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Thursday
Aug012013

Should There Be An Oscar For Best Casting?

Yesterday I thought about casting director Juliet Taylor probably more than anyone on the planet who isn't Juliet Taylor. When her name came up on the screen in Woody Allen's trademark font during Blue Jasmine I smiled -- I love that font and those familiar names so much. I recalled that she'd narrowly missed our top ten for "Women Who Deserve an Honorary Oscar", winning the most votes for anyone not in the writing/directing/acting/producing fields. Her resume is astounding featuring the massive Woody Allen filmography and non Woody films as famous as The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Terms of Endearment, The Stepford Wives and Interview with the Vampire (so you can probably thank her for Kirsten Dunst). We made that list in the hopes that someone with pull in the Academy would read it and think 'huh. These are great ideas to course correct!'

Woody Allen's infamous reputation as a silent director of actors extends into casting where his auditions are notoriously short... sometimes just a meet and greet is all you get. So you know Juliet Taylor works long hours before and after Woody says "yea" or "nay". So there I was thinking about her, wondering about how many decisions she's making on her own when the Academy announced that they were adding another new branch to their ranks, Casting Directors. People are already speculating about whether this means a Best Casting Oscar will be added to the annual horse race for gold.

 

 

My heart and mind war on this topic all the time. My heart knows that casting directors are crucial to a film's success and would warm to them being recognized -- it's obviously the single most important element of filmmaking that doesn't have a category. My mind, on the other hand, isn't sure this is a good idea. My mind knows that people would win the Oscars for the wrong reasons... even wronger [sic] reasons than people win other Oscars for in other categories! I'd argue that casting directors would win for which Movie Stars and Films were favored in any given year rather than their hard work filling the screen with less glitzy faces. I don't work in the film industry but I'd argue that Directors, Agents, Movie Stars, and Lawyers and Studio Heads signing off on budgets are the ones who decide which Movie Star is paired with which project -- especially since movie stars are often in place before the casting director is -- and that the casting director's brilliance is filling out the names in the below the title list, predicting the intangibles of chemistry and guiding the director to the right decisions about who goes best with whom. It's world building actually... the world of faces.

Rich DeliaI imagine Best Casting would nearly always line up with Best Ensemble at SAG and come to mean "Starriest Cast That Is Also Our Vote For Best Picture" which is quite reductive. Do you imagine the same?

If you had to vote on Best Casting for 2013 right now, what would you pick? Without contest I'd name Short Term 12 the winner for 2013 (thus far) which mixes the awesome Brie Larson with Tony winner John Gallagher Jr (currently on The Newsroom on HBO) and a large supporting cast of wonderful unknown child and teenage actors. So congratulations to  Rich Delia for winning my non-existent prize for this year! He only recently graduated to lead Casting Director (He also did Dallas Buyers Club this year) but he's been very busy for the past few years as a Casting Associate on dozens of movies including The Help and August: Osage County.

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Reader Comments (39)

I hope the award is for casting directors who caught lightning in a bottle and/or took some casting risks rather than rewarding the person who casts those bait-y A-list top to bottom, huge, sprawling ensemble pieces.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCMG

No.
I too have many deeply contradictory opinions on this.
But no.
Special Achievement or something akin to the Technical awards, maybe.
But no.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterStinkyLulu

stinky -- but why? what are the deeply contradictory opinions?

August 1, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

My only nitpicky issue with the possibility of the Casting Director Oscar is when would they give the award out. Is it too nerdy, which makes it fit with the technical/creative awards. Or should we add glamour to the award by making the cast go up on stage with the casting director? Although we are probably of the same mind in thinking that a Best Ensemble Oscar should be in consideration too.

