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Breaking Baz: Tributes For International Industry Titan Jenne Casarotto From Kathleen Kennedy, Donna Langley, Barbara Broccoli & Many More

How do you capture Jenne Casarotto? She was at the intersection of theatre, film and television. It all, seemingly, swirled around her.

Not just around her.

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It was the brilliant team that she assembled at Casarotto Ramsay & Associates, the agency that’s been at the epicenter of UK arts culture for over three decades. Correction: The company’s reach extended far beyond the environs of London’s Soho.

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One would see her in Venice, Cannes, Toronto and Sydney. One would not be at all surprised to be at a screening at, let’s say, Sundance, and there’d be a tap on the shoulder when the lights came up. “That was great stuff, wasn’t it?” She’d say gleefully.

It was a bit of a test because she’d expect you to be honest with her. Well, it was godawful, actually, and she’d nod sagely, her eyes twinkling behind her specs. But if you loved it, she could tell in an instant, because she was a shrewd reader of body language.

She also had impeccable taste and that extended not only to the clients she chose to represent but also to those who worked at the agency.

Those clients included J.G. Ballard, John Crowley, the Roald Dahl Estate, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Stephen Frears, Matteo Garrone, Christopher Hampton, David Hare, Nick Hornby, Bob Hoskins, Neil Gaiman, Terry Gilliam, Hilary Bevan Jones, Neil Jordan, David Leland, John Madden, Steve McQueen, Cynthia Payne, Neal Purvis, Shawn Slovo, Robert Wade, Tennessee Williams, and David Yates.

Often, I’d receive a note suggesting I check out a play in some remote off-off West End venue. It always was worth the trip. At film festivals she’d mark my card sending me off to discover new talent.  

And she’d go to bat for you as long as it was about the work.

I still have the email exchange from over a decade ago concerning a film, The Outcast by Iain Softley, that the BBC was playing silly buggers about and wouldn’t show me.

Within an hour I was watching the film.

Checking my phone upon returning home from the National Theatre last Friday, I saw a statement announcing Jenne Casarotto had died after a short illness.

I refused to believe it. Why? Hadn’t we just been seated next to each other at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre? Hadn’t she sent me a note with a link to Misan Harriman’s Oscar-nominated short film The After, followed by a message that perhaps I’d prefer to see it in a screening room. Hadn’t we spoken many times about Steve McQueen’s extraordinary documentary Occupied City? Hadn’t she mentioned the rough cut she’d seen of McQueen’s new film Blitz? “You’ll want to see that one twice,” she noted.

Hadn’t we planned to have lunch? Weren’t we supposed to see each other at various stops during awards season? We laughed about the time we were at an awards ceremony in L.A. when she was there for Stephen Frears and McQueen. Judi Dench was there as well. At the afterparty, there was a disco, and we all took to the dance floor with McQueen’s family and, well, Jenne sure knew how to shake it!

The producer David Land introduced us well over 35 (maybe it was 40?) years ago. Back then, Land managed “the boys” Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, and Jenne — having worked in the Robert Stigwood office that was a hive of activity due to Grease, Saturday Night Fever and the Bee Gees — now was partnering with Douglas Rae at an agency for writers and directors working in film, television and publishing. I have a vague memory of Jenne and the producer Helen Montagu accosting me one night in Old Compton Street and we, and others, fell into the now-closed Red Fort restaurant that served delicious curries.

Years later, Jenne hosted a lunch there, and I was struck by the fact that she didn’t seem at all showbizzy, in the sense that she didn’t need to be defined by going to the usual hangouts like The Ivy to compete with the male, grey-suited brigade.

We would bump into each other regularly because of our theatre and film interests, and it was great to track her progress after Stigwood and Douglas Rae Management, but I got to know her better when she struck out on her own, forming the Casarotto Company with husband Giorgio in 1989. Three years later, following the death of legendary literary agent Peggy Ramsay, Jenne and Giorgio entered into a partnership agreement with Peggy’s deputy Tom Erhardt that resulted in the formation of Casarotto Ramsay.

