AIFF 2013: “Casting By” – Review by Daniel Rester

Casting By Review

by Daniel Rester

Casting Directors don’t get enough credit. At least that is the argument in Casting By, the first film I attended at the 12th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival. By is a documentary directed by Tom Donahue, and focuses on the role Casting Directors play in the process of filmmaking.

The documentary mostly focuses on Marion Dougherty, a Casting Director who many give credit to for helping them kick start their careers. Other Casting Directors that are discussed in By are Juliet Taylor, Ellen Lewis, and especially Lynn Stalmaster. Stalmaster apparently shined as a Casting Director in Los Angeles, while Dougherty did the same in New York.

Dougherty worked in the position for over fifty years. She aided actors such as Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Glenn Close, Danny Glover, Robert Redford, and Jon Voight — all of whom are interviewed in the film, among others. Some of the big films mentioned that she helped with are Midnight Cowboy and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with Voight and Redford paying big respect to Dougherty.

A large chunk of the film focuses on the early years of such actors’ careers. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is its focus on early TV programs, such as Kraft Television Theatre and Naked City, where Dougherty aided actors with getting into such programs. A memorable scene in the film occurs when Voight reminisces on how terrible he thinks he was in an episode of City, which entertainingly shows the struggles of an blossoming acting career. There are also mentions of Dougherty finding actors for roles after seeing them on the stage, including Dustin Hoffman and Pacino.

By also explores some of Dougherty’s steps in her career, from working in a small building in New York to working on the Paramount and Warner Bros. lots in L.A. No matter where she was, though, the film has us believe that she was always trusting her instincts with actors and constantly challenging directors with casting. Some is said from Dougherty herself in By, because she was interviewed before she passed away in 2011, but a lot of the movie has others talking about her. It’s too bad that more wasn’t included of Dougherty speaking herself, because she is truly a character and could have allowed the film to express more of her personal life. Such a lack in that area causes By to never have a strong emotional touch.

The film does try for emotionality in ways, which it occasionally succeeds with, but a lot of it seems somewhat forced. For instance, the film makes the Director’s Guild of America and its president, Taylor Hackford, seem like villains. The only dialogue presented by Hackford seems only to present his negative views of Casting Directors, and how they should not have “director” in their title. By takes the same approach with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, questioning why no Academy Award is given out for Casting Directors. Instead of keeping the focus on the greatness of Casting Directors, the film seems to want to attack such associations that don’t appreciate them as much. Should such associations acknowledge the position more? In my opinion, yes. But the movie goes about agreeing with that idea by presenting it in too heavy of a manner – losing track of Dougherty at points and instead making arguments.

Despite that issue (and moments where Donahue allows actors to ramble), the film still succeeds in telling the story of Dougherty and her influence. Donahue employs a number of tricks in order to keep things lively, including mixing black and white and color images in certain ways so that they have an impressive depth and shine. The snappy music and consistent use of footage from great films that feature the above-named actors also helps.

By could sit next to last year’s Side by Side (which explores how digital photography is outrunning film photography in modern times), as both peak inside of a part of cinema that may not always seem that interesting at first but wind up being very fascinating. While By isn’t a terrific documentary, it is a good one, and one that film buffs need to see. And Marion Dougherty is name that all fans of entertainment should know.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: B).

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