An Insider’s Musings on the “It” Factor
By Andrea Ajemian, Producer, Artigo/Ajemian Films
“Lights, camera, action!” Ok, admit it ~ at one point or another you’ve dreamt of hearing those words spoken to you on a Hollywood movie set. America is obsessed with fame. We love to turn actors and actresses into stars. But what is it exactly that makes a star? Is it just good looks? Is it talent? Is it a sexy accent? Is it someone to whom we can easily relate, someone we think might be cool to hang out with? Or is it just the opposite, someone whom we see as completely unattainable? Is it someone with scandalous personal life that always makes tabloid headlines? Or is it a secret combination of all of the above? We all like certain stars because he or she has that special “It Factor,” but almost none of us can define exactly what that factor is!
Take Jon Heder for example, star of 2004’s breakthrough indie hit “Napoleon Dynamite.” This 6’1, crazy haired, goofy-looking Mormon guy with the big nose and funny teeth so won over audiences with his hilarious performance that there are now Napoleon D dolls on the market and Napoleon D fan-clubs all over the web. Jon certainly didn’t fit the handsome movie star mold. But he made people laugh, has a very unique look, and did such a good job at creating that memorable character that he won hearts and was instantly propelled to stardom.
I posed the question “What defines a star?” to my creative team one evening during a much-needed caffeine break from working on our next film, We Got the Beat. “It’s a type of appeal that people want to consume again and again,” says WGTB Music Producer Kaz Gamble, former member of the hip-hop band Bad Ronald (Reprise/Warner Bros) and the electro-dance band Cooler Kids (Dreamworks). “Most stars seem to both remind viewers of themselves and of people in their lives, while also displaying a charisma that is ‘larger than life’.”
Writer/Director Jon Artigo, who left his home in California to pursue a filmmaking career right here in Worcester and is now on his third locally-shot feature film, describes a star as “…somebody who you can’t help but watch when [they’re] on screen.” Stars like Kate Winslet, Jack Nicholson, Scarlett Johansen, and Johnny Depp top the list of my production team’s choices of favorite stars. Kate Winslet is beautiful, talented, and classy. She does not posses the popular waif-like Hollywood figure, nor does she grace the covers of tabloid magazines for getting into nightly bar fights. Jack Nicholson possesses one of the sexiest, most magnetic presences ever, but look at the man! Hardly an example of male perfection ~ but he is a brilliant actor and absolutely riveting…and has certainly stood the test of time.
My Production Intern/local musician Alex has a different take on stardom, perhaps a more traditional one. He still likes to believe that the stars who go down in history as having the most successful careers, are the stars with talent, personality, and looks. Regardless of whether it is classic movie star looks or strangely quirky looks, (take Paul Giamatti, for example), there is a certain look that works for and adds to every role.
When casting the independent teen drama “Still Green,” local writer/producer Georgia Menides auditioned over 400 teens. “Every day we get headshots submitted to our office, and there are so many people that have a good look, but maybe not the “right look” for a specific role.” Assistant to the Director Hillary Cohen, a soon-to-be Clark University senior, interned at Fox Casting in Los Angeles last summer. She explained to me that for one role, Casting Directors would go through tapes and tapes of auditions to find exactly what they were looking for, whatever that may be.
So will we ever be any closer to figuring out the one true definition of “It?” I don’t think so. But that kind of gives hope to those of us who still dream of being discovered, of being the Next Big Thing ~ we can be skinny, fat, gawky (anyone ever heard of Mr. Steve Busceme?), drop-dead gorgeous, or funny looking (hello Mr. Danny DiVito!) and have exactly what it takes to capture a casting producer’s eye and be launched into the celluloid stratosphere!
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