Actors Naomi Lisner and Derek Erskine had crossed professional paths several times before starting their own agency, Ahavah Casting. Instead of coming to terms with the harsh reality of lack of work in the industry for actors, the duo decided to create more opportunities. With existing roles being assigned to household names and the same people over and over again, finding a way to introduce new talent to the screen became a priority.
Whilst working together on Tracy, a 96-minute psychological thriller currently competing in academy accredited film festivals around the world, they realised a new type of agency for actors was missing from the scene.
“When Derek and I were filming Tracy, during post production I went ‘You know what? Let’s start our own casting agency and just cast all our projects’,” Naomi told Neos Kosmos.
“Derek loves to cast people and loves to give them work and in the end every actor loves to get work; and, we needed more representation on screen.”
It was this love that inspired Naomi and led her to name the agency Ahavah Casting, ahavah meaning ‘love’ in Hebrew. The agency started casting roles at the beginning of 2017 and is steadily expanding, casting stage talent from diverse backgrounds including George Donikian, Harlene Hercules, Antonios Baxevanidis, and Georgia Chrysostomou.
“While we appreciate our well-known actors, many miss out on work simply because parts are written for the same people over and over again,” Naomi explains.
“We are hoping to introduce new names to the screen and have more representation in terms of diversity. We have a strong belief that the industry is still very closed to many.
“I don’t see people based on their colour and shape or anything like that, unless they have to look a certain way for a specific role. I just want real people that can act a certain way,” she stresses.
Apart from lack of diversity in the industry, Naomi believes ageism is the biggest and more pressing issue of our time, especially for females over 50 years of age.
“I’m trying to break that down; the ageism in our industry. I’m on the board of Women In Films and giving women some strong interesting roles, regardless of age is my goal,” she continues.
“It’s really upsetting. Once you reach a certain age you start to lose interest; people think you lack energy and that you have no sexuality anymore. Well, Sandra Bullock is 50 and Nicole Kidman too. Are they not interesting or beautiful anymore? I don’t understand.
“I’m trying to get rid of that mentality and be more inclusive. Create roles for strong women over 40, over 50, 60 even. Independent women enjoying life, or struggling with it. Mothers, wives, single women, career women.”
Naomi and Derek are focused on creating interesting roles and bringing stories to the screen that present more variety, more dimensions of our society.
They are trying to identify with more groups and in order to do that, they are bringing on board actors from different ethnic backgrounds and of different ages who are not cast just because they fit the physical description, but because they can identify with the character.
“We see the same people over and over again in all the shows, series and films. In Australia they don’t give different people different opportunities as much. They could be most suited, but they are not cast in a variety of roles,” Naomi says.
“For example you can see a popular actress of Vietnamese heritage be cast for the role of a Chinese woman, a Japanese woman, a Thai woman … or a dark-looking Anglo actor be cast to play a Greek Australian, an Italian and so on. Why not give that part to a different actor that better understands it? Why not offer that opportunity?”
Many insist that unless you have someone famous on board, a movie won’t attract an audience. But Naomi says that if a story is strong, people will watch it as long as the cast and crew love and respect what they do.
“If we stick to being safe then we miss out on so much untapped talent!”
Naomi’s frustration is evident when she is faced with the reality of lack of funding unless there is a big name attached to a production. Ahavah Casting has already completed three independent productions that have garnered some very encouraging reviews: Tracy, Heart of Fury and Hannah Rosenthal.
Tracy was directed by Derek and co-produced by Naomi. In this film, George Donikian is the narrator, a newsreader telling the story of a couple blinded by an obsessive love trying to raise a daughter. Their erotic fantasies manifest into brutal realities as they hunt down their victims. Cassandra Leopold is the protagonist alongside Vanessa Moltzen, Chloe Guymer and Ben Rose.
The second production is a short film, Hannah Rosenthal, written, directed and produced by Naomi who also plays Hannah, an intellectually-challenged woman living with her ailing mother Miriam, a traditional Jewish woman. The film deals with prejudices, ignorance, fear, traditions and love and stars Loriane Fabb, Derek Erskine and Harlene Hercules.
Their latest endeavour onto the big screen is a period feature, Heart of Fury based on the last days of Lord Byron. Apart from Derek Erskine who will play Byron and George Donikian who has a comic role, Georgia Chrysostomou and Antonios Baxevanidis are both making an appearance.
The cast for Heart of Fury includes Mardi Edge, Albert Goikhman, Damon Hunter, Nicole Edwards, Vanessa Motlzen, Loraine Fabb, Nicole Edwards, John Mc Cullough, Martin Reece Clover, Clara Francesca Pagone, Don Bridges and Jana Wilkes, with plans for further casting.
“I met Antonios Baxevanidis when I worked on another project for The Interview. Both Antonio and I were on it. It was directed by Stella Dimadis from Medea Films,” Naomi says.
“Georgia and I go way back as well, since I was asked to play her mother in a video as physically we look quite alike. It was Peter Kalos from The Lab Theatre Company that connected us. When we started filming Heart of Fury we called her for an audition amongst several other candidates and she was great for the part. As for George Donikian, we did a comedy together many years ago and have stayed very good friends since. They are all extremely talented in what they do and I feel blessed we have them on board, but even more proud we are doing this the old-fashioned way.
“As an independent casting agency, we believe in casting by talent, not public profile, social media followers or IMDb ranking, but through proper auditioning.”