The formidable Mel Kenyon joined as head of theatre, and slowly but surely — with the addition of U.S. agent Sandra Marsh, Casarotto Marsh was formed, headed by Sara Pritchard in the UK, to represent talents behind the camera — Casarotto Ramsay Associates became the powerhouse that it is today.

I have always loved Jenne’s insistence that her clients become household names in the industry and beyond, not those who represented them.

Jenne Casarotto in her office (Casarotto Ramsay)
Jenne Casarotto in her office (Casarotto Ramsay)

Heartfelt condolences to Jenne’s family, friends and colleagues.

Jenne’s friendships extended throughout the world of entertainment and, with help from her friends and colleagues at Casarotto Ramsay. this is what those friends wanted to say about her:

KATHLEEN KENNEDY, President of Lucasfilm:

“For nearly three decades, I had the immense privilege of knowing and collaborating with Jenne Casarotto, starting with our early endeavors on Empire of the Sun and with the Dahl Estate on The BFG. Reflecting on those years, what deeply resonates with me is not just Jenne’s impeccable taste or her unerring eye for talent; it was her fiery soul and unwavering dedication to the extraordinary individuals she championed. Jenne was a visionary, a nurturer of dreams whose passion for storytelling and cinema was as boundless as the universe.

Working alongside Jenne, I was fortunate enough to engage with several of her clients – luminaries like JG Ballard, Christopher Hampton, Bob Hoskins, David Leland and John Madden, to name a few. Yet, it wasn’t the names that defined my experience, but the realization of how Jenne’s profound commitment and belief in their potential transformed their careers, and in turn, cinema itself.  She had an unparalleled knack for fostering connections, understanding that at the heart of great work was the alchemy of collaboration. Jenne was, in every essence, a producer’s agent. I have a profound sense of gratitude for her friendship and for being lucky enough to have been caught in her orbit. Her legacy will live on in all of us who had the good fortune to know and work with her.”

NEIL GAIMAN, writer and graphic comic book novelist:

Remembering Jenne

I cannot think of Jenne Casarotto without smiling, even if the smile is followed by a wave of immediate sorrow: Jenne is gone, after all, and I’ll never sit in her office and drink my tea while she drank her coffee, and talk about everything and nothing, not ever again.

I can’t remember ever talking serious things: We talked about her other clients, the ones I knew as friends, their triumphs and vicissitudes. We talked about whatever of mine she had just read or re-read. We talked about the world and the shape of it all. And always Jenne was sensible, cheerful, reassuring and informed. We would talk for too long, and I would think that we had talked of nothing important at all, and yet by the end of the conversation, Jenne would have filled a notebook with several pages of notes, and things would be put in motion and calls would be made and things would happen. She cared about the big picture, and she cared about the details.

I was not ever certain why Jenne took me on as a client. She was picky, most of her people were A-list writers and directors. I was a successful novelist and comic-book writer who had occasionally written film and television without ever setting the world on fire. Still, Jenne liked what I did, and her friend Hilary Bevan Jones suggested that we talk and we had tea (she had coffee), and somehow I became her client. And having become her client, I had become her friend.

Jenne showed up. She was there when you made things, there when they went up on the stage or the screen, and then she talked to you about them in ways that made it clear that she understood exactly what it was you had tried to make. She was unfailingly honest about what didn’t work for her, which made it so much better when she was just as honest about what had worked, what she thought you had done right.

All the stuff about Jenne being a trailblazer and a visionary, the way she thought outside the box, the way she used her power for good — that’s all true; I’d get glimpses of it from time to time. (She understood my career better than I did, would not give up when something was needed, and was indefatigable. All true.) But that’s not the person I remember. I remember her as someone who always left me feeling happier than before we had talked, someone who made the day better when I realised that she had turned up to something I hadn’t expected to see her at, someone who had a smile that made everything better. And her smile was infectious. Thinking of it, of her, I’m smiling now.

