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Tuning In: TV Casting

Why are so many great film actors migrating to TV lately? Because some of the best writing and characters, especially for women, can be found on the small screen. Get the skinny on casting for pilots and series from this panel of casting directors and other industry pros. Moderated by Back Stage Film Editor Jenelle Riley.

Speakers include:

* April Webster, Casting Director
* Debi Manwiller, Casting Director, Pagano/Manwiller Casting
* Jeff Witjas, Talent Agent
* John Levey, VP of Talent, John Wells Productions
* Michael Testa, Casting Director, Shaner/Testa Casting


April Webster, Casting Director
April Webster began her professional career in New York more than 25 years ago. She worked in all aspects of the theater: stage manager, performer, mask maker, carpenter, prop/wardrobe master, and house manager. She also has directed various classical and new plays in New York and Los Angeles.

In the late 1970s, April decided to move to Los Angeles to further pursue her career in the entertainment industry. She worked at the Mark Taper Forum as an assistant director and later became a stage manager and a casting associate with Gordon Hunt and Frank Bayer. One of her most memorable assignments was to help cast "Children of a Lesser God" and to work with the Deaf Audience Theater Encounter. When "Children" was performed in New York, April went there to assist the director Gordon Davidson.

Upon April's return to Los Angeles, she switched her focus to film and television. She worked at Francis Ford Coppola's L.A. Zoetrope Studios on such projects as Alan Parker's "Shoot the Moon" and worked for Ross Brown and Hank McCann on many projects, including the TV miniseries "The Day After," directed by Nicholas Meyer. Her next endeavor was a staff position at Universal Television, where she cast several pilots and series. She also worked with Michael McLean and Assoc. on several films and television movies and eventually opened her own offices.

As an independent casting director, April enjoys working on an eclectic mix of film, television, and theater projects that challenge and inspire her. In the film world, April has worked on the following projects: "2012," "Star Trek," "Mission: Impossible III," "The Day After Tomorrow," and "The Patriot," among others. She received an Emmy nomination for HBO's "Grand Avenue."

April is currently casting multiple television shows including "Lost" and "Fringe" for J.J. Abrams, "Criminal Minds," "Leverage," and Jerry Bruckheimer's new series, "Dark Blue." She won an Emmy for casting "Lost" and the Hoyt Bowers Award for Excellence in Casting from the CSA. April has also received an Artios Award for the pilot casting of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" and "Lost," two Media Access Awards for casting, and the first Dramalogue Award of casting for her work on Ezra Pound's "Elektra."

Debi Manwiller, Casting Director, Pagano/Manwiller Casting
Debi is a transplanted Oregonian who came to Southern California to attend and graduate California Institute of the Arts. There are a lucky few people in town who might actually have seen Debi treading the boards before she gave up her acting career and found casting.

Debi began as an assistant with Al Onorato and Jerry Franks and later partnered with Rick Pagano and Sharon Bialy to form Pagano/Bialy/Manwiller. Rick and Debi have been partners for 20 years now (which is longer than a lot of Hollywood marriages).

She considers herself fortunate to have worked extensively in film, television and theater. She has cast theatrical productions for La Jolla Playhouse, Goodman Theatre, Old Globe Theatre, the Guthrie Theater, Pasadena Playhouse, Berkeley Rep, Geva, Hartford Stage, Arizona Theatre Company, and Seattle Rep.

Among her film and television credits she counts the following projects as favorites: "24," "Rudy," "Gas, Food and Lodging," "Chicago Hope," "Picket Fences," and "The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Murdering Mom." Debi has received six Emmy Nominations and won twice, for "Chicago Hope" and "24." She has also been nominated for the Casting Society of America's Artios Award 14 times.

Jeff Witjas, Talent Agent
In May 1977, during his first year of law school, Jeff Witjas started working in the William Morris mailroom. He worked his way up through the ranks to become a vice president, eventually working in all aspects of show business, including co-heading the sports department. During his career, he has represented top clients in diverse areas. In October 2001, after 25 years at the William Morris Agency, Jeff started at the Agency for the Performing Arts as a senior vice president in the talent department.

Jeff was born in Brooklyn and raised in New Rochelle, N.Y. He attended Ohio's Bowling Green State University, majoring in political science and philosophy, and has a Juris Doctorate degree from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, Jeff was a teaching tennis professional, playing in tournaments and running an indoor tennis club in Englewood, N.J., from 1971 to 1975.

John Levey, VP of Talent, John Wells Productions
John Levey is the senior VP of talent and casting for John Wells Productions. He has been recognized for his casting work with six Emmy nominations. He's received four Emmy Awards, two each for "ER" and "The West Wing."

Over the years he has received many nominations and awards from the Casting Society of America, but this year the CSA will honor him with the Hoyt Bowers Award for Lifetime Achievement. He has been hailed for his work with actors with disabilities. John is the proud father of two adult children.

Michael Testa, Casting Director, Shaner/Testa Casting
Michael Testa is a casting director and co-owner of Shaner/Testa Casting.  Television series credits include "Make It Or Break It," "Cold Case," "Moonlight," "The Commuters," "Dr. Vegas," "Roswell," "Hotel," "The Lone Ranger," and "St. Michael’s Crossing."  Michael has cast over 70 Movies of the Week, including "Hitched," "The Con," "Bad To The Bone," "The Road To Galveston," "My Antonia," and "Linda." Recent feature film credits include "Answers To Nothing," "Overnight," "The River Why," "Kiss The Bride," "Unearthed," "Rome & Jewel," Arc," and "Moonlight Serenade."

Jenelle Riley, National Film & TV Editor, Back Stage

Jenelle Riley is Back Stage's national film and TV editor and the author of several plays, including "Unholy Matrimony," "Comfortably Numb," "Jenelle Riley's 7 Deadly Sins" and "Heart Murmurs and Brain Matters." She has served on the artistic committee at L.A.'s award-winning indie theater, Sacred Fools Theater. At Sacred Fools, she has written and directed more than 30 episodes of "Darque Magick," a weekly serialized play that has featured cameos from actors like Ryan Gosling, Jennifer Morrison, and Jenna Fischer.

Riley has written more than 50 short plays as part of "overnight theater" projects, where writers are assigned a cast breakdown and random variables and given hours to write a one-act play that is then cast at random, rehearsed, and staged, all within 24 hours. She has participated in programs such as "Fast & Loose'" at Sacred Fools Theater, "Day Players" at the Acme Comedy Theatre, and "The 24-Hour Plays."

As a screenwriter, she won notoriety with "Crazy Love," a viral, award-winning short directed by "Gilmore Girls" star John Cabrera. Made for just $300, the film won a top prize at the Palm Springs Film Festival opposite movies from around the world with budgets upward of $500,000. She also wrote the award-winning shorts "The Perfect Candidate," "The Swap" and "A Sort of Fairy Tale."

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