“More than ninety percent of directing a picture is the right casting,” says Martin Scorsese at the beginning of Tom Donahue’s new documentary “Casting By.” The legendary director is not alone in his sentiment. Screen icons such as Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood and a cavalcade of others lent their names to honor the importance of the unsung, highly intuitive artistic process of casting.
In the summer, The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences formed a Casting Directors Branch with casting directors David Rubin, Bernie Telsey and Lora Kennedy in the role of new members of the Academy’s Board of Governors. It was an act of acknowledgement decades in the making and the timing couldn’t have been better placed, as it was announced just days prior to the “Casting By” premiere on HBO.
What “Casting By” magnifies in its story is how vital and important the process of casting is in the history of film and acting. It is casting directors who are responsible for doing the work and having the foresight to bring actors to the roles they are made famous for. The process of finding who will play every role begins with their facilitation. It is a strong argument that if other departments such as hair, makeup, production design, editing, cinematography, sound and many more are being honored by The Academy – the same should be awarded to casting.
The casting process begins with a list of ideas that casting brings to the producers, directors. Those concepts begin to offer humanity and faces to the characters in the screenplay. It is a collaborative process that grows from those initial conceptual seeds, and “Casting By” illustrates the immensive genius of Marion Dougherty to see clearly through the chaos and place the right actors in the right roles. James Dean, Dustin Hoffman, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Christopher Walken, Glenn Close, John Lithgow. It was Dougherty’s eye in casting these actors that had a tremendous impact in the changing landscape of Hollywood for decades.
Marion Dougherty died in 2011, but is survived by the lineage of casting directors that permeate the profession, branches so to speak. It is an art that has been passed through association, apprenticeship and mentors. The biggest casting directors in show business got their start somewhere, and it was probably from someone who got their start from Dougherty or one of her associates.
“Casting By” is vying for one of the coveted nominations of Best Documentary Feature for the 2014 Academy Awards and momentum is swinging in their favor as the November 23rd nomination deadline looms. The film has been playing to sold out crowds in New York and Los Angeles and stars such as Robert Duvall and Woody Allen are making special efforts to lobby on the films behalf. It is a rare achievement for the producers to get Woody Allen to write an open letter to the film industry offering his support for a film, or to get Robert Duvall to sit down for an interview. That is a testament to the power of Marion Dougherty and how she meant to these screen legends and their careers. Casting means just as much to the history of film.