It’s around 5:00 PM on an extremely COLD, Chicago, Wednesday night when I meet up with Brittani Ward, a casting director who spent the last 7 years crushing it in LA, and has recently moved home to Chicago.
The first thing you notice (besides the fact that she is stunning and basically Blake Lively’s brunette doppelgänger) is that she exudes a passion and a confidence that’s unparalleled and extremely encouraging. From just a quick IMDB check - her skill level, her talent and her dedication becomes intimidating, but as she explains how she got to where she is today, she’s never boastful. She’s just informative and insanely fun. Through each minute of our conversation, her passion for actors, diversity, growth, and creating meaningful content shine through. Brittani is energetic, fierce, and backed by a hefty arsenal of knowledge, networking, and experience
I cannot wait to share all of this knowledge and wisdom with you #ladybosses out there today!
Brittani grew up in Crystal Lake, Illinois and attended Marian Central High School - and at that age, she knew wanted to be a screenwriter. She headed off to University of Iowa where she double-majored in Theatre and Cinematography. After two years filled with both academic and extracurricular activities, she was ready for a change. Iowa’s film production program often focused on documentary and experimental filmmaking, and Brittani wanted to work on fictional, narrative, scripted projects. She also craved more diversity among her peers, who at Iowa, were predominantly Caucasian. She feels the best way to learn and be inspired is to foster meaningful relationships with and work alongside people from a variety of backgrounds. Plus, she missed what she considers to be the greatest city in the US; Chicago. She applied to the brand new DePaul's Digital Cinema program and was accepted.
“DePaul is extraordinarily diverse and the style of the Digital Cinema program was exactly what I needed. I cannot speak highly enough of my professors and fellow alumni, many of whom I will continue to collaborate with for my entire career.”
Brittani excelled in her undergraduate productions, especially in finding the best talent for the available roles. She knew that The Theatre School at DePaul University was exploding with talent and she’d bring amazing actors in for her projects and for friends who needed help on their own projects.
Brittani’s “soft skills” like her ability to communicate with multitudes of people in effective and harmonious ways allowed her to find her way onto new projects and get amazing work done for her own projects. Following graduation, she completed a 3-month internship with Paskal Rudnicke Casting in Chicago. It was here that she learned a lot of the foundational skills to being a successful casting director.
Her tasks included:
taping and uploading auditions
setting up the casting rooms for producers’ sessions
checking actors in upon arrival.
At this point, Brittani knew that casting was her calling and she was ready for LA.
PROFESSIONAL CAREER - LA BOUND
She moved in March of 2011 with just 1 months’ rent. She got another internship and found a job as a receptionist to pay the bills. As Brittani continued to network and grow, she found herself working for insanely impressive casting directors all over town; Amber Horn (The 100), Danielle Aufiero (The 100, Sound of My Voice), Barbara Fiorentino (13 Reason Why, The Shield), and Katrina Wandel George (Contagion, True Grit). She found invaluable guidance, support and true mentorship from these women. During all of these internships, Brittani hustled it out as a waitress at The Federal Bar as well. Brittani temporarily moved back to Chicago for her high-school sweetheart-turned-husband Ryan Ward. They lived together in Naperville and Brittani was considering a full-time career in corporate recruiting (similar to casting in the business world) when she got her first professional casting gig.
HER FIRST PROFESSIONAL CASTING GIG
Brittani was hired to work as casting assistant to Carmen Cuba (The Martian, Stranger Things, Sense8) on the Steven Soderbergh feature film SIDE EFFECTS, and knew she couldn’t pass up this opportunity. She flew back to LA for the 4 weeks of planned work, which then got extended to 7 weeks. She stayed on couches and rented a car; she couldn’t afford to commit to anything because of the week by week project based work that is casting. And that’s when she ran back into one of her mentors, Barbara Fiorentino. Barbara told her that she was looking for a casting associate for the Karen Moncrieff feature film THE TRIALS OF CATE MCCALL. This was an exciting promotion for Brittani, and she jumped at the chance to work for Barbara!
