Can I ask Jennifer Venditti
by Jordan Mattos
I met Jennifer Venditti in 2006, but I first heard of Jen way back in 2000. I was a teenager and had just started interning for Visionaire, a fashion magazine, the summer before my freshman year of film school. Alessandro Magania, one of the editors at Visionaire, had mentioned Jennifer Venditti as being one of the best casting directors in fashion he had worked with, and her name stuck with me. As an aspiring filmmaker, I was fascinated by the mysterious process of how my favorite directors found their actors.
About five or six years later, I was working for a DVD publisher of indie films, and my friend Mordechai, who worked at Jack Spade (the men's line of sister company Kate Spade), and I came up with the idea of doing a DVD compilation of short films that could be sold in store. At the time they were selling Mike Mills’ Paperboys - so the idea would be that the films would be in a similar style. I would handle the call for submissions, and we’d curate the films together.
Jennifer (and her producer Chiemi Karasawa) had responded to the call with a plainly marked DVD with the title Billy the Kid scribbled in sharpie. It was a 40+ minute cut - too long for a compilation of shorts - but I looked at the name and instantly remembered her from my days at Visionaire. Billy the Kid was a mix of everything I loved about the movies - a tenderness and care for the humans depicted, told in a lean, punk storytelling style. I came onboard as an associate producer, and together with my friend Danielle Digiacomo, we found financing to get the film finished and out into the world.
Jen has since gone on to cast some of the coolest shows and movies of the last decade - Euphoria, Uncut Gems, American Honey. She’s recently worked with A24 to release a book of some of her favorite casting memories- Can I Ask You a Question? The Art and Alchemy of Casting . For the Youth issue of Permanent Paper we sat down to have a catch up.
Jordan Mattos: Jen, it’s been a while! I think the last time I saw you, I had come into the JV8 office with Matthew Lessner at the office in Soho. We were looking at these big books with hundreds of polaroids.
Jennifer Venditti: Yeah, Matthew had come in to cast his film, The Woods (2011), which later did Sundance. And Max Nova, my office mate, helped produce that. That was a while ago!
JM: And now you have this beautiful book - Can I Ask You a Question? - that A24 put out. It’s gorgeous. Being familiar with your work, I think it does an excellent job of capturing the magic you’re able to see in people. How long did it take to produce the book?
JV: Aw, thank you! It took about 2 years. I had wanted to make a film about humanity through the lens of casting as a followup to Billy The Kid. The film didn’t come together - but, A24 came to me and approached me about doing a book together, and I saw this as a fantastic alternative to the film idea I had in my head.
Can I Ask You a Question? The Art and Alchemy of Casting by Jennifer Venditti
All images courtesy of A24
JM: Has there been much that’s changed about casting over the years? Do you look for talent offline? For people who don’t have instagram accounts?
JV: Well it used to be that you could only street cast movies and shows by going up to people on the street or by seeing actors in person to audition them , the old school way. Now, we do alot of online research and open calls and Zoom auditioning and self tapes. A Lot has changed.
JM: What was a big pandemic change for you?
JV: I quit going to the office every day!
JM: Was there anything you started?
JV: I became a dog owner and a person who lives in the country. I hike every day, I became a driver and a car owner. Never had a car before!
JM: What’s a usual morning routine like for you?
JV: I meditate. 20 mins every morning and hike with my dog every morning.
JM: Do you have any style icons, people whose fashion you really enjoy these days?
JV: I don't remember the last time I looked at a fashion editorial –but I like Janicza Bravo’s style. I enjoy looking at her and seeing how she expresses herself.
JM: I went to college with Janicza! She’s a special one.What about designers? According to our research, you were a big Marc Jacobs fan back in the day?
JV: I like Schiaparelli - the new designer there is very interesting. He used to do work for Thom Browne - I think he’s quite good. I like the aesthetic of presenting yourself, but I don't go out looking to buy the latest thing these days. I don't shop the same way I used to either- I do way more vintage now or maybe one special piece a year. Usually something I can wear in the woods and do something fancy if needed. I like fancy things dressed down and vice versa.
JM: You were nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Casting in a Drama Series.Congratulations. What did you wear to that?
JV: I found this vintage burnt orange dress that was sleeveless and asymmetrical, with a silk black cape made by my friend Jane Mayle.
JM: Do you have any thoughts about kids these days being pushed to get plastic surgery?
JV: I want to live in a world where people can express themselves freely- who am I to judge, really? But I do see people getting work done at an earlier age, and I think generally young people should wait. I think people should develop their soul and truly get to know themselves on the inside before they make any big decisions about changing their outside appearance.
JM: Are there any films or shows you won’t do? How do you pick what kind of projects you decide to cast?
