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I learned something today watching a documentary about Hollywood casting directors called “Casting By“. It focused on a legend named Marion Dougherty who cast the roles in award-winning films, such as like The Sting, Midnight Cowboy, Lethal Weapon, The World According to Garp, Full Metal jacket, and Woody Allen films. Many of those actors were not even stars when she cast them. She could spot talent and took risks.
The documentary pointed out that the Directors Guild of America is sensitive to giving credit to casting because they think it is the director’s job. As a result, there is no Academy Award for casting. Many A-list actors and directors sent letters to the Academy in 1991 to give Marion Dougherty an honorary Oscar and they refused.
When I see a good TV show like Game of Thrones or the Sopranos, with unknown actors who were great for the part, I recognize good casting. When I see a Christopher Nolan film, I see good casting (except for Interstellar). Conversely, bad shows, like True Detective: Season 2, are caused by bad casting.
I am seeing more and more perplexing bad casting that makes me wonder how it got past the layers of decision-making. This is why drama series on cable TV, such as HBO and Netflix, is the only place to find good content nowadays. They value casting.
The TV Emmy’s recognize casting as an award. The film Oscars do not.
Why are so many huge-budget films flopping with bad casting? Hollywood studios all got gobbled up in mergers more than 25-years ago. Huge corporations then owned studios as trophy assets or cash cows. Coca-Cola bought Columbia Pictures, then Sony bought them from Coke. News Corp bought 20th Century Fox. Time-Warner got