Casting In Gold.

Posted January 15th, 2013 by Ben

I had a rare moment of jungian synchronicity today. As you probably noticed we’re currently casting for our feature film “Nina Forever” and the whole process has been somewhat on my mind. We’re lucky enough to be working with casting director Emily Tilelli who has already proven to be worth more than even my weight in gold.

It is not, therefore, surprising that I found myself wondering for the first time ever why it is that the major film awards never offer any gongs to the casting director. Low and behold, not a handful of hours later and my thought, mumbled absently to my brother, has turned into a full on raging debate…

“I don’t typically watch the DVD extras on the films I work on, but on one project I happened to, and the director and the producers sat around and said “Oh, I knew it was that actor the moment they walked in.” It was Carnivale, the series for HBO. But they wouldn’t have even known of that actor unless I had brought them in the room. And I think that happens a lot. I do think there is that pervasive attitude. A director and a producer want to own it. Ultimately it is their decision in collaboration with everybody else, but by-and-large that director and producer would never know the talent unless a casting director brought them in the room and knew who they were and were familiar with their body of work. So it’s an integral part of the creative process in making a movie.”
-John Papsidera (The Dark Knight Rises)

This is from a rather interesting discussion held between some of casting directors unmentioned by this year’s Oscar nominations, the rest of which you can read in full by clicking here.

It’s an odd omission because whilst highly skilled, the art of the casting director is actually much more understandable than the majority of roles that do get awarded. I take nothing at all away from those nominated for their achievement in sound mixing or sound editing but can you swear a hundred percent you could quote me the difference? OK, never mind you, you’re a film geek like me, but what about your Mum? Or that guy you work with? Do they even hold an opinion about this year’s nominated achievements in production design? And if they do have an opinion is it based on anything other than a vague sense of something having “a fancy set”? However even people who have the honesty to admit to not knowing how to choose between two actors’ great performances, will nevertheless give you chapter and verse about how a film was cast.

Bad casting is harder to forgive than bad acting and though great casting is less noticeable than a scene stealing performance it remains one of the few areas where a layman not only feels able to judge but actually runs the risk of being right. This isn’t to say the role is easy, or that anyone can do it. Rather that, as it is basically matchmaking, it is a process we all understand, even if mainly through our own constant failure at it. So why isn’t it a shoe in for the Oscars?

I think that Papsidera hits the nail on the head. It’s one area few directors or producers are willing to admit to not being in control of. After all, if you think “achievement in sound editing” is a difficult thing for the general public to really understand then let’s actually think about the role of directing a movie. Or producing it. When thinking about their favourite film of the year there aren’t many people who consider how effective its finance plan was, or how effectively the design and photography were unified to suggest an underlying philosophy. No, for most people there are really only three things they consider, the special effects, the story and the casting. We know that the writer does one of these jobs and Peter Jackson does the other so therefore if the casting isn’t down to the director and the producer then… hang on… who are these guys in caps and glasses?

This is why there will never be an Oscar for Achievement in Casting. But if there was one, I know who’d get my vote. If I had one. Which, as I’m not a member of the Academy, I don’t.

  1. Martin Wallace

    I saw a great American documentary about the ‘first’ casting director – Marion Dougherty. The film paints a painful picture of how undervalued the role has been and how hard some male producers and directors work to keep it that way. It’s called “Casting By” and made by Tom Donahue. Worth tracking down. I caught it at this fest in North Carolina.

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