Sunday, October 27, 2013

“Casting By” – Movie Review



This weekend in my movie class, we had a bonus screening of “Casting By”, a documentary about Casting Director Marion Dougherty.


What do Casting Directors do?  How has their role has changed over the years?   Pioneering Casting Director Marion Dougherty answers these questions and explains how she single-handedly redefined the profession. 


Marion Dougherty is famous in the entertainment industry as someone who spent half a century as a Casting Director for a wide array of television shows and theatrical motion pictures.  In college, she wanted to become an actress but was discouraged when she learned how difficult it was to obtain work.  After graduation in the 1950’s, Dougherty went to New York City to break into show business in some form, but wound up taking a subsistence job as a window dresser for a major department store.  Shortly thereafter, she was contacted by an old college friend who did casting for NBC’s Kraft Television Theater; he hired her as his assistant and when he left the position a few months later, Dougherty took over and her career as a casting director was well on its way.

In the old days of the studio system, the role of the casting director was very different from what it has evolved into today.  Then, actors were signed to a long term contract with each movie studio and were required to fulfill their contractual obligations by performing in a specified number of movies each year; as such, the casting director was regarded as little more than a secretary – their job was to match up an actor from one category with an actress in another category to cast them in a film about to go into production in yet another category. 

By the early 1960’s, however, the old studio system gradually began to collapse and eventually fell by the wayside.  While many saw this as a plus, one of the disadvantages was that actors were no longer guaranteed work because they were now essentially free agents.  That’s when Dougherty came into her own and figured out how the role of a casting director would fit into this new system.  She effectively became a collaborator with a director, suggesting actors and actresses they might not necessarily have considered – instead of looking for a pretty face, she looked for acting skills.  But could Dougherty maintain her grasp on being a Casting Director even after major corporations took control of the motion picture studios?


“Casting By” is a must-see documentary for anyone who considers him/herself a big fan of television and movies.  For people unfamiliar with behind-the-scenes nuts and bolts of how productions are assembled, this film provides a crystal clear understanding of exactly what happens during the casting process and how.  You will come away from it being both informed and entertained.  The talking heads – a necessary evil of almost all documentaries – are interspersed with filmed auditions of major stars, such as Jon Voight as well as early performances by young, then-unknown actors like Robert Duvall. 

One of the things to be learned in “Casting By” is the prejudice experienced by Casting Directors from others in the industry – including and especially The Directors’ Guild Of America (DGA).  While it may not be well known to the general public, apparently the DGA has a major thorn in its paw when it comes to giving Casting Directors their due, insisting that their title is incorrect as there can only be one individual with the title “Director” on any given film.  Further, Casting Directors, despite their involvement in the movie-making process, often don’t receive a credit on the film/television show for which they have worked – and when they do, it is buried on a screen with a number of other credits, instead of getting its own title card. 

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed comedian Tim Conway, who was promoting his new autobiography, “What’s So Funny?”.  One thing became clear early-on in this conversation:  trying to conduct a serious interview with Conway is about as easy as trying to nail Jell-o to a wall.  Based on his looks and behavior – especially his razor-sharp comedic mind – it is hard to believe that Conway is nearly 80 years old.  In a rare serious moment, Conway confessed that he was dyslexic from childhood and that whenever he had to read aloud in class, the other children would laugh at him because he would either insert or omit words from a sentence.  Seeing how easy it was to get laughs from them inspired him to become a comedian. 


Casting By (2012) on IMDb 6.9/10321 votes6.9/10321 votes

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