johnlink ranks CASTING BY (2012)

A documentary about casting directors doesn’t seem the most interesting film at first glance. Having worked at an agency and seen the representation side of the casting equation, I thought it might be interesting to see something on how the other half thinks. What I didn’t expect, and what I was pleasantly surprised by, is that this is a film as much about 50s-70s cinema structure as it is about casting directors.


I watched CASTING BY (2012) on 7.6.15. It was my first viewing of the film.

In the early part of film history, through at least the late 40s, Casting Directors were less concerned with acting and more concerned with star making. The goal wasn’t to find the right actor for the part, but to find the person who looked the part. With the innovation of Television, things changed slightly as focus turned to finding people who could act in a live setting for programs such as the Kraft Television Theatre: A live hour-long telling of a story not unlike modern episodics.

At the forefront of this casting revolution was Marion Dougherty. She would scour the Broadway and off-Broadway theaters for people who could act, often casting against type in order to find the right person. She discovered, early on, folks like Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight, Bette Midler, and Al Pacino. She transitioned soon into movies, casting some major films like BUTCH CASSIDY (originally, the Redford/Newman roles were switched until she stood up for Redford’s desire to play Sundance), MIDNIGHT COWBOY (in which she basically tricked the Director into casting Voight), and LETHAL WEAPON.

And, if you are wondering about the effectiveness of this documentary, just know that the story about the casting of LETHAL WEAPON raised goosebumps on my arm. Now there is a sentence I never thought I would write.

But, it turns out, the script didn’t call for a black Murtaugh. After reading the script, Dougherty thought that Danny Glover, who had recently made THE COLOR PURPLE, would be perfect for it. Director Richard Donner tells the story that he looked at her and said “But he’s black” and Dougherty responded “So what?” Donner talks about how her straightforwardness shamed him, made him realize that he was being bigoted without doing it consciously. He credits her wholly for the credit of the franchise, because she was the only one who saw how perfect a pairing Gibson and Glover would be.

The film also takes some time with the first truly successful Los Angeles Casting Director, Lynn Stalmaster. While he is certainly an important pioneer as well – he started the original casting agency – his story is slightly less powerful. He tells interesting anecdotes and is a fun enough guy, but it is the Dougherty sections of this film which really pop.

Sections of the film talk about credits, and Oscars (Csting Directors are the only majorly credited people who do not have an Academy Award category), and stories of Directors not giving them credit. But for all of that, this is a movie at its best when it just talks about movies of the 50s-70s, about how they were being made, about how different that era was, and about how much less artistic it is these days.

I didn’t expect to be impressed with CASTING BY. And while it certainly isn’t riveting or majorly important in the documentary world, it is absolutely something worth watching if you are interested in film – which I assume you are if you have gotten this far into a review of a documentary about casting directors on a middling blog about film.


When scoring documentary, EFFECT replaces ACTING. The category of EFFECT considers how successful a documentary is in selling its message.



FINAL SCORE: 6.5 out of 10

~ by johnlink00 on July 7, 2015.

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