What does MTV have to do with Modern Languages and Cultures? Specifically, how does a person go from getting a degree and majoring in French and linguistics to being a casting coordinator for MTV? According to Todd Havens, Class of 1992, “You can do many things with a foreign language degree . . . But my particular story is about just following gut instinct and making my life more about a journey.”
While pursuing his undergraduate degree, Havens studied abroad in Italy, Spain and France. He noted that each experience was very different. In Spain, he remembered kicking back with a “cerveza” with his fellow students, while in France he had a tough time academically.
“France was a really intense program . . .There were French professors teaching American students and students had to write their papers in French. I remember learning psychoanalysis in literature,” Havens said.
While in France, Havens decided to apply for the position of WRUR station manager.
“I was in Paris writing out my speech to be elected,” Havens remembered. “I had been news director my sophomore year, and I did an AM show and an FM show, so I knew the station really well. It was really bizarre because I didn’t know anyone on the board that year.”
Havens stressed the benefits of learning skills through different experiences that happen outside the classroom.
“I learned politics from [being station manager],” he said. “I came back, and I think out of not knowing any better since I didn’t get to meet my predecessor, I and the others started to make changes. We got everyone licensed, and we tried to clean up the airwaves.”
During the spring of his senior year, Havens was also the chairperson of Cinema Group. “I was station manager of WRUR and chairperson of Cinema Group at the same time. [Cinema Group] renovated Hoyt Auditorium, and that was because of a proposal we had.”
Being a projectionist was another skill that Havens picked up while in college and still enjoys. “I trained in Strong Auditorium my freshman year,” he remembered. “It’s fun to project, because it’s so detail oriented, and your job is not to be seen. The most important thing is that the viewer has a great experience. I still project 35mm movies out in Hollywood sometimes.”
After graduating, Havens decided to apply to film school. He applied to the University of Southern California, the University of California Los Angeles, and New York University. “That’s where Hollywood gets a lot of its up-and-coming . . . I got into USC,” Havens said. “It’s a big transition from Rochester to L.A.”
Soon, Havens was attending classes, working at a commercial casting office and doing some acting on the side. “[At the casting office] we did hundreds of commercials, including that ‘I love you, man’ spot with the son and the dad. You never know which commercials are going to be a hit and be remembered.”
When the Screen Actors Guild strike occurred, it gave Havens time to consider his options between acting and casting. He decided to delve into commercial casting with two other casting coordinators, with whom he still presently works.
Casting for the MTV show “Fear” was their first big job. The premise of the show dealt with putting five 18-to-23-year-olds in a haunted location for two nights. During those two nights, they have to complete a series of dares. If they survive the dares, each individual walks away with $5,000.
Initially, Havens wondered if the prize money was enough. He recalls, “We can’t go out there and tell people that that’s all they get as they face death and come back from the brink. And then we got out there and started talking to people and they’re like, ‘Wow, dude, $5,000!’ To 18-to-23-year-olds thats a lot more than to someone who’s 30.”
When asked about the worst place that MTV sent people to on “Fear,” Havens replied, “We were filming at an abandoned mine in Mexico during the second season and at the end of the first night the producers called us and said ‘Everybody quit! It’s great! This has never happened before!’ The idea is what if you run into an energy that is confused? . . . It’s all about an idea that people are not at rest.”
The latest show Havens and his co-workers did casting for was MTV’s “FM Nation,” which follows “The Real World Las Vegas.”
“FM Nation” follows three groups of friends around on Saturday night,” he said. “They don’t know each other, they don’t meet up with each other. The thing that ties it all together is that they’re all listening to the same radio station.”
Casting for “FM Nation” was unique due to the premise of the show and the areas he visited.
“The show is different because if you showed up without your friends on an open casting call day, you had to bring your friends back,” Havens said. “We had to find out what you were about and what was going on in your life. We visited Scottsdale, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Utah, Boulder, Colo., Wichita, Kan., Little Rock, Ark., Mobile, Ala., and Clearwater, Fla.
“We went to smaller towns because we wanted to show that situations going on in Wichita are just like those going on in Rochester or anywhere else.”
Now that casting for “FM Nation” has finished, Havens is waiting for his next casting job. Overall, he loves casting.
“We fall in love with everybody that we have call backs with and that we take back to producers,” he said. “We root for them and we hope they get picked.”
Schroeder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.