Outside the lines

They’re gonna put me in the movies/ They’re gonna make a big star outta me/ We’ll make a film about a man that’s sad and lonely/ And all I gotta do is act naturally.

— The Beatles

Have you ever, while inhaling popcorn in a darkened theater, and after paying the better part of 10 bucks to absorb a box-office blockbuster, come to the disarming realization: “Hey, Nicole can’t act her way out of a paper bag — I could do way better than that!”?

Well folks, it’s time to let your inner thespian out of the closet, because Asheville’s star just got a whole lot brighter.

A little over a year ago, our forward-thinking mayor — determined to take advantage of the snowballing attention WNC is garnering from the film industry — created the Asheville Film Board. This artistic government arm makes absolutely certain that Asheville stays on Hollywood’s short list of most-desirable film locations.

Last month, the city localized its efforts in the form of a free public seminar. The evening program instructed attendees on the ins and outs of finding work in the motion-picture industry.

“We have a lot of local talent here, and we held this seminar to help the community get connected,” says Robin Nix, Asheville’s Public and Community Information coordinator and Film Board staffer.

“If directors can hire locally, they want to,” she claims.

Although the forum’s agenda aimed to educate in a variety of areas, the 250 wannabe actors who packed A-B Tech’s Laurel Auditorium that night bombarded the panel with a single, all-consuming inquiry:

“How do I become a star?”

Enter Lisa Dalgewicz and Lee Nesbitt, two smart cookies wielding boatloads of know-how in the entertainment field, who’ve just filled a niche ripe for their savoir-faire: The two have joined forces to establish Asheville’s new talent agency, Encore Talent Connection.

On the night of the seminar, as Nesbitt occupied the dais with other Film Board cronies, Dalgewicz spontaneously leapt from her anonymous place in the crowd and blurted, “You are looking at the agency of Asheville!” (this, after hearing another panelist report that the closest talent agency was in Knoxville).

She elaborates, “After the forum ended, I was swarmed by people wanting to sign up, so we invited everyone to our first recruiting session a couple weeks later, so they could register with us.”

The two women — who met through activities at their daughters’ school — come armed with glamorous resumes spanning over 50 years in the biz. Nesbitt has worked in movie production since 1973, and Dalgewicz has modeled, acted in TV commercials, sung and danced professionally, and run her own booking agency in San Francisco, before moving to Asheville. Primed with the goods, these girls are ready to take on the heavies.

“We believe that people here need to be properly represented,” notes Nesbitt. “One of the promises we are making to our people is that we are a full-time agency and we are taking this seriously.”

Good damn thing. The day of Encore’s open house dawned cold and rainy with a threat of snow, but the dire forecast did precious little to deter the 64 hopefuls, headshots in hand, from streaming through the doors of the old Alpha Group building on Patton Avenue to mug for the camera.

Collectively, the contenders were more anti-hunk than GQ, more earthy than sophisticated, although Sandra Bullock’s strikingly gorgeous 28 Days stand-in did make a brief but flashy appearance.

Local actress Kayla Rae, dressed to impress in a gauzy ensemble, admitted openly: “I’ve got stars in my eyes.” (Rae was an extra in Last of the Mohicans and had a small, credited role in Songcatcher, which was also filmed here and opens in the fall.)

The bug bit John Price during his work on 28 Days. “I see myself in a ‘best friend’ role or playing ‘second-banana-type’ characters,” confided the dapper fifty-something census-taker. Meanwhile, Lisa Sturz — a local puppeteer of national reknown — signed up her two stunning children for America’s most prestigious gig.

Bottom line: Everyone wants a break.

So far, 110 people have listed with Encore, but the agency is perpetually on the hunt for that remarkable face or quirky personality — be it possessed by toddler or granny — to really gloss the roster. And believe it or not, “it’s not the beauty queens, but the fortyish men that are in shape and still have all their hair that are the hardest to find!” says Nesbitt.

“We will be civically active, we will work with the Asheville Film Board and Western North Carolina Film Commission and do our part to help bring films in,” she continues on a serious note.

But talent alone does not an agency make; these ladies also boast the movie Midas touch: Hollywood contacts.

“When a production starts up, they hire a casting agent, usually out of L.A. After they’ve decided where to shoot, they start calling film commissions to get names of local talent agencies,” Nesbitt explains. ” It is a business of contacts, and I’m fully counting on all the people I’ve worked with in the past to help us out.”

Hannibal — the sequel to the creepy psycho-thriller hit Silence of the Lambs — was slated to start shooting here this spring, but has been postponed until August. “I was thrilled,” confesses Dalgewicz, “because it will give us more time to get our act together.”

And though the company is headquartered here in the hills, Encore’s principals will compete in the world market. “We are going after national commercials, print ads, catalogue work and the movies,” Nesbitt emphasizes.

The agency can’t guarantee work, but everyone who signs up is automatically accepted. “We’ve got to have a lot of people on board to be successful. And if we don’t have your picture, we can’t sell you to a casting agent,” she warns.

What are you waiting for?

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