CAKE WITH THE DIRECTOR
We thought it was about time that we spoke to Dawn Smith, the Director of Briz Kidz Casting, and introduced her to you all. She’s a bit of a busy bee but we’ve enticed her away from her desk with cake. She’s now happily chatting with us over a green tea and a slice of lemon drizzle. It doesn’t really take much to get her talking (she gets that from her mother apparently) and she has been working in the entertainments industry for a long time so she has lots of stories to tell.
We wanted to learn about Dawn and the driving force behind Briz Kidz Casting, and the best way to do that was to ask her.
HOW DID YOUR CAREER START?
I started Front of House at the Bristol Hippodrome and that is pretty much where my career began – taking tickets and selling ice creams. In 1999 I found myself backstage staring at the costumes for Madame Giry, Meg and the Ballet Girls for the UK tour of The Phantom of The Opera, wondering what on earth I had gotten myself into. Luckily everyone was so lovely and by the end of the 5 month run, I was a Theatre Dresser for the Bristol Hippodrome and didn’t really look back after that.
I worked on a variety of shows, everything from ‘Fame’ to ‘Les Misérables’, ‘Winnie the Pooh’ to Ballet’s and Operas. The first principle role I dressed was “Belle’ in Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and I even got to originate the title dressing plot for Mary Poppins before it transferred to the West End.
WHEN DID YOU START TOURING?
My first UK tour was with ‘Saturday Night Fever’ in 2005. I was the Wardrobe Assistant and dressed the ‘Tony Manero’ plot. We moved venues every week, setting up on a Monday and packing away on a Saturday, with Sunday being a travel day. It was hard work but I learnt a lot on that job. Luckily most of the other tours I was involved with after that sat down for at least 2 weeks in each venue, which meant we got to settle a bit.
I spent 8 years ‘on the road’ with various musicals, panto’s and even a play. I joined the UK tour of ‘The Sound of Music’ and I have very fond memories of that tour and made some great friends. I knew I’d never top that experience and, after 27 months with that show, I knew it was time to retire my suitcase.
HOW DID YOU MAKE THE JUMP FROM THEATRE TO FILM?
It was mostly perseverance, hard work and luck! I took every opportunity that came my way, volunteering on Bristol’s Film festival and working on a few short films that offered expenses only to get an insight into how the filming industry worked. It was the Producer on one of these jobs that told me that I should be in the Production Office. Until that point I was focusing on transferring to the costume department, which was proving quite difficult to get a foot in. Once the Producer told me about production I started to do some research and found that The Production Guild of Great Britain were offering a 2 week intensive course in Assistant Production Co-ordinating. I enrolled in the course and it led to my first paid role – a Rushes Runner on a feature film. From there I worked my way up the production ladder and in 2014 I took over the role of Production Secretary on BBC’s Wolf Hall and I’ve not stopped working since.
WHY DID YOU START A CHILDREN’S CASTING AGENCY?
First and foremost, it was for the Kidz really. I have always worked with children, across all aspects of my career. I love the energy that they bring with them, and their enthusiasm is very contagious. I have seen how being involved in the creative arts can boost a child’s self esteem and confidence. Whether it’s through professional performances onstage or screen, or by attending drama, dance or singing classes. Children do blossom through these experiences and it is a joy to see them grow.
It was whilst working in Production that I realised the majority of children’s roles were cast through agencies outside of the city and that Bristol children were missing out on the opportunity to be involved in locally filmed productions. 2016 was a phenomenal year for Bristol’s film industry. It was incredibly busy with over 12 productions filming across the summer (Thirteen, Poldark, Broadchurch and Crazyhead to name a few).
Starting an Agency was more of an epiphany than a slowly developed business plan. The idea just popped into my head and before I knew it, Briz Kidz Casting was born.
HOW DID IT FEEL WHEN YOU GOT THE FIRST BOOKING?
I had hardly registered the company when the first casting queries came in. Word travels fast in Filmland and the local crew have been so supportive of the agency. It’s been incredibly humbling.
When the first child was confirmed I was over the moon! I remember dancing around the office and Hi-Fiving Pooh Bear (he’s been with me since my first ever tour and now reigns over the Briz Kidz Office!). It was like Christmas and Birthdays all rolled into one and telling the parents was the icing on the cake.
I’ve since had more bookings and that feeling has never really gone away. I’m always so incredibly proud when a child is cast or gets a recall. It’s always a great feeling when I speak to the parents, or when they tell me about the filming day and how much their son or daughter enjoyed it. It really is the most rewarding part of having the agency.