by R. Asmerom
Breaking into the film and television industry is obviously no easy feat. For the millions of aspiring actors, comedians, writers and directors who are duking it out in Hollywood for their big break, impressing casting agents is a huge hurdle.
As part of one of the most important and largest networks in the country, Kendra Carter is well aware of how her role can nurture, change and determine the careers of so many Hollywood hopefuls. She is the Director of NBC Universal Talent Diversity Initiatives and a large part of her work involves recruiting diverse talent, whether that means holding a contest for comedians at the Comix Comedy Club in L.A or putting on The Short Cuts Film Festival to find emerging filmmakers and actors.
The UCLA graduate actually worked for ABC’s finance department before she made the transition to the talent side, although she always had a keen interest in the behind the scenes alchemy of the entertainment business. “I loved television and I often found myself saying, ‘Oh, that person from that show would be good on this show.’ I often wondered why somebody will show up on a TV show and how they got that job.”
Carter took the initiative, leaving her stable accounting position for an internship with a high profile casting director, Debra Zane, and worked her way up from an intern to an associate, and eventually landed at Spike TV as a casting executive in 2004. “I got the chance to expand my knowledge of casting while at Spike TV,” she said. “I had the chance to work with hosts, judges and comedians,” she said, adding that prior to her three and a half year stint with the cable network, she had been limited to television talent casting.
Networking was key to landing her envied position with NBC. “I heard about this opportunity through an organization called Color TV, which is a small organization for diverse executives that get together and talk about different opportunities and just get to know each other and network,” she said. “When the opportunity at NBC presented itself, I was excited because it allowed me to apply my skills in different ways as far as my background in doing talent searches and in casting with comedians and working with different organizations.”
Carter’s latest project is NBC’s 7th annual “Stand Up For Diversity” comic search. “Through this initiative, comedians have been able to launch new career milestones,” said Carter in a previously released statement. “Since the inception of the program, many participating comics have gone on to sign with top Hollywood managers, agents, and met with leading casting executives.”
Carter says that the diversity talent searches not only serve NBC but play a larger role in aiding ambitious hopefuls to get meaningful exposure across the board. “The purpose of the initiative is to not only seek diverse talents for opportunities at NBC Universal, but to present them to the entertainment industry at large so anytime I put on events or programs, they’re not just for NBC Universal or just for our sister networks, she said. “We invite all of the industry, so if we aren’t able to find an opportunity for a talent here, we say ‘hey, these are people that we like, we vetted and we think they should be working.’”
For many industry hopefuls, Carter is now seen as one of the gatekeepers of NBC – one who decides who crosses over from aspiring to working actor. In Hollywood, a familiar refrain is “it’s about who you know.” For many, “who you know” starts with an agent. And landing an agent is a process that can take years of hard work.
Regardless, Carter says that ultimately her work goes beyond just dealing with those who already have a foot in the door. “It is easier if you do have an agent or manager that’s going to contact us because we do get a lot of unsolicited material, but I learned from the best casting directors that you still go through those postcards and those headshots or resumes because you never know,” she said. In an industry where stiff competition is the name of the game, Carter helps make the transition to Hollywood certified talent that much more welcoming.