HILARY BEVAN JONES, producer:

Ask Jenne.

9th May 2012.  An entry in my diary reads, “Ask Jenne.”

Since the 1990s I have kept a daily record of my work, in hardback notebooks. Always dates, noting conversations, script development, casting challenges. You name it. Long-winded rambles and short mnemonics.

Leafing through some diaries for inspiration as to what to write about Jenne, this summed it all up.

I have asked Jenne so many questions over the 30-odd years that she has been my agent, my friend and in essence my running partner. These questions usually led to animated debate and to laughter. In hindsight, we grew up together.

Jenne and Giorgio set up Casarotto a few years before I formed one of the early independent TV companies, Endor Productions. Picking up the phone to Jenne as I navigated the highs and lows of independent production was invaluable. More recently Jenne has been by my side as I returned to freelance executive producing and started a new company, Leighdale.

I have had the privilege of working with some of Jenne’s incredible clients including Neil Gaiman, David Yates and Paul Mayhew-Archer. How lucky we all were to have Jenne’s guidance.

When I became the first female Chair of BAFTA in 2006, there was much internal debate as to what title I should have. Jenne was there to keep me grounded. Jenne was also an encouraging and stimulating sounding board as I outlined my dreams of using the immense resources of the BAFTA members to support and inspire the next generation alongside its celebration of excellence.

15 years ago a handful of students set up Watersprite, an international student film festival, with me as their Chair. Jenne, and Casarotto Ramsay, were our first supporters and have sponsored the Fiction Award for many years. Jenne saw the value of bringing young filmmakers together and of championing them. Many of the early nominees and student committee are now global award winners and credit their careers to Watersprite, which is now the largest student film festival in the world. Thank you, Jenne.

I asked Jenne’s advice about massive production and development conundrums. About the tiniest of details and the largest of challenges. Jenne always found time to speak and gave everything the same fierce, protective, considered response.

Ask Jenne?

I wish I could.

TIM BEVAN, Working Title co-chairman:

“Mid-1980s, the British Film industry was on the dawn of a new age — the end of unions dominating the industry and the emergence of Channel 4 and British Screen as funding sources for new filmmakers, and ideas were to prove fertile and saw the emergence of a new generation of British behind the camera talent. Amongst the leading industry figures of this period was agent Jenne Casarotto.

Jenne was exceptional. She chose writers and directors as clients who she felt had original and edgy voices and would tell stories that would provoke and entertain. Old school — she would read material, have an opinion, manage her clients and make creative marriages. As fledgling producers, she took a risk on us and married us up with director Stephen Frears for My Beautiful Laundrette, then David Leland for Personal Services and Wish You Were Here, films that went on to define the era and for which we owe her eternal gratitude.

Fierce loyalty and friendship were Jenne trademarks, also being consistently querying and agitatedly pushing new ideas forward — as much producer as agent. The crowning jewel for her of this era was A World Apart; autobiographically by client Shawn Slovo, the film was invited to competition in the Cannes Film Festival. In those days, we all shared an apartment and invited Jenne to join us. She returned in the early hours one morning with a bloodied face and clutching her bag: “Some bastard tried to steal this,” she said. “I bashed him.”

BERNARD ROSE, director:

In the student common room at the National Film and Television School, when it came close to graduation, there was only one serious subject of conversation: Were you or were you not going to get an “agent”? An agent seemed to us to be a magical Threshold Guardian who would unlock the doors of the impregnable Movie Business and lead you to a glorious future of life in Stanley Kubrick’s castle. Agents’ names were discussed, researched and ranked in order of desirability. One name was considered above the crowd, spoken of as probably unobtainable but whose approval would represent the granting of a career — a name as legendary as it was easy to misspell: Jenne Casarotto (two Ns, two Es, one S and two Ts).

