Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Casting By review

When I went last week to see Twenty Feet From Stardom, the trailer for the documentary Casting By was shown. Tom Donohue's film first screened at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and has played other film festivals. The Hot Docs series at the Bloor Cinema shows documentaries year round and I went to see it last night. Casting By will be of interest to film buffs. It talks about how casting agencies became a viable business in the early 50s. The film focuses on casting pioneers Marion Dougherty in New York and Lynn Stalmaster in Los Angeles. In the 30s and 40s, most actors were under contract to one of the studios. Each studio had a list of contracted actors and casting was very arbitrary. If Jack Warner was angry at an actor, he cast him in a bad movie. If the actor refused to do the film, he went on suspension. He doesn't get paid on suspension. Things changed in the early 50s when live TV started. The Hollywood studios didn't produce TV until later and most live TV was produced in New York as one would produce live theater. Aspiring actress Marion Dougherty saw a need to cast actors for live TV. And there were plenty of aspiring actors in New York acting schools. So she started casting for Kraft Television Theater and later for the TV shows The Naked City and Route 66. One of her first major discoveries was James Dean. He appeared on live TV including Kraft Television Theater before becoming a Hollywood star. Marion discovered several actors and this led to her getting work in films. Similarly, Lynn Stalmaster started casting Los Angeles produced TV shows like Gunsmoke and Have Gun, Will Travel until director Robert Wise hired him to cast the film of the Broadway musical West Side Story. United Artists was the first studio to use casting agents. Most of the other studios were slow to catch on. Marion opened her own office in New York and trained others. They started getting more credit for their work. Marion cast Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate. She was hired to cast Midnight Cowboy and advocated for Jon Voight despite opposition by director John Schlesinger and producer Jerome Hellman. Midnight Cowboy won the 1969 Best Film Oscar and the casting was a big part of that success. So why isn't there an Oscar for casting? Representing the Directors Guild of America, president Taylor Hackford says casting agents just make suggestions. Directors make the final decision. Many of the other interviewees including many directors don't agree with that view. Woody Allen is so shy and hates the casting process so much, he lets casting agent Juliet Taylor handle everything for all his films. She knows what he wants and he trusts her unconditionally. Of course each director is different. Marion Dougherty moved to Los Angeles in the 70s and was a VP of Casting for Paramount and Warner Bros. When Time Inc. bought Warners in 1990, she was put out to pasture. They hired her replacement without telling her. A campaign to get Marion a lifetime achievement Oscar was opposed by the DGA and rebuffed. Marion Dougherty died in 2011. Casting By is a very interesting documentary that will interest film fans. Check it out if it comes to your city. Here is the trailer for Casting By.

No comments:

Post a Comment