She called her boyfriend and told him she had to take this shot and she’d be staying in LA. He was supportive and Brittani was dedicated to succeeding in this job and her relationship. She would fly the red-eye every other weekend back to Chicago then wait for a standby flight on Sundays. She also made the very most of her time in LA. She began teaching workshops and classes and working on projects for Amber and Danielle as well. Working on MTV's Awkward with them was one of her favorite experiences to this day. Casual, right?!
NETWORKING LIKE A PRO
And I’m not entirely sure when Brittani slept because beyond working on multiple projects she found ways to grow her network by planning multiple “meet for drinks” a week with junior agents and coordinators to grow their relationships in person instead of just constantly over the phone. Her insanely effective networking tactics paid off. Two junior agents poised her for an exclusive in-house casting director position for ESX Productions.Brittani cast 6 movies for this production company, hiring incredible actors including Jon Voight, Sharon Stone, William Fichtner, Sasha Alexander, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Kevin Dillon, Jane Seymour, Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (series regular on The Chi), and DeRon Horton (series regular on Dear White People), John Heard, and many more! #LADYBOSS status level 9,000!
So, let's recap because WOAH. Brittani came to LA, did some stellar internships, came back to Chicago to become a recruiter and then found herself BACK in LA working as a casting associate for one of her role models and then segued into becoming a production company’s in-house casting director (which is VERY rare!) and working on her own projects… and it doesn’t stop there.
Brittani then found an opportunity to work with Emmy-award-winning Casting Director Laray Mayfield (credits include Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, House Of Cards, Social Network, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Fight Club, and many more high-profile jobs). Brittani wasn’t sure she had the resume yet to be considered for an associate position at such a high-caliber office (Laray is one of the best casting directors in the world), and although she did not have any connections to Laray who could refer or recommend her, she submitted an application. She was pleasantly surprised when she was called in for an interview the next day, and beside herself when she met with Laray and was hired on the spot for the associate position. Laray also let her continue casting her own independent films and stay on her as associate.
PROFESSIONAL CAREER - CHICAGO BOUND
Brittani was moving up the LA ladder but she knew that Chicago was still calling her home. (I know that feeling!). Her family was there and her boyfriend’s family and like… duh Chicago is such an amazing city. She also knew that she didn’t want to leave this job or this industry. This was what she had worked so hard for, for all these years. But she took the plunge, she asked if she could keep her job and work from Chicago. She hoped that the fact that the vast majority of auditions are self-tape now would work in favor. Laray agreed. This was the ultimate gift from a boss and game-changer for Brittani. She and her boyfriend made the move back to Chicago.
Brittani now does the job she did in LA from Chicago. She explains that it’s almost the same process as in the office - she’s just available for all hours for clients on either coast. Her day starts out as she opens up her email, reviews self-tapes, does data management of the scenes, and creates presentations to put on different sites. She then begins to start checking actors availability, reviewing submissions and corresponding with agents and production companies on different projects.
I mean, i’m exhausted just typing all of that and it’s just the beginning of her day.
Brittani then begins to:
break down new scripts
pull out the elements and the roles that you need to find
begin putting together a casting breakdown
research how many episodes they’ll be in, the production budget, and scale.
Then, someone calls her about a new project and her plans can totally change for the day. And beyond that, she’ll hop back on a flight to LA for bigger auditions to be there in person. While the day-to-day grind seems overwhelming, Brittani never lets that take away from her goal of finding the perfect actor for each role. How much she cares for the actors radiates each time she talks this aspect of her job.
“It’s kind of crazy… and the actors would never know but I keep notes about different actors along with their old auditions and I will scour them and put together a huge file of their work if I feel really passionately about them on a specific project. There are sometimes hour long conversations about them and why i’m pushing so hard for someone.”
WHAT'S IN STORE FOR THE FUTURE?
So what can we expect of Brittani in the upcoming years besides crushing it in LA all the way from Chicago? She’s hoping to direct an indie feature as well as turn Chicago into a bigger hub for production work and opportunities through coaching, self-tape services and master classes.
We can’t wait for those classes and hopefully some major partnership opportunities between us and Brittani. Do you have more questions for Brittani about casting, writing or her life in general in Chicago? Let us know and we’ll work with her to get you the information!
Want to keep up with Brittani? You can find her here:
● IMDb - Brittani Ward