Now in 1984, about to graduate, I was feeling pretty good about myself, having just had a string of top ten hits with my music videos. And please remember: In 1984 the “music video director” (it being a brand-new medium) was an exotic beast, the object of envy and hatred of the entire established film industry. But I wanted to make films, and I wanted an agent, so I sent my stuff to Jenne.

And indeed, Jenne summoned me to a meeting. I assumed that at this meeting she would gush over my talents and offer to represent me. I had sent her my recently completed film school graduation film, archly titled The Voice of the Lobster, and the bulky U-Matic cassette of this effort was on her desk as I entered.

Jenne greeted me with an open face and a warm smile; “Well I watched your film, and I’m afraid I really didn’t get it. So I gave it to someone else in the office to watch, and they didn’t get it either…”

I was not expecting that, but before I could protest she went on:

“However, I got hold of this…“ — Jenne produced a cassette of the 30-minute film I had made for UB40’s album Labour of Love. It was an expansion of my “Red Red Wine” video with all the songs linked by dramatic scenes. “And this is the real deal.”

“What do you mean, the ‘real deal’?” I said.

“I mean, you’re a real filmmaker.”

This was forty years ago, and in all the films I have made, tried to make or should never have made, Jenne was at the center. I think she is credited on every single one of them and will be credited on the next couple as well, as she has already made those deals. She never lost faith in me and never was less than honest about the work. I think it’s that duality that was the center of her power; Jenne was unique amongst British agents in that she was taken very seriously in Hollywood while never kowtowing to anyone. She would deliver her opinion in a calm and nurturing way that allowed her views to slip past the defenses of the biggest egos without causing them a narcissistic breakdown. Praise was always tempered with something negative, she’d seen so much that she knew that the feeling of infallibility is the hubris at the heart of every cinematic disaster.

If my life is defined by my films, she was there for every part of it and witnessed some terrible rows, humiliations, successes. When I say she will be missed, that seems too mild a word. She saw all the films before they were completed, read all the scripts, knew all the contracts. How can that be replaced? Most agents are brokers, trying to make their 10 percent. Of course, Jenne was running a business, but I don’t think that’s what she was in it for. I don’t think it’s a terrible exaggeration to say she was responsible for a large part of British Cinema for the last 45 years, and if that’s not publicly recognized, it certainly is by those of us who were lucky enough to be represented by Jenne.

May her memory be a blessing.

SARAH GAVRON, director:

“I first met Jenne 23 years ago, when I joined her agency as a new director, and I felt intimidated because she represented many of my filmmaking heroes. Stephen Frears, one of those heroes, who I had been lucky enough to have as a teacher at film school, was always singing her praises. And once I joined Casarotto, when in trouble, Frears would say, “Ask Jenne, she’ll know what to do” — like all the most valuable people in this industry, she was a genius at problem solving, drawing on her vast knowledge and experience. Jenne and Jodi Shields, my agent, formed a great double act and would think out of the box, coming up with left-field solutions about how to get funding, sort out a script, down to what stories were worth telling in the first place – quietly and unshowily making things happen behind the scenes.

Despite her renowned client list, she always had time to nurture and support those coming up. And she was straight-talking and principled in a world where it was, and still is, hard to hold on to principles – she was one of the first at the Time’s Up meetings, she was a champion of women in film, when there were still so few of us. And she had another great quality: She was the life and soul of any party, never one to leave early — the person you wanted to hang out with.

Her death is a terrible loss. I was worrying that a great mind had gone but realised that she was not one to hoard her knowledge – she generously imparted it and inspired with it, and I have no doubt her spirit and influence will live on in the agency she built, through her brilliant team.”

JACK THORNE, writer:

Jenne Casarotto was a true great. A magnificent person who always had time for everyone. She made everything seem so easy even though at some points she was the crucial cog keeping an industry going.

I was there the night she was awarded her British Independent Film Award, when this stream of achievements were listed. Films that would have died were it not for her. I said to her afterward, “I had no idea” — she just smiled a modest smile. She will be so missed.

MARK MYLOD, director:

“I’ve never met anyone else remotely like Jenne. Everything was possible with her in the room.

