Casting By Review – Meet The Unsung Heroes of The Entertainment Industry

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Casting By,” from Creative Chaos Ventures and Tashtego Films, brings to the screen the back story behind of the rise of the modern day Casting Director and the evolution of the Entertainment Industry.

Directed by Tom Donahue, “Casting By,” was produced by Kate Lacey, Tom Donahue, Ilan Arboleda, Joanna Colbert and stars almost every movie screen talent, director and industry insider who witnessed the development of the machine.

For historians, connoisseurs and lovers of film and film history, “Casting By” is packed full of celebrities explaining their big break and how they, through fate, serendipity, happenstance, or creating the chance, made it into the hallowed New York offices of Marion Daugherty.

Marion Dougherty, who died in 2011, on the East coast and Lynn Stalmaster on the West coast were, for the first thirty years of television and contemporary film, the only names in casting. Beginning in 1960, she lucked into the casting position for the television series “Naked City.”

These were early days when television was in black and white, and many of the internationally recognized names in the industry were stumbling into this “acting thing.” 

Marion Dougherty is prominently featured throughout as the film is a campaign petition to have her awarded an Oscar for her work over the years on such notable films as “Reds,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Lethal Weapon” (all four), “Batman,” "Full Metal Jacket,"The World According to Garp,” “Looking For Mr. Goodbar,” “Escape from Alcatraz,” and so many more.

“Casting By” is truly fascinating in that it highlights the current plight of those who feel deeply indebted to an industry they love and almost a Semper Fi, no one gets left behind, an always faithful always loyal, belief that the casting director is so intricate to the process and is being overlooked without the coveted Oscar or any comparable award that shares Hollywood’s biggest night.

Opponents of creating a Casting Category to be added to the Academy Award categories for annual recognition included former Academy President Taylor Hackford who explains the process of casting, even though the talent is narrowed before he or any director sees the potentials, he believes the director makes the final decisions and casting is ultimately his responsibility.

The proponents of creating the category include almost every contemporary director who has come to depend on the innate skill, talent and ability to find the few who capture the essence of the part before the vision of finished product has even become realized in the directors’ mind.

Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Robert Redford, Robert Donner, Oliver Stone, Norman Lear, Clint Eastwood each speak eloquently on the reliance they’ve placed in the choices made by their go-to casting director.

“Casting By” provides insights into the “big breaks” of a virtual list of who’s who, many of which had a little more than a moment of dialogue or a pan and pause role, from Jeff Bridges to Bette Midler to Jon Voight, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Robert Duvall,  Jessica Lange, all deeply expressing their gratitude to Marion Dougherty.

The behind the scenes stories are very interesting for anyone who has even a remote interest in the film industry. “Casting By” isn’t limited to Hollywood talent as many of the names globally recognized came from the mean streets of the New York acting world, the off-off-and even more off Broadway names that worked, struggled, studied and built an acting career when the entire industry was in the midst of evolution.

Clint Eastwood, a product of the golden era of Hollywood, when Studios placed young talent under contract refining their skill and talent while finding roles for them, is featured also.  As part of the old system, Eastwood, as all who were contracted by the studios, were gradually released and integrated, if they were lucky, into the open casting system.

No longer were the players in revolving door contracts to MGM or Paramount “Casting By” explains how the studios became more dependent on the skill of casting directors.

While the film highlights the role of casting director at large and includes other early pioneers such as Lynn Stalmaster, it spotlights Marion Dougherty, her ups and downs with the industry honchos including Michael Eisner the then President at Paramount Pictures, and her contribution to the industry as well as, Juliet Taylor and Ellen Lewis, those she nurtured.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the board of governors has yet to formally recognize the role of casting director with a category along the lines of Best Costume Design, Best Dance Direction, Best Make-up and Hairstyling or Best Production Design.

“Casting By” is available on DVD, VOD and other streaming platforms. It really is a glimpse into the back lot of the movie industry and provides both the ups and downs of the lynchpin of every film maker: The Casting Director.

“Casting By” is distributed by HBO Documentary Films and in limited release.


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