By Katie Chambers
As an independent casting director based in New York, NYWIFT member Bess Fifer has played a key role in shaping numerous careers across film and television. Her commitment to authentic, diverse, and inclusive casting has made her an in-demand collaborator, an Artios Award Winner, and an Emmy Nominee. Fifer specializes in ground-breaking independent features, such as Lingua Franca and The Light of the Moon, and hugely popular television shows, including the Apple TV+ series Severance, It’s Bruno! (Netflix), and Escape at Dannemora (Showtime).
Fifer’s latest project – prolific music video director Barnaby Clay’s feature directorial debut, The Seeding – will be scaring up audiences at the 2023 Tribeca Festival. When a hiker gets lost in the desert, a gang of feral children propelled by haunting legacies traps him in a sadistic battle for survival with a frightening endgame. Tribeca describes the film as “a stone-cold nightmare that confronts our fears of isolation and unchecked toxic masculinity headfirst.”
Fifer talked to us about her process casting the film.
Congratulations on your premiere! What does inclusion in the Tribeca Festival mean to you?
C’mon it’s Tribeca! Iconic! I’ve been lucky enough to have several films premiere at Tribeca and it’s always so exciting. Being able to show your finished project to a festival of your home town peers… amazing.
Tell us about The Seeding. How did you get involved in the project?
I had worked with Producer Brian Etting previously on a feature called Tuscaloosa. He sent me The Seeding. I found the script to be fresh and [director] Barney Clay to be absolutely fascinating. I wanted the opportunity to work with him and I’m glad I did.
Do you as a casting director approach the horror genre any differently than other genres when looking to cast certain roles? Some of these characters, I imagine, have to be scary! The official description of the film from Tribeca calls it a “stone-cold nightmare!”
In general, no, it’s the same process. We start by working with the rest of the creative team to get a good understanding of the world we are looking to create. Then Casting goes to try to populate that world and find the talent who will tell our story. It’s the world and the characters of horror that are different, not the process.
Many of the characters in The Seeding are children and teens. Is your approach to casting young actors any different in how you approach working with adults?
I love casting kids, they are constantly changing and growing (literally and figuratively) and it’s so important to keep seeing them and who they are at this moment. I also find “child actors” to be incredibly professional. They are a joy.
What was your favorite moment working on the film? And the biggest challenge?
Casting our female lead was definitely a challenge. It’s very easy to see her simply as a victim. We are so lucky to have the incredibly Kate Lyn Sheil.
What’s next for you?
City On Fire is currently airing on Apple TV+ and we are in the middle of Season 2 of Severance.
Please join us in welcoming Toni Short to NYWIFT! Toni Short is an Aussie on a mission to tell the textured stories of women from around the world and heal the world through the arts. Following a personal breakthrough, Toni paved her own path towards artistic creation and invites others to walk beside her. This led her to found The Camp, an immersive space for children to learn about creative self-expression. Her project Sister Spirit Stories is a platform to highlight the stories of inspiring women. We Go High Productions produces both Sister Spirit Stories and Toni’s short film Meeting Mr. Oscar, which she wrote, produced, directed, and acted in. Toni told us about her personal healing journey, her most meaningful projects so far, and what’s coming up on the horizon.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jasmine Yeshan Zhang! Jasmine Yeshan Zhang was born and raised in Xinjiang, China and is now based in Brooklyn. She graduated from the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media department at School of Visual Arts in 2021. During her studies at SVA, she expanded her interests on making documentary films. She has been working as an Assistant Editor for documentaries since graduation and is currently working on an archival-heavy doc-series. She is always looking for more opportunities for documentary/film editing. Jasmine spoke to us about how her upbringing influenced her interest in other cultures, her transition from still photography to video, and what she hopes to achieve next.READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Jade Dressler! Jade has imagined, designed and created for mass and niche pop-culture and luxury lifestyle clients for over 30 years. From nature-inspired body jewelry on major couture runways to award-winning landscape art spanning acres in Brazil, she is known for producing touchpoints of meaning that connect and energize all our lives. The Jade Dressler Agency is NYC-based with global partners. The agency is known for lifting the dreams of personalities, brands and businesses clients with creative services that deliver compelling design, messaging, events, and experiences that thrill. Jade spoke to us about daring to be a disruptor, amazing moments with Karl Lagerfield, and her brand new screenplay!READ MORE
Welcome to NYWIFT, Candece Tarpley! Candece Tarpley, of Sissipahaw/Tuscarora/Tsalagi descent, is a World Champion Powwow dancer, an actress and a poet-storyteller-playwright who has been writing since childhood. Holding her heritage close, she's been a featured performer nationwide, weaving her crafts with the patrons of the Public Library of Boulder Colorado; Middlebury College in Vermont; Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts; the Pequot Museum in Connecticut; the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Natural History in New York City, as well as other creative venues. Candece spoke to us about how her Indigenous heritage influences her work, the response to her television series, and her next major projects.READ MORE