JV: I won't do violent horror. But I love working on things where I have an opportunity to learn. I’m working on the Park Chan-wook series, The Sympathizer starring Robert Downey Jr and a large cast of Vietnamese talent that were all discoveries. It’s been very inspiring on many levels, from the creative team to having an opportunity to cast in different communities and learn about their experiences and history.
JM: I hope I see you behind the camera, as a director, sometime soon Jen. Billy the Kid was such a magical experience, and I can’t wait to see what you do next!
Jordan Mattos is a film distributor born in NYC. He earned his degree in film production from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, where he absorbed the films of Fassbinder, Pasolini, Bunuel and Jodorowsky. His first job at a conceptual art gallery that never sold art inspired respect for fiery, irreverent artists that provoke the boundaries of commercial storytelling. In distribution, Jordan's focus is on introducing provocative, visually striking cinema to a global audience.
DashWood Factory Miwa Susuda
by Masayo Kishi
Dashwood Books, a semi-underground and highly influential bookstore on Bond Street in the Bowery section of Manhattan, was founded in 2005 by David Strettell, a former cultural director of Magnum Photo. In 2018, he was entrusted with the book section of the Gucci Soho store in NY by creative director Alessandro Michele and has successfully curated nearly 2000 titles.
Japanese writer and photobook consultant, Miwa Susuda, joined David at Dashwood in 2006. She rose to become the manager, and founded the publication Session Press in 2011.
The bookstore is pursuing its own publishing project in addition to many out of print, high quality used and new books. They constantly host book signings and events and provide the latest information on the most interesting books produced in the international market online and on Instagram. They have trusted clientele from intensely invested photo book collectors to pure youth looking for the retrograde rebellious spirit and originality. Everything is online and self-selecting today, but their fans prefer to visit and talk with them in person to discover using their own visual perceptions. As if visiting the bookstore were one of the therapies of expressing and finding yourself.
Their unwavering heat and honesty throughout may actually be the most necessary in modern times.
Since Covid-19 hit, the two have been extremely busy, but fortunately, I got a reply about my questions for Miwa.
Let's hear her loving and tender responses about photographers, but also her stoic vision about photographs.
1, When I look up the IG pages @dashwood_books and @miwasusuda, I see many interesting hip young characters. What do you feel is happening from this bookstore?
M Especially with Covid-19 happening last spring, I consciously use my IG as a reminder that Dashwood is an important place for our community. I started taking pictures of our clients with their recent purchases in their hands, making sure to show their smile and their enjoyment at the store. Many people left NY for their homes in Europe and Asia and the media talked about how NY "was over.” Since they claimed that there is no center city like NY and then the center was no longer necessary, due to marketing being moved to the internet. I highly disagree with their negative view of NY or heavy reliance on a store’s online presence. I wanted to show the rest of the world that we, New Yorkers, are the most excitingly creative people in the world and we support, nurture, and glow together for our art community. Dashwood is an important place for people who love photography and art.
2, Do you have a mission for paper media to act as a person who introduces photographers, artists, and writers to the world?
M I believe photography doesn’t exist unless it's printed. The photo book functions as the final and essential outcome for the work of a photographer.
3, Are there any photographers you've become more fond of lately?
M This is probably due to my Japanese background but I've always had a sweet spot for documentary shots or snapshots. Specifically, I'm enjoying a new book by a Japanese photographer, Takashi Yatoo. His father was second generation from Korean and Japanese families and his book, Palam, is autobiographical. The authentic feeling of each shot is undeniable.
4, Do you have a specific photograph that you love very much?
M Any photography or anything which tries to break boundaries.
5, Are there any upcoming photographers who you have high expectations of?
M N/A, I am sorry but I feel a bit uncomfortable responding to this question since all upcoming photographers equally gain their potential in the future.
6, Are there any memories you can’t forget about in this bookstore?
M When Mao Ishikawa came to Dashwood Books for her signing, she made a wonderful speech in front of many people. She is not fluent in English and it might have been scary for her to speak in front of people she didn't know. Especially in a foreign country. I admire her determination and responsibility as a photographer.
7, What are the important points when you are making a photo book?
M Communication with a photographer, designer, and printer.
8, What do you respect about your boss/mentor, David?
M David’s unique vision always challenges new things for our community. Being unique and edgy is especially hard now due to quick exposure online but his originality always shines!
9, Do you have any daily routines in the morning or before going to bed at night?
M Yoga and meditation.
10, What do you define New York City?
M Tough and kind.
11, Any upcoming projects?
M Daido Moriyama book!
12, What is your obsession?
M I enjoy working with and for my community (It’s a good obsession).