And the Oscars will never have the worry of not being cool enough because the Globes are always less cool.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaolo

My vote is no. I feel that it would push casting directors to be concerned with gaining an award and maybe not do what is best for the script? And what are the criteria? The cast that best serves the script? The cast who gets most individual acting nominations? Or simply A-list star studded casting like August: Osage County or Into the Woods?? I feel like a leaser known star would have even a harder time during casting if the casting director feels that can land an A-lister and an Oscar for themselves.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

Nat: I'd say yes, but with one slight caveat to actively discourage "starrier" pictures. The criteria is: Focus on films with perfectly chosen casts that OPEN THE ROAD for one of the main actors, at the very least, to become a potential star and placing the obscure in lead roles takes highest priority. Take 1994. Best Picture was between Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction. Under those considerations Best Casting would probably be between, oh, Leon (Portman) and Interview with the Vampire (Dunst). 1978? Best Picture went to Deer Hunter. Best casting, with my exact criteria, would overwhelmingly HAVE to go to Superman: The Movie. (The slight discovery of The Deer Hunter was Streep, but she has a TEENSY supporting role.) 2003? Best Picture was between Mystic River and Lost in Translation. Best Casting, with that criteria, would go to Whale Rider, Thirteen or, maybe, Lost in Translation. 2009? Best Picture was between The Hurt Locker and Avatar. Best casting would probably be between The Hurt Locker or Fish Tank. The focus, then, is on awarding the finding of young actors or the plucking of less successful or notable actors from the ether. Best Casting, then, becomes about possibly MAKING stars, not FAWNING OVER stars.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

No.
There is no chance in hell that they will ever reward a film like Magic Mike or Win Win, let alone smaller independent stuff that is actually much more difficult to cast.
If the category existed, there is a 98% chance that this year's nominees would have been Silver Linings Playbook, Lincoln, Argo, Django Unchainced and Les Miserables (or Zero Dark Dark Thirty, because some people complained about Russell Crowe). Why just throw another award at one of the best picture nominees by default?

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

Amir: Win Win I'd semi-agree with (Alex Shaffer, finding a young POTENTIAL star), but Magic Mike (a well cast film that might give some of it's decently known supporting cast members a few opportunities) over Beasts of the Southern Wild (which was founded entirely around unknown flavour and made it's lead hot property on it's own)?

Best Casting Nominees 2012 under my criteria:

Beasts of the Southern Wild - easy winner
Magic Mike
Zero Dark Thirty
Moonrise Kingdom
Lincoln (DDL isn't the big thing, but the supporting cast is so massive that I could maybe see the casting directors branch collectively dropping their jaw a little, even if, simultaneously, the star making potential is low because of that.)

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Yeah, it's way too easy to imagine a Best Casting Oscar becoming a second Best Picture/SAG Best Ensemble award. HOWEVER, an association of casting directors awarding themselves I would be interested in. Yes, it also has the potential to go to the film(s) they just liked best, but a lot of the guild prizes usually do have some under-recognized films at least as nominees, and I think those "in the know" would have a good handle on what casting directors actually contributed most to a film's success.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I agree with everyone else-it's a No for me, as it would become a second Best Picture trophy (when the SAG Awards give Best Cast to Argo, I have no hope that AMPAS will be much better).

If they are going to add a category, I've long felt that Stunt Coordination or something along those lines is the best choice, though I don't necessarily feel that they should add any (I do wish SAG would broadcast the stunt awards, though, a complaint I'm guessing everyone here would agree with).

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

Volvagia - Agreed. I just dropped Magic Mike as an example. I agree with both Beasts and Moonrise being great works of casting.
In an ideal world, this year's imaginary award would go to Olivier Assayas's Something in the Air, with a cast featuring almost entirely of child actors who are brilliant across the board, but that's exactly the type of film the academy would never embrace (in any category really, but especially in this one).

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmir

No (with the possibility of a merit award). At the end of the day, the producer, director and sometimes the money cast the picture. The casting director brings faces to the table that the above might not know (this is the art part of their job--they facilitate/sort through the pegs to find the ones that fit and they do discover new talent, but its someone else who gives that talent the job) and they do background (who is in rehab, has difficulties working with others, schedule problems, etc.). It would be an empty exercise.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry O.

"HOWEVER, an association of casting directors awarding themselves I would be interested in."

Since 1985, the Casting Society of America has given out their own awards:
http://www.imdb.com/event/ev0000154/2012

The last group of winners were The Artist, The Help, My Week with Marilyn, Martha Marcy May Marlene and Crazy, Stupid, Love.

