Jennifer Starr Interview
You may think you know Jennifer Starr from the hit Bravo show “Make Me a Supermodel”. Jennifer is the original independent Casting Director – world renowned photographers and designers hire her for her opinion and point of view. In her words: “I have the best job anyone could have – I have a license to go up to anyone I find interesting – and I do”. Jennifer has collaborated with photographers such as Bruce Weber, Richard Avedon, Steven Meisel, Mario Testino, Mert Alas & Marcus Piggott, Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin, Terry Richardson and Steven Klein. She has cast campaigns for icons such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Gap and Gucci.
Q: Where are you from?
A: New York City – but at 14 my family moved to Miami which I really didn’t mind because I loved sports and the outdoors. In Manhattan we had a 40 minute gym class each day where we were in a small school gymnasium. If we were lucky we got to go over to central park and kick a ball around. At my school in Coconut Grove, Miami, I was on the swim team, volleyball team and basketball team. On weekends I was at the beach. Miami was completely different then than it is now. Coconut Grove and South Beach are practically unrecognizable.
Q: How did you get into this business?
A: Through Bruce Weber’s sister Barbara DeWitt. Bruce was shooting The Calvin Klein Obsession and Jeans campaign and she was the producer. I was 17 and she asked me to scout locations for the shoots. There were about 40 models, including Christy Turlington, and we needed private homes where Bruce would be comfortable shooting nudes in natural light. I lived in a high-rise but many of my friends had beautiful homes that I knew would work perfectly. Once the shoot began, Bruce asked me to stay on as a production assistant – I remember one of my first responsibilities included taking the models to the beach to get a healthy tan, and making sure they didn’t get sunburned. I decided I couldn’t really tell my friends what I was doing (LOL). Who would believe it? After working for Bruce for a few months I went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where I received a B.A. in Sociology, and studied Political Science at Oxford. Right before graduation, Bruce and his partner Nan asked me to come back to New York and work for them full time. Somewhere along the line my primary job became casting the models. I think I just really enjoyed that part of the job more then anything else and I guess was innately good at it. Bruce would send me all over the world to find fresh new faces.
Q: Tell me about working with Bruce-
A: Bruce wanted to know everything about the people he would shoot – where they were from, what sports they played at school. He was curious about who they were as individuals. For many Abercrombie & Fitch and Versace campaigns I would travel ahead to the shoot location and cast locals. This would help guarantee us new faces that hadn’t been overexposed. Using local people as models would bring spontaneity to the shoot – really great energy. Bruce really captures who a person is in his photographs. I refer to my time there as BW school. It was a real education into music, film, fashion, and art. Bruce would say we are going to do a Pasolini story and I would then go and watch every Pasolini film made. He would make cinematic references all the time. I made the best of friends over those four years. With Bruce and Nan and the dogs at the helm, it was very much a family.
Q: How did you start your business?
A: When I began there were no independent casting directors. There were no rules. No fee structures. There was no program or structured course of action to follow to become a casting director…like there is for lawyers, bankers or doctors. Bruce taught me how to do street casting – to find real beauty that would be accepted in a commercial ad campaign. He used to say- when you leave here and you’re a big casting director… he planted the seed. Bruce was super supportive when I left and even recommended me to Calvin. Then, my first phone call on my own was from Richard Avedon. Things just kind of snow balled after that. I was incredibly blessed.
Q: What was it like working with Richard Avedon?
A: He was larger than life. I admired him and his work even before I entered this business. He had so much energy. I kept calling him Mr. Avedon and he kept saying- please call me Dick. I said I just couldn’t do that. At our first meeting he told me that he wanted me to travel around the world – that I should pick twelve different countries and find the most beautiful women in each country for the next Pirelli Calendar called Women of the World. After he said this I started looking around the room. He said “what are you looking for”? I said that I am looking for the man to tell me that I am on candid camera because these things don’t happen to me. He said he loved me and I had the job.
Q: I loved those old D&G ads.
A: I loved casting those D&G campaigns for Steven Meisel. We used real people. I presented Steven with an extensive biography on each model because that’s what Bruce liked. Steven was like- Jen- I’m not writing a book on these people- it’s a portrait! He’s so funny! I cast real families and couples- many of them same sex couples, and they were shot in very normal, very casual, and very beautiful situations. I think it was the first time gay couples were portrayed in a very affectionate, loving and tasteful way. These ads had a big impact on the way homosexuality was perceived and I was so proud to have been a part of them.
Q: How has modeling changed in the last 5 years?
A: Celebrities have become the new supermodels.
Q: Where do you see the modeling industry changing in the next 5 years?
A: Well, I would say that street casting is still going to be important and I feel that reality television is going to affect the fashion industry as well.
Q: What do you look for in a model?
A: Someone who is comfortable in their own skin. A relaxed body attitude, not studied body language. Not “super-modely”. The ability to really look with their eyes and connect with the camera. I am always searching for unique and different types of beauty. I love people who are passionate about something and that passion comes through in a picture. And, quite often I am drawn to people with great personal style.