Today we’d like to introduce you to Danya Solomon.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Danya. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My journey started in the Bay Area. I was born into a creative family of health-food lovin’ festival carnies, artists and free spirits. My parents were caterers at the Renaissance Faire for over 15 years and we lived in our handmade thatched roof booth during the events which lasted into my early years. I credit my incredible parents for showing me that life can look many different ways, including wearing costumes every day and speaking in a fake accent.
When I graduated UCLA School of Theater for acting, I thought I would be a stage actor for the rest of my life. I had been acting throughout my childhood and figured it was the only career path that could satisfy me. However, around my mid 20’s I grew ready for a change and didn’t know what that looked like. I searched and searched. I moved around, tried various paths like writing a Parisian travel guide for women, teaching pilates and DJ’ing in New York. One day I got a call from a friend who explained that he was PA’ing on a commercial up in Napa and they were having trouble finding their talent – a handsome single man in his 30’s “who didn’t want to grow up” and drove around in a sports car. My friend said that he thought this could be the right job for me and offered me a few days as a fellow casting PA. I had been home in the Bay Area for the holidays (was living in Brooklyn at the time). Stunned that this could actually be a job, I decided to head up to Napa in my beater Volvo and pretend I knew how to PA on a commercial.
I was handed a walkie immediately upon arriving and a coffee order for the director, producers and clients and was asked to photocopy a bunch of stuff. I had NO idea how to use a walkie… Let alone understand what going 10-1 was. I messed up basically everything that was delegated to me that day. Photocopies were wrong, coffees forgotten, and I even left my walkie on when I went to the bathroom… My motto that I adopted quickly was always say, “yes, I can do that” and then quickly go ask someone how to do it who knows and wouldn’t judge me. The tides turned once my friend and I headed out into the “field” to find this allusive hot single dude who we were about to cast in a giant, National TV commercial for the Ford Mustang.
This two day job turned into a 7 year series of real people Ford campaigns and kickstarted my career as a Documentary Style casting director.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I was so fortunate to learn the ropes from commercial production giants – Jim Shippee, Stella Vazquez, and Kenyon Robertson and to be fostered by my favorite production company Nonfiction Unlimited. Jim, Stella and Kenyon taught me the foundational skills from the broad strokes to the intricacies of commercial production. The lessons extended from real basic stuff like, in a work email do not use “hello” or “have a great day” in the subject line, and how to use excel. To larger matters, like budgeting a multi million dollar commercial, how important it is to treat everyone on set with equal respect no matter what their job title, what to do when a tornado halts production, and to always reread important work emails before pressing send to make sure auto correct hasn’t changed your name to Santa.
I traveled around the states for years with our beloved work family learning every step of the way. I gave up my apartment in Brooklyn, missed weddings, birthdays, and holidays with my family to devote myself fully to our large scale travel jobs where I headed up the casting. Our jobs were back to back and I was lucky to have a few days off in any three month period. It was a massive sacrifice to miss out on all of these monumental events for the sake of work. At times it was lonely and very sad but I was determined to work as hard as I possibly could. For every hard time there was a handful of hilariously fun times that still make me laugh thinking back on them.
A handful of years in, it was Micheal Degan, Executive Producer at Nonfiction Unlimited who suggested that I start my own company specializing in documentary style real people casting. I am so grateful that Michael believed in me and helped seed the notion that I could make this my career.
The road has been relatively smooth. I am fortunate to be in a field where word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool which has allowed us to grow over the years. There have been plenty of speed bumps along the way. One of our first jobs that I ran through DSCasting was a complete disaster. 9 years later I am able to laugh at the sheer shit-storm it was. I learned fast that I always have to follow my instinct and verbalize any and all concerns regarding our client’s expectations before we sign on to a project. This is a constant hurdle with my line of work. Our clients come to us with a certain creative in mind that includes a demographic that’s usually incredibly hard to find. There is a time frame in which production needs this to happen, which is commonly very tight for what we would need to do. Add a limited budget to the mix, and there we have what could be (and has been) a perfect recipe for disaster! It’s my job to align with our clients up front and talk through their exact vision of who their desired subjects aka talent are and understand the minutia. I have to gather all of the pieces and speak up if I foresee any hiccups. This can be challenging as my instinct as a people pleaser is to go along with their request whatever that may be; especially if it’s a competive bidding process. However, it’s imperative that I only sign on to a project when I know we can deliver. It’s to everyone’s best interest that we are set up for success even before the job officially starts.
It’s taken me years to trust in the freelance lifestyle of working an all consuming job and then having chunks of time off in between projects. Because there’s rarely jobs that don’t need to start immediately, the lull can feel epic and scary. Not knowing when the next job is coming can feel paralyzing. It was only time that taught me that I can take a deep breath and relax in the off moments. Through this process I had to learn to trust in myself and that all of the hard work I have done up until this point will continue to build.
A byproduct of this lifestyle has led me to being an older first time mom. I just had a baby 2 1/2 months ago and am now facing all new challenges, which feel very very real. I decided to continue taking jobs through my due date and delivery. I want to continue to work with my special clients and if I don’t take on a project that comes our way, my faithful and exceptional team of associates won’t have work. This being my first baby, I had no idea what this would actually be like. Needless to say, it was a challenge indeed and full of lessons like, don’t make a work call hours after major abdominal surgery, after days of no sleep and on heavy narcotics. Or do, and make sure the person you call has a great sense of humor – thank you Jeff. Have a team that you work with who is absolutely amazing and has your back. I am still navigating these new waters and by no means have figured out how to do everything with a sense of calm. But I do know that this mayhem is completely worth every step.
Please tell us about DSCasting Company.
DSCasting specializes in documentary style casting. We work with directors and producers who want to find authentic subjects for their projects. We call ourselves the people detectives of film and tv. Most of our projects require us to conduct heavy research to find our talent who have never been on-camera nor know this opportunity is about to come calling. They could be living in rural India without access to a phone or computer, or live in NYC and teach first grade. The range is wide and always changing. Our jobs require us to become experts in the particular demographic at hand and learn new aspects of the world constantly. Once we identify someone who we think could be a fit for the role, we make contact, pitch the opportunity, and interview them. Because our subjects are new to the world of tv and film, we work to create trust with our interviewees and walk them carefully through the process. It can be overwhelming to be cast in a giant international tv campaign for Microsoft, or in an obscure documentary about their life as a Web Cam gal, or in the next U2 music video. It takes sensitivity and care. And we love that part of the job. As I mentioned, my team is exceptional at what they do and I owe so much of our success to them!
We work to take jobs that promote inclusivity, diversity and celebrate all walks of life.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Woah. This is a hard one! I am blessed that my childhood was stacked with incredible memories. There are so many to choose from. The first memory that came to me was our nightly family dinners where we would play games and perform for each other. It was dinner theater/variety show every night. My parents are amazing chefs and would cook delicious dinners and we would all tell stories and laugh. We would play “who am I” where we would go around the table and imitate people in our life and guess who it was. Or we would do a dance, or anything really. Crying from laugh attacks was a regular occurrence around our table. Simple happiness, love and connection.
- Website: www.DSCastingCompany.com
- Email: casting@DSCastingCompany.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DSCastingCompany
- Other: https://vimeo.com/dscastingcompany