One should remember that, like in all the other categories, the casting directors would be making the nominations, so that could *possibly* weed out the less deserving contenders.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMovie Dearest

The idea excites me, but my final answer is no. It would probably get as messy as Best Ensemble.

Juliet Taylor totally deserves an honorary Oscar, but maybe shared with Lynn Stalmaster who turns 86 next November. The careers of these two veterans reaffirm my conviction that casting is being totally neglected by the big studios. Lately, I feel all they care about is who was hot, bankable or nominated last season. Recent examples: August, Woods, The Normal Heart...

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I'd say yes. It gladdens my heart to think that a little film like "The Way Way Back"--which will almost certainly be forgotten at year's end--would be a front runner in a category like that. It really does have one of the best ensembles of the year that I've seen. "Fruitvale Station" would also probably be way up there, but I anticipate more than a few critics' groups are going to give it Best Picture.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDback

The article about Annie McNamara was lovely. Thanks for sharing!

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

No. Casting directors aren't afforded real power. From the top down decisions are made. Any part that could potentially make a veteran talent more appealing to the general audience of today is given to Streep without a hesitation because of that bullshit meme surrounding her of greatest living etc. Does anyone remember Frances McDormand's Oscar speech thanking her distributor for allowing filmmakers a ton of miscasting choices based on qualifications and not market value--everyone applauded but Hollywood went back to business as usual and it's worse now.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Very length missive ahead:

Like StinkyLulu above I have many conflicting thoughts on this, but ultimately I say yes. I know it's potentially problematic but I think it's unfair to say X category shouldn't be included because the winners will end up being either frontrunners or big name films. Both because A) it unjustly suggests that big name films can't be well cast (I mean, as much as I gripe about the AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY cast and Streep not being ideal, that film made some unusual and effective choices - Roberts playing cold is well chosen, Martindale is a good choice, as is Sam Shephard). and B) isn't that really the problem we approach with ANY category at any major award ceremony? One of the immediate caveats of something like the AMPAS is that certain films may be more poised for awards than others. I had my ballot for casting last year and three of the five films were in my top ten, so it's not a stretch to imagine the most feted films might be in some cases indicative of best casting.

Of course the worry of HOW to judge casting is a major issue and the question of how much the casting director does against the directors of producers is a real issue that should be considered, but I think the issue of how to judge is one that follows many of the categories. Non-technical persons (and perhaps, even some of them) have not quite decided on what type of film constitutes best sound and sound editing, how much do we credit a film for "Best Adapted Screenplay" when it's a close blue-print of the original material in case of something like WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? What I mean to say is that there will always be issue or problems of how and what is the right way of choosing winners or nominees but just because the possibility of the process might get flawed doesn't mean *IT* still wouldn't be right. Because, ultimately, even if they don't get to do as much as they ought to in all cases casting directors DO do important things and sine - in theory - the AMPAS is about bringing recognition to the movie arts (I'll always applaud them for not cutting the technical awards from the telecast like the Emmys and Tonys) it's a shame they, who are integral, don't get the chance of recognition. So, yes, with the provision that they decide just what they want to reward - when I choose best casting I think of three performances, ideally not lead ones, that depend well on choice of actor (like Vincent Curatolo in KILLING THEM SOFTLY or Michelle Dockery in ANNA KARENINA) and then I consider the overall feel of the cast - like consider Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET, no idea of he or the casting director chose Hussey and Whiting but the overall feel of the film is one which accentuates the youth of the cast as against previous versions, which I'd imagine depended on the casting director in some regard.

(That's all to say, though, even though I'd be all for this as a category - the most pressing addition to the category is an award for Body-Work (Stunt work and/or Choreography) which I know Craig and Amir agree with me on.)

Apologies for the verbosity. But this is something very close to my heart.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew K.

I agree. This would just be another nomination for Best Picture nominees without any real digging. Honorary Oscar is the best bet.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoseph

I think the real question here is: how much would winning an Oscar mean to a Casting Director? Would it mean they would get more work, get more recognition, become someone people would look up more often? We all know the Oscars are an imperfect exercise in collective taste and always will be, but the Oscars do carry a certain weight in the Industry and having one in your resumé can make a difference to certain people. So, even if it's just another Oscar for a film that will probably win Best Picture, would it help or hurt the people who won that Oscar?

