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Emerson Alumni Network a Casting Director’s Fantasy

Zoom meeting with six people
While working on FOX’s reboot of the classic television show Fantasy Island, a sextet realized they were all Emerson alums.

Dawn Steinberg ’82, executive vice president of talent & casting worldwide for Sony Pictures was recently in a virtual meeting with five casting directors and producers to talk about Fox’s reboot of the 1970s hit show Fantasy Island.

At some point, the sextet realized they were all Emerson alums, and four of them were working in casting.

“Emerson people are everywhere,” said Steinberg, who told Emerson Today she would cast Cate Blanchett to play her.

In her role, Steinberg works closely with domestic and international casting directors, writers, producers, and directors, overseeing casting of all current Sony Pictures Television series, movies, and limited series, as well as projects in development.

Steinberg has had at least seven Emerson interns while at Sony.

“I love introducing new people to the world of casting, as most people don’t even know it’s a career!” said Steinberg. “It’s also great when you share with the writers an actor you saw in a play, another TV show, or movie and they fall in love like you did, and they create or craft a role around that person.”

Steinberg hired Brittainy Roberts ’05 as an intern, launching her career in casting.

“I remember interning for Dawn my first summer in L.A. and thinking to myself that I wanted to be her one day,” said Roberts, who would cast Reese Witherspoon to play her because they’re both bubbly blondes from Tennessee. “I was recently promoted to head of casting at Fox, so I guess you can say dreams come true.”

Since beginning her career, Amanda Richards ‘11, executive director of talent & casting for Sony Pictures Television, who would cast Allison Pill to play her, has worked on numerous projects with Roberts and Steinberg.

Independent casting director Mark Rutman ‘07, who also works with Jeanie Bacharach Casting, was also part of the Fantasy Island team, and would cast Josh Gad to play him. In his role, Rutman put together lists for the roles and auditioned actors.

“Once he shared those names and auditions with producers, along with Dawn, Amanda and myself, we all collectively decided what talent could convincingly embody the reimagining of these characters,” said Roberts.

Steinberg said the hardest part about casting is filling the needs of the studio and the network while trying to stay true to the creator’s vision. And everyone has an opinion.

“Most people never know how many ideas and hours go into even casting the tiniest of roles,” said Steinberg. “Those roles could ultimately become bigger, and the fit must be perfect.”

The group researched the reboot of an iconic show in various ways. Richards watched the 1970s hit with her mother, and Steinberg joked the show was seared into her brain from her youth.

“It’s not that different [from casting a non-reboot] because we always listen to what the producers are looking for and try to bring their vision to life,” said Richards. “However, with this reboot we were very careful about paying a certain homage to the original while making it a completely new show with a new tone.”

Rutman said he thinks about all the actors he’s met through the years who he admires as working professionals, and anyone he’s enjoyed watching in shows and films in the past. He said casting Fantasy Island is more of a modern-day continuation of the original rather a standard reboot. But the job remains the same: Communicate with the producers to find what they’re looking for from the characters they write.

He honed his communication skills at Emerson, through classes like the late longtime faculty member Rex Trailer’s studio TV production class. He said that was the turning point when he decided his only desired option was to pursue a career in television.

Rutman said it’s always a fun bonding experience to learn when a co-worker also went to Emerson. Finding another Emersonian builds an instant rapport, and confirms the reach of the alumni network.

Steinberg said working with Emersonians helps in many ways, including having someone around who tends to laugh at the same stupid stuff.  

“I have been doing this job for a long time, however, there are many reconnections I make because of Emerson, and many new ones when people reach out to me,” said Steinberg. “From there it usually becomes something!”

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