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L.A. Film Fest Review: ‘Casting By’ Is A Warm Tribute & Thanks To The Often Overlooked Work Of The Casting Director

L.A. Film Fest Review: 'Casting By' Is A Warm Tribute & Thanks To The Often Overlooked Work Of The Casting Director

Here’s an interesting fact revealed in Tom Donahue’s
documentary “Casting By”: casting directors are the only opening single card
credit that does not receive its own Academy Award nomination. It’s an
interesting fact, but also sort of a depressing one, as this film reveals not
just how integral casting directors are to the creative process of filmmaking,
but really how important they have been in shaping the history of American cinema. This film seeks to highlight the publicly under-appreciated casting
directors and to pay tribute to the one woman who evolved the position of the
casting director, its role in the filmmaking process, and in doing so, had a
dramatic effect on some of the most important and influential films of the 20th

Marion Dougherty had dreams of being an actress in college
before she moved to New York and found work assisting a friend casting the
televised theater show “Kraft,” in the early days of television, in the late
1940s. Marion had an eye not just for talent but for a person’s energy, sitting
down and talking with them and keeping detailed notes about them on 3×5 cards,
and going to bat for those actors she really believed in (a fellow by the name
of James Dean). After her tenure on “Kraft,” she started casting the 1960s TV
show “Naked City,” a gritty and realistic cop drama, which was the perfect
showcase for the Actor’s Studio-trained, psychologically complex, internally
rich actors that found themselves working in theater in New York, including Jon
and Robert Duvall (who suggested to Dougherty she check out his
roommate, Dustin Hoffman). The archival footage of these young actors in their
first roles is a treat, too.

The list of actors who owe their careers to Dougherty is too
long and legendary to even mention—just think of every good actor you know who
got their start in the 50s or 60s and she may have had a 3×5 index card on
them. Many are interviewed for the film, including Robert Redford, Al Pacino,
Robert De Niro, Glenn Close, John Lithgow
, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, etc., and
many of them are genuinely emotional about the role that Marion played in
changing their lives. Voight, in particular, is awed by Marion’s belief in him,
after she fought for him to be cast in “Midnight Cowboy” after he was
particularly bad in an episode of “Naked City.” Many filmmakers and producers
mention how Marion brought attention to actors they would never have
considered, or fought for a particular person they had earlier dismissed.

Of course there are other casting directors besides Marion
interviewed as well, such as Lynn Stalmaster, who was working on the West Coast
and was the first casting director to receive the title card “Casting By” in
the “The Thomas Crowne Affair.” Marion’s assistants and apprentices who have
gone on to their own fruitful careers in casting are also on hand to flesh out
the details. As the film traces the increasingly important role of the casting
director in the process, it also traces the fight for the casting directors to
receive credit for their work, receiving individual title cards, being called
“director” (the DGA didn’t like that so much, and Taylor Hackford, former DGA
president emerges as a bit of a villain in his staunch adherence to the idea
that the director is the only person making the final creative decisions on a
film), and of course the Academy award issue. And the film seeks to remedy this
in its illustration of just how much casting directors have helped not only
actors and directors, but truly affected the course of film history in its
transition from the studio system to the independent contractors way of making
films. If it weren’t for eagle-eyed Marion Dougherty (or any other casting
director for that matter), some of our most indelible and influential
performers may have never gotten their big breaks, and some of our most
important films may have been completely different. “Casting By,” which will
air on HBO in August, is a warm and emotional thank you and tribute to this
extremely important and often overlooked work. [B+]

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