WMHT, Youth FX, Upstate Alliance for the Creative Economy and Film Upstate kicked off a new event series called “Rogue Film School” on Thursday, June 1. Our first installment featured veteran casting director / producer Heidi Levitt, who has cast over 100 features, and worked with directors Oliver Stone, Wayne Wang, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Sally Potter, Mark Ruffalo and many more.
Heidi shared stories of how she started in the business (her personal interest in theater and a college internship with casting directors Risa Bramon and Billy Hopkins got her on her way), and the innovative ways she has approached her job, from trolling New Orleans in search of jazz musicians for director Alan Parker to opening directors’ minds to actors of color. She told the audience of 30 filmmakers and enthusiasts to “get right back up when you get knocked down.” She shared her disappointment when a project she was developing with Werner Herzog fell apart five years ago, still feeling a pinch when she sees Herzog, who has made 3 or 4 films since their project fell apart. “Oh, it’s no problem, Heidi,” he tells her cheerily every time she sees him. Her decades-long collaboration with Wim Wenders has been similar. Wenders has made many classic films – Wings of Desire, Paris, Texas – but none of the projects that Heidi has worked on with Wenders have hit that mark. “He just keeps going,” she said. “He isn’t worried about it.”
Heidi also shared a trailer from a project she’s been developing for 20 years – a television series titled “Exiles on Main Street,” featuring stories of immigrants in cities across the United States. She learned last week that the series, which was picked up for development and distribution by a major cable network, had suddenly been dropped. While admitting that it’s tough news, she is not going to let it stop her. “Who knows, maybe we’ll find an even better deal,” she said. She discussed how the industry has changed drastically in 30 years, and that the budgets and margins are so much tighter. She remains hopeful, and completely committed to her work.
Heidi was interviewed by Bhawin Suchak of Youth FX, an amazing not-for-profit organization that teaches filmmaking skills to city youth ages 14-19. We’re really looking forward to developing more of these “Rogue Film School” events. Stay tuned!!