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

I saw no, but I think the Casting Directors Branch should be allowed to nominate in the Acting Categories.

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWalter L. Hollmann

I say yes. Casting is very important. It's like editing in that it's a mostly invisible art that many don't think about when watching a film and that it's integral to the success of a a movie. The Academy Awards are supposed to be about honoring the best of film and the integral parts that go into the making of a movie. Stunts, casting, these are two vital components to the success of a film and they should both be honored. If they have a category for Best Original Song, which especially of late, honors songs that don't actually appear in the film itself (credits notwithstanding), then there should be an award for casting. I'm not advocating jettisoning the Best Original Song category, but my point is that it has very little to do with the filmmaking process. For it to have its own category, but for casting to be absent is kind of insulting to the casting directors.

I'm with Andrew K in that any suspicions about what the Academy would do with that category are secondary to the question of whether the category should exist. When it comes to picking, both at the nominations phase and the winner phase, there are a lot of categories that don't exactly demonstrate an astute understanding of the word "best," but that's no reason to abolish or even censure....oh, the cinematography branch, for example, for thinking that Beasts of the Southern Wild's cinematography is somehow worse than Django Unchained or (for crying out loud) Skyfall. And we don't know that they would always fill it up with best picture nominees. Those BP heavy years in the tech categories are cyclical and don't always happen. To compare it to the SAG ensemble list, there are a few years (granted, not since the expansion) where the ensemble nominee list is not a Xerox of the BP list. 2007 only contained one eventual best picture nominee on that list and it's not like the other nominees (maybe with the exception of Into the Wild were legit Best Picture hopefuls). If they can experiment with a "Best Scoring of a Comedy or Musical" award, or whatever nonsense that was, they can certainly see fit to give Best Casting a try. Sorry for the length.

I said "No." As with other elements of filmmaking that currently have categories (Sound Editing/Mixing come to mind), I imagine casting is an art whose nuances are lost on the majority of Academy members, forcing them to vote blindly. I imagine that such a category would either: A) turn into another Best Picture showcase as people have said; or more likely B) be yet another example at the Oscars where "Best ____" is interpreted as "Most ____."

Voters would choose the film with the most/highest-profile stars in significant parts. I'm imagining recent wins by Inglourious Basterds, The Fighter, The Help, and either Lincoln/Les Miz/SLP. Is that really what we need?

August 1, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan, I'll argue with you on Inglorious Basterds. That was some inspired casting. Waltz was a tremendous find. Kruger has rarely been better (or more perfectly cast) not to mention that the rest (Pitt excepted) were less than top bill names. IB would, in my opinion, be a reason for an Oscar for casting----if it could be assured that the casting director was responsible for the casting, but I have a distinct feeling it was Tarantino who chose most of those people from memory.

I will second the suggestion that casting directors should have a hand in choosing acting noms.

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHenry O.

I think that letting them vote on the Acting categories would be a good idea. After all, I do believe they know more about acting than a lot of the Acting branch (who might be good at it, but not necessarily good critics of it).

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

I'd go with a special achievement Oscar since it's difficult to accurately judge the work of a casting director and the nominees would likely be among the same dozen or so names each year. If such a category did exist, it would probably be used as a de facto "best ensemble" award because of the first problem. I would whole-heartedly support an ensemble Oscar, but that too is probably a pipe dream.

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterW.J.

While I agree with some points with the "no" camp (especially regarding who makes the casting decisions), I think it sucks that we are "denying" this opportunity for them to be recognized for reasons that could pretty much eliminate all other tech awards. What you guys are saying (best picture nominees have inherent advantage, they will just go with the same names over and over again, best = most) are ALREADY happening, so why would this group NOT deserve the recognition that many others who are involved in making movies are getting?

I am not saying we turn the Oscars into the Emmys, but I failed to see the bad thing about giving another vital group the opportunity to be honored.

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkin

I say yes. It's the principal of the matter: casting directors do important and under-appreciated work, and they deserve to have that work recognized as something that's worth awarding. (Yes, directors and producers have final say over who is cast, but casting directors can and do have a lot of influence over that final say.)

