Delisa Johnson and Thema Jackson Give Career Tips on Movie Casting Business

Delisa Johnson and Thema Jackson Give Career Tips on Movie Casting Business
Delisa Johnson and Thema Jackson
When you meet someone for the first time you never know how or when that relationship might take form and blossom. Delisa Johnson and Thema Jackson met on the campus of Chicago State University and took several theater classes together. After graduation, each went their own way and honed their craft. Fast-forward to 2011. The two have since reconnected and are pooling their resources and experiences to cast members in a pilot for a Chicago reality show set in and around a popular South Side restaurant.
What are the qualities of a good casting director?

Delisa Johnson: Being able to spot talent, having good business and negotiating skills, excellent communication, and attention to detail, good memory, and determination — being a go-getter and having a passion for entertainment. 

How many projects have you worked on? Talk about your latest venture.  

DJ: I worked on over 20 plays, two commercials, two movies and a reality show. I have also worked with the National Black Theatre Festival in North Carolina for a few years. I am currently working the reality show, “Chi-Town Diaries,” and the movie Angel. Both projects detail the realities of the streets in Chicago — gangs, gun violence and reconciliation. Also, recently, [I’ve worked on] John Ruffin’s, “All My Single Ladies” [in cast and production].

What type of projects would you turn down? 

Thema Jackson: Nudity and excessive profanity [laughs]. 

What types of classes should one take to prepare for a career as a casting director or assistant?

TJ: Well, there are a couple of classes I would recommend but it’s more so about having specific skill sets. Taking business law [or] accounting courses could help because you sometimes have to assist in negotiating actors’ contracts and develop production budgets. One should also be willing to volunteer as production [or] casting assistants to gain experience with working with talent. This also provides networking opportunities.  

Why do you think there aren’t more blacks in the field?

DJ: This area of entertainment has usually been dominated by white women. I believe that more blacks can be involved with more patience and doing your homework. Putting much needed time in to learning your craft. Sometimes we are not successful because we are too quick to give up. It clearly takes diligence and perseverance and making the right connections.

What advice would you give those who are considering a similar career path?

TJ: Be persistent and aggressive in your desire to be in the profession. Volunteer on productions, at film festivities to gain experience and do a lot of networking. It’s not always about what you know, but who you know. If this is your dream, it’s time to wake up and make it a reality!

tony binns

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