Say What? Sarah Valentine


Sarah Valentine founded Background Talent (now BGT) 18 years ago.

What was your goal when starting BGT?
Back in 1998 when Lord of the Rings fever hit I saw an opportunity to start my own extras agency, as there were only two in Auckland in those days. My experience in the film industry and interest in web development culminated in a vision to build a online booking agency able to cater to even the largest of shoots.

Has the goal changed over the years?
My goal has essentially always been to make someone’s dream, of being on TV or in the movies, come true. I love it when your average Joe Bloggs comes into my agency thinking they are ‘not good enough, not attractive enough, not clever enough…’ to work in the industry and then I get to make the call to say, “Congratulations, I’d like to book you on xyz…” and hear the surprise and excitement in their response.

Why did you change the agency name?
Late last year I decided to change the name from Background Talent to BGT, simply because it’s faster to type and also to get away from the stigma of the word background. Although “Background Talent” has had an excellent name in the New Zealand film industry, it wasn’t necessarily indicative of the types of roles we are asked to fill.

We have never ‘just’ submitted for background roles so, understandably, some of our talent felt that the company name made them feel less worthy. Many times on set people would say, “Oh, you’re just the background”, which isn’t very nice when you’re with one of the best agents in town. The name “BGT Actors Models and Talent” is more relevant and seems to have raised the perception of who we are and what we do in the public eye.

What are the differences between now and 1998?
I have to say the biggest difference between now and 1998 is the internet. We used to get a call and be asked to book 10, 20 or 100 extras and production wouldn’t need to know what they looked like or even require head shots, they would trust that we would supply what they wanted.

As a company, we were the first agency to have a website in New Zealand and, I believe, we developed and changed how extras casting was managed via online casting.

Currently, we are still the only agency that has a fully online booking system. It allows our clients to view available talent, make jobs online and see exactly who they have booked. Our system checks for continuity, posts call times as well as wardrobe and location information for our talent. From start to finish, our system manages everything and I am extremely proud of it.

What different types of work are you putting people forward for?
If something is shooting in New Zealand we usually have someone in there somewhere being something! There are opportunities in TV series both locally and internationally, TV commercials, documentaries and in film.

I would like to get into more photographic work for our models, build my actors portfolio and get more opportunities for our talent based out of Auckland.

How’s the volume of work available?
When the sun begins to shine, film productions come out of hiding and we all get busier. It’s a wonderful time of year and I think every ‘filmy’ likes to be busy. I just wish that the New Zealand film industry could be booming like it was in the 90s. Now the industry just seems to be ticking along. As much as that is fun I would much rather been making money for our talent and the business then just ticking over. Our government needs to see the value of the film industry and how much revenue it brings and really endeavour to support its growth.