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Photo courtesy of Sarah Price.

Cast Away NT’s Sarah Price Shares Her Journey from Hospitality to Casting, Working With First Time Actors

While it’s no secret the film and TV business is booming in Australia’s major cities, fewer people are aware of the momentum building in the Top End. 

Working in Larrakia and Arrernte country (Northern Territory, Australia), Sarah Price’s Cast Away NT was formed in 2018 and has contributed to casting TV series that include Desert King, The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart and Barrumbi Kids as well as over 40 commercials. 

Price spoke with Casting Networks about championing underrepresented talent, the importance of culturally safe workplaces and more. 

You’ve got degrees in hospitality, marketing and screen business. Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a casting director?

I grew up in Sydney, then my parents moved to Darwin—my dad was the founding registrar at the university up here. I had always planned to leave and travel the world but Darwin, as it does, gets under your skin, so I ended up staying and having children. 

I initially started in hospitality. I have a love of working with people, and humans fascinate me infinitely. I then moved from hospitality to communications and marketing, did a degree, and ended up being a marketing consultant for over 20 years working in events and PR. Then, purely by accident, I fell into casting.

A filmmaker friend was struggling to find talent in the Northern Territory because before I started, we didn’t have any casting directors up here. It was all a DIY process. He said, “Do you want to help me set up a talent database?” We were going to get funding —that didn’t eventuate— but people started asking “I hear you’re doing this casting thing. Can you help us find talent?”

Because I had lived in Darwin for such a long time, I sort of knew everyone. It’s a small territory. So, it happened very organically and has just continued to evolve. 

But it’s challenging, from a business sustainability perspective, working in the Northern Territory. That’s when I did the Masters in Screen Business at AFTRS [Australian Film Television and Radio School]. 

You’re a big champion of emerging, diverse and underrepresented talent. How does this ethos inform your casting process?

The work I do in the Northern Territory is probably quite different from other casting directors. Often, they’ll work with databases and send client briefs out to agents and go from there, but because we don’t have any agents in the NT [Northern Territory], 98% of the actors we work with are non-represented and have relatively low degrees of industry experience. 

So intrinsic to that is that the fate of my business is so intricately intertwined with the fate of the wider NT screen industry. I’ve discovered that one of the ways to maintain sustainability is to have a strong industry, and having a strong industry means building capacity for the industry and building capacity for our talent.

Having lived in the Northern Territory for a long time, I’m very passionate about the place and the people who live here. I want everyone to succeed, but it’s very much a “rising tide lifts all boats” situation.

You’ve mentioned a few of the challenges that come with being the NT’s only CGA (Casting Guild of Australia) member. On the flip side, what unique delights this has afforded you?

One of the things that’s unique about the Northern Territory is that a third of our population are First Nations, and there’s something incredibly magical about a lot of First Nations’ early screen tests. The majority have never acted before or may never have thought of acting before, but [when they] pick up a script and read it, magic happens. They just nail it.

There’s this innate quality and authenticity that I think First Nations actors have. Finding and working with First Nations talent and learning about their culture is what has driven me to develop, and my business to develop as well. 

Are there any particular casting decisions or discoveries of new talents that stand out to you as especially memorable?

On virtually every project, we discover new talent. I’m always trying to find new talent, undiscovered talent, those rare gems.

I worked on Barrumbi Kids a couple of years ago, and we had this amazing young boy, Nick [Bonson], who was the lead. He’s incredible and, again, had never acted before. He just got into the room and nailed the role. That happens a lot. 

What makes an actor someone you’re always happy to call in to tape or audition?

There are a number of factors. One of the big things is their commitment to the craft and commitment to the role. Also, because I work with a lot of non-professional actors, sometimes it can be difficult to get hold of them, so being responsive is important.  

Looking to the future, what trends or changes are you sensing in the Australian screen industry?

I think creating an industry that is supportive and culturally safe for diverse talent. I know the industry is slowly evolving, but there’s a long way to go. I’m working on a separate project developing frameworks for the industry to create culturally safe workplaces because I think this work is really important. 

Are you open to newcomers introducing themselves to you and if so, how do you prefer they do?

I’m very happy to hear from any actors, anywhere, via our website. You never know where those rare gems might be found. 

What pops to mind as something you’ve watched and loved recently?

I just finished watching Baby Reindeer on Netflix with Richard Gadd, which was amazing and not at all how I expected it would turn out. Brilliant writing, brilliantly filmed, incredible talent—mostly unknown talent, too.

The other is The Bear. Jeremy Allen White, he’s amazing.

Closer to home, I’m a big fan of Rarriwuy Hick’s work. She did True Colours and I had the privilege of working with her on a web series shooting in Arnhem Land called Hairy Marys, which is out later this year. 

Special thanks to Price for her time. Be sure to keep an eye on Cast Away NT’s website, Facebook, and Instagram for upcoming open casting calls.

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