CHIWETEL EJIOFOR, actor-director:

This has been the most unbelievably heartbreaking news. Such a devastating loss. Jenne was a completely wonderful person to know and work with. I adored and admired her so much.

RACHEL TALALAY, filmmaker:

It feels that Jenne has been a hero figure to me my entire film career, although we met first in 1995. I always felt a sense of pride when asked “Who is your agent?” and I could reply “Casarotto.” It was a stamp of approval, a bragging right. I stood among the giants whom Jenne represented, the top talent of the UK, literary and filmmaking mavericks and masters. And I’d been invited in all the way back in the late ’90s.

My husband, producer Rupert Harvey, introduced us. He had a variety of dealings with Jenne from the mid-’80s onwards. The most memorable was when he pitched her a Victorian mystery story and she simply replied, “Sounds dreadful.”

They both laughed. He knew his pitch was awful. And that’s what I remember about Jenne — that she would be a straight shooter, but there was always a twinkle in her eye and lots of laughter.

I never felt I quite lived up to her hopes for me, but I was thrilled whenever I had a successful project and I had a note from her. It meant the world to me to have those nods. I will continue to fight the good fight with her wisdom still in my soul.

I watched as the agency grew into a monolith, and nonetheless still stayed independent. I knew it was Jenne’s strength, intelligence and moral compass that was the core of the company. She was admired everywhere.

I shed tears when I heard the news. I raise my grappa glass to the sky to celebrate her. And bask in my good fortune of being associated with her for so many years.”

I really thought Jenne was forever — well, we know her legacy is.

KELLY MARCEL, filmmaker:

“Jenne was a force of nature. She was a gardener who hunted out seeds of talent, watering and nurturing them into fully fledged artists. My career would not exist without the support and care of Casarotto and the mother of all mothers, Jenne Casarotto. There is no doubt that the agents she mentored and loved all have a piece of Jenne’s DNA running through them and will continue to tend the glorious garden she grew.

BARBARA BROCCOLI, producer:

“There are many ways one could describe Jenne Casarotto; trailblazer visionary fearless passionate honorable, but the most overwhelming thing about Jenne was that she was lovable, absolutely totally lovable. She lit up a room with her boundless positive energy and she made everything and everyone better just by her very presence. Her departure is a seismic loss to all of us who love her.”

DAME DONNA LANGLEY, Chairman and Chief Content Officer at NBCUniversal Studio Group:

I loved Jenne. I’m deeply saddened by her passing. I wish I could have had one last encounter with her, to hear that throaty laugh and hang on one more pearl of wisdom. What a lady, what a legacy.

JOHN LYONS, poet:

I hope you are all being buoyed by the sense that you are part of a family that has sustained a grievous loss, and the world will be a poorer place with Jenne gone.

For me, and perhaps this is selfish, it’s a significant blow to a world where there is little sense of history and so little regard for real talent and relationships. Knowing that all of you will carry on the tradition of civility and fierce regard for talent is a real comfort.

I simply cannot believe she isn’t here. Thinking of all of you in this impossible moment.

ROSALIE SWEDLIN, producer:

I was introduced to Jenne shortly after I moved to London in the early 1970s, when she was still working with Douglas Rae and I was handling publicity for Michael Joseph Publishers. When I joined Anthony Sheil Associates in the late-’70s and needed advice on how to be an agent, she was one of the very first people I contacted. She was, of course, generous and became a mentor, even referring me clients and always a supporter and dear friend. The loyalty and love she has fostered among so many people for so long – colleagues, clients, executives and creatives all over the world — is unparalleled. Truly a remarkable, one-of-a-kind person.

DEDE GARDNER & JEREMY KLEINER, producers:

Jenne Casarotto was a truly inspiring person – a paragon of integrity, a fierce advocate for artists and their creative and business interests, and through it all, radiated cheer, wit, and the greatest smile.  Rest in Peace Jenne – we will miss you dearly.

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