When film and TV production froze during Covid, veteran casting director Shasta Lutz shut down her agency. As the city has slowly reopened, she’s had to learn how to cast commercials in an entirely new way, recruiting actors’ family members as co-stars and shooting in their homes instead of studios. Here’s what her job looks like now.
—As told to Liza Agrba
“I founded Jigsaw Casting in 1996 and worked for 25 years to build the company from the ground up. I’m a casting director for commercials—my job is to find the best actors for a given production while staying within the designated budget. An advertising agency or production company will hire me, and I’ll work closely with the director. They will give me their vision of a commercial, and it’s my job to find the talent. We probably average about 325 jobs a year, working with big brands like Facebook, Tim Hortons, and AT&T. I employ seven staff and a whole bunch of freelancers, so a lot of people rely on me to make a living.
“Things went downhill on March 16. We closed the casting office and started working from home. The next day, at about 8 p.m., I got an email: someone on the set of a commercial we had cast a couple of weeks before had a Covid-positive test result. We weren’t told who tested positive for privacy reasons, but I wondered it was one of our directors, because that person had been under the weather. We were told to self-isolate for 14 days. I was horrified. That’s when I realized that Covid was really here. The directors had shot an SNL episode with Daniel Craig just before coming back to Toronto for our shoot, so I kept checking fan sites to see if Daniel Craig had caught Covid. (He didn’t). Thankfully, the person recovered, but the next day, an acquaintance from another casting facility got a similar Public Health letter that said somebody there had tested positive. It became clear that shutting down was the right thing to do.
“Every day, jobs were getting cancelled or postponed. I was in the middle of a massive job for Kraft Philly, searching for their new cream cheese angel, and it literally had to be shut down in the middle of the process. I’ve never had to lay anyone off before, and I wasn’t sure how to best take care of my people. I ended up terminating all my staff, rather than just furloughing them, so they could get severance and EI. (We didn’t know about CERB yet). It was a total gut punch, and I couldn’t stop worrying about whether I’d have a business to come back to.