If it's awarded every year it will be debated and discussed every year just as the other awards are, and I see that as a positive.

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJessica

Even though I share the concern of some, why shouldn't casting directors get the recognition they deserve just for the potential mistakes the AMPAS would make? It's like saying editors shouldn't be rewarded because it'd become a second Best Picture Oscar. If there was a casting director Oscar, Juliet Taylor should be the John Williams of casting directors.

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered Commenteriggy

I say yes.

And my vote so far this year would go to Movie 43.

Just kidding. Sort of.

As Dback says: The Way, Way Back and Fruitvale Station

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Why not give this group the opportunity to be recognized? Well, because it seems that we aren't really sure what they do. Even Juliet Taylor, who this article supposes is the prima Casting Director, is assumed by the article to do a lot of work because Woody Allen holds extremely short auditions. This is not to mention the other points that have been brought up about producers/directors strong-arming in casting.

Does any film awards body recognize casting directors?

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

The Robert Altman Award at the Independent Spirit Awards recognizes director, casting director and cast. That's the only one that comes to mind right now....

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

Hard for me to say yes, although as an actor I totally respect the effort that goes into assembling a cast. I've interned in 4 casting offices and know that they work their booties off.

Here are my reasons for voting no above:

1) If a movie is packaged and it stars Sean Penn or Sandra Bullock or Ben Stiller, should casting directors' work be recognized - even if they only did the contract?

2) Although the casting director certainly has a lot of influence (as with Juliet Taylor or Laray Mayfield who work with the same directors over and over), having worked as a reader in callbacks on a few major studio movies, I can tell you unequivocally who the decision-makers in the room were...and it was not the CD. Directors have a point when they say that often the casting starts and ends with them. Should casting directors get credit for ideas they never came up with?

3) I still have a problem with the pay-to-play casting director workshops in Los Angeles (actually more like casting assistant workshops) where actors (including me STILL) have to pay to audition to get on their radar. This may not affect film casting directors as much because this is pretty much a TV affair, but the perception that these things bring to the casting profession seems like a barrier to me.

4) I have worked as an actor in amazing VERY low budget SAG films (like $100,000) that have the most awesome casts around, including stars. Will these microbudget movies even see the light of day? I know it's a lot harder to get a star name for a low budget film than it is to get a star for a hundred million dollar blockbuster.

My 2 cents.

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Dave -- please email me at filmexperience (at) gmail (dot) com

thanks

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Nathaniel;

rantville@aol.com

Dave

August 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Hi Nathaniel,

This is Rich Delia and I wanted to thank you so much for the shout out on your amazing blog! I put my heart and soul into Short Term 12 and am so proud of the cast and the accolades that the film and the director, Destin Cretton are receiving. I, and many of my colleagues were overjoyed last week to hear that the Academy has voted to include Casting Directors. As you know, film is a collaborative medium. With any project we work on there is an ongoing and evolving discussion between the CD, the director, the producers, and others to figure out who are the best people to tell their story. Just as the director confers with Costume Supervisors, Editors, Art Directors and others about their respective fields, they confer with CD's to figure out who to cast. One of my favorite parts of the job is introducing a director to an actor whose work they might not have been aware of and having them discover that this is in fact the actor they want to cast! I enjoyed reading yours and all of your readers thoughts on the subject and am so glad that with the inclusion of our branch to the Academy we are now having this conversation. Thanks again and If you get a chance, check out the documentary "CASTING BY" about the legendary Casting Director, Marion Dougherty which is airing tonight on HBO.

Best,
Rich

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRich

Don't even get me started.

Dave

August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave

Dear Rich Delia.

You have a lot of nerve.

Ironic that you congratulate the casting community for being recognized by the Academy when it's exactly your actions and your problem with ethics (shared with 100 other pencil pushers) that will only push the Oscar further away from honest, moral casting directors who truly deserve the award.

Teacher my a$$.

http://tinyurl.com/deliacash

OK, I'm done.

Dave

August 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave

NO! As long as Casting Director's keep doing their bullshit "casting director workshops", they don't deserve an Oscar. SO NO!

November 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterFed Up Actor

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