It was a perfect day to sit poolside in Santa Monica sipping a Margarita or laying on the sand enjoying the ocean waves. But for hundreds of Latino performer hopefuls, tanning was not on their minds. Instead, their focus was working towards their dream of being on the big screen.
With the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) preparing to kickoff its 11th conference at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel on Thursday, April 8, the organization offered a full-day of networking and educational opportunities for actors and actresses of color. Inside the hotel ballroom, NALIP 2010: Navigating in a Sea of Change hosted Backstage’s Actorfest Studio, which was geared to help advance careers with informative workshops and engaging panels.
As the demand for diversity in film and TV increases, Latino talent are making great strides on the screen. More producers are casting talented Hispanic performers such as Avatar’s Zoe Saldana to comedian and actor George Lopez, to Mexican actress and producer Salma Hayek to actor Jimmy Smits.
“There has been a greater diversity among ethnic groups and there are more opportunities for Latino's than five years ago,” said talent agent Michael Greenwald of Don Buchwald & Associates, who represents dozens of Latino actors.
While television networks are continuing to search for the next big star, Latin talent are making sure they are ready for future opportunities. For Los Angeles-based actor and writer Fernando Gaviria, attending NALIP for the first time was both enjoyable and productive he said. “You meet with the ‘real’ people that are really working in this business. It is a great network.”
Officials with American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), Screen Actors Guild (SAG), along with casting executives from NBC (Kendra Carter) and CBS (Fern Orenstein) as well Emmy award-winning director, writer and producer Sergio Guerrero and others shared their wisdom, knowledge and experience in the ever-evolving entertainment industry.
Acting and Director Instructor Geoff Fairbanks moderated several panels including one titled “ACTING 101: What to do when you get the job!” “This was an amazing experience. I have never encountered such an immense expression of enthusiasm, passion, and love from all the participants,” said Fairbanks. “I don't know how anyone could walk away from one of these workshops and not feel it.”
Among the attendees in the room were Khristian Clausen, a Mexican-born actress visiting LA. She has appeared in more than 13 films in her native country. “I think the NALIP Actorfest is very helpful to Latin actors who are not sure how to begin with marketing themselves,” she said. “It provides helpful skills and advice to make the first step more powerful.” Clausen said she had an opportunity to meet several casting directors and hand her headshot and resume to them.
Panelist guest and commercial director Allen Martinez offered many important tips to actors. “If you are given direction that doesn’t make sense, make it work,” said Martinez, who has directed commercials for Coca-Cola, Subway, Burger King and dozens of others. “Bottom line is it has to work for you.”
Guerrero, who directed the documentary Around the World in 80 Days and the awarding-winning film Wash and Wear, told actors it is critically important to listen to the director. He said, “The relationship between the director and actors can make the medium.”
One unique interactive panel offered actors an opportunity to perform on-camera monologues directly in front of casting experts. The professionals critiqued the performers’ techniques. Some talent received positive feedback, in which they were told they made ‘great choices and were believable’. Others received auditioning tips such as "make stronger decisions’ in the future", commented one casting director.
Fairbanks, who knows the importance of how mentors influenced his career, said throughout the weekend he received numerous thanks from participants. He often heard ‘I can't believe all the valuable information I got’ or ‘Why doesn't anyone ever tell us this important information?’ and ‘Thank you for sharing your time and knowledge.’
“I think the highlight was just how the workshops brought everyone together,” added Fairbanks. “There were no egos of the actors or the guest speakers. It was all about helping each other out.”