Kati Lightholder is a local actress and producer. She recently wrapped a starring role in the upcoming quirky comedy Sonny Days and played an integral role in the successful Mercury Men as the Syfy series producer. Kati currently co-hosts Pedal America with Ira David on the Create TV network, WQED2 (13.2), in which she travels to various cities to immerse herself in the unique bicycle culture of each.
We talked to the multi-talented Kati about her projects, the local film scene, and how to break into the industry.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in the Rockwood, Somerset area and then moved to Bethel Park in 2nd grade.
What did you study in college? How has your degree helped you find success in the Western PA film industry?
I studied Communication Arts with an emphasis in video production at Allegheny College in Meadville, PA. There I gained a basic knowledge of video production and started working on my video editing skills. Perhaps more importantly it gave me a well-rounded education. In the video/film business you are always dealing with different subject matter so it’s key to be well rounded.
My first job was as an associate producer at a video production house in Pittsburgh called Mind Over Media. It was more like a masters program for me and really taught me the ins and outs of the video production and the discipline to be a really good producer.
When did you become active in the Pittsburgh film scene?
I got my first job on a movie about 6 years ago. I was the Production Secretary on an R.L. Stine book turned movie called The Haunting Hour. After that, I worked in the accounting department on the movie Smart People, then as the assistant to the UPM (Unit Production Manager) on the mini series The Kill Point, and finally the assistant to the producer on the Fox TV pilot Locke & Key.
I started pursuing acting seriously about three years ago, working on independent films. I’ve since also worked on commercials and TV shows.
Is it difficult to find work as a comic actress in Pittsburgh? What kinds of opportunities are there?
While comedy is my absolute favorite genre I am always open to straight or dramatic roles as well. The opportunities in Pittsburgh are varied. There are film roles (independent and studio driven), an occasional TV show will come to town, there are also lots of commercials shot here, and, of course, industrial/training videos and voice overs.
How did you get involved with Sonny Days?
I submitted myself to the Sonny Days casting call with a link to my website www.KatiLightholder.com where I have my photos, resume, and film and commercial reels. I had three auditions and got the role.
What have been some of your favorite experiences working with local filmmakers?
My absolute favorite experience thus far has been working on Sonny Days. It really hit me directly in my sweet spot. I got to play a dry comedic role and wear a wig! All of the people that worked on it were excited to be there and worked their butts off every day. There is nothing that makes me happier than seeing people work hard. It’s how I was trained at my first job and how I continue to work.
How can aspiring actors find work in the Pittsburgh film scene?
Well, I’ll tell you how I did it. I started off by going on Craigslist and pghfilm.org every single day and submitting my photos and resume for everything that seemed legit— and even some that didn’t. You have to be smart about it though. If it sounds like somebody wants to make a “home movie with himself and one other leading lady” then there’s a good chance you’re going to get yourself into trouble. Please mark those as prohibited on Craigslist to keep the scum off of there please, please, please!
Always agree to meet in a public place for any audition and try to research who you are meeting beforehand. I’ve had more “Starbucks auditions” than I care to admit. Also, asking for links to their previous work is a great idea – this way you can see if what you’re potentially getting into would even benefit you and your future reel. Another good thing to do before agreeing to audition is to ask if there is anything risqué about the role you’d be auditioning for. I’ve turned down many roles after hearing that there was indeed something risqué about them and several times they have actually re-written the role for me. That’s the beauty of low-/no-budget projects— they don’t have to get studio approval before making script changes.
Also, never ever pay anyone money to represent you. It’s okay to take a class that may cost money, but you should never have to pay to audition or have somebody get you auditions.
Talk about your role as producer of the Mercury Men series.
Producing Mercury Men was an experience I’ll never forget. We worked with a crew of awesome people—almost all of who would come to set after working their normal jobs to work all night on this film.
I worked on casting, locations, craft service, extras, morale boosting, organization, really fun paperwork, and a variety of other things.
*Fun memory: One thing that many young producers overlook, that I always try to pay extra attention to, is food. If you have a full crew, then you have a happy crew. I remember myself and a few PA’s delivering shots of hot chocolate and soda to crewmembers around the 2 AM hour to try and raise morale.
More and more it seems that filmmakers are able to establish themselves with lower-budget projects. Mercury Men was made with less than $10,000. Have you been surprised by the project’s success? Besides the budget, what are the major differences between working on small- and large-scale productions?
I am obviously thrilled that the Mercury Men is successful. Success is not something you should ever just expect to have, because so often in this industry it doesn’t matter how good you are— you may never get a break. It’s this strange combination of talent, determination and, dare I say, luck that need to align.
I’d say the biggest difference between a small- and large-scale production can be seen in the stress level of those involved. On larger scale productions there is a lot of money at stake and usually a studio exec hovering around the set making people nervous. Independent films have their own stressors for sure, but I tend to think they can be more fun because often people are working for free or very low pay and they are there because they want to be. They truly care about the art being made and want it to succeed as much as the producer and director do. I’d love to be able to bottle the enthusiasm of young filmmakers, I’d make a fortune!
In what ways does producing involve your creative input?
You may not be picking the angle of a shot or the color of a prop as a producer but you have to be creative in the way that you deal with people and get random things done. Getting people to do what you need them to do is an art for sure. You have to understand how to talk to people and get them to trust you. And once you have their trust, you have to be extremely responsible. A producer is often the one who has to deal with issues that come up—how are we going to patch that hole we just created in the drywall, or how are we going to set up dinner in a parking garage? It’s all creative.
Talk about your other work as a producer.
The other projects I typically produce are for not for profit organizations. Subject matter that often pulls on the heartstrings.
What advice can you give people interested in production?
Most people who want to get into production will start out as a production assistant. I was very lucky to have bypassed that. Getting in touch with the Pittsburgh Film Office and getting your name on their crew list is a start. Always check pghfilm.org for job postings, as well as Craigslist. You have to be willing to do grunt work if you want to be in this business. The best people for this industry are those who can humble themselves enough to take out someone’s trash and fetch somebody’s lunch while having a positive attitude. Someday hopefully somebody will be doing those things for you.
Do you prefer acting or producing?
Acting, but I plan to combine the two at some point.
How important is it to be a multi-faceted talent and be able to be involved in multiple aspects of a production?
It can be a benefit to have worked in many areas of the business, but it can also work against you. Because I started behind the scenes I had to work really hard to get into people’s minds as an actress. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t taken seriously at first because I started behind the scenes. My advice is to learn everything you can about every area, but if possible always let it be known where your sweet spot is.
Have you thought about going to Los Angeles or do you think this new entertainment-heavy version of Pittsburgh offers sufficient opportunities?
I have been to LA and NYC and I love both of those cities. My hope is to always keep Pittsburgh as my home and travel when needed. As of now Pittsburgh doesn’t have enough acting work to keep someone like me working full time, so I have been and plan to continue to travel for work. But even an LA-based actor has to travel sometimes, so I feel lucky to have Pittsburgh as my home base.
Learn more about Kati and her work as an actress and producer by visiting her web site www.katilightholder.com
Keep posted to Hollyburgh for updates on Sonny Days and check out Kati’s work on Pedal America that airs locally on Sundays at 9:30am and Wednesdays at 9:30am and 3:30pm on the Create TV network, WQED2 (13.2).
The episode schedule is as follows:
Austin, TX – Sun, Sept. 9th
Raystown, PA – Wed, Sept. 12th
Savannah, GA – Sun, Sept 16th
Napa, CA – Wed, Sept 19th
Chicago, IL – Sun, Sept 23rd
Sedona, AZ – Wed, Sept 26th