said to somebody 10 years ago that they could make a living as an actor in Albuquerque nobody would have thought that was real,” he said. “But it’s certainly true today.”

For Roie Karni, a 16-year-old Fort Collins High School senior and auditioner, that’s enough to fuel his dream.

“I mean, being in film especially, is just a like a dream come true of mine,” Karni said. “And being in front of the camera, I think, is just like -- it would just be a dream come true to see what I used to watch as a kid and just me being in it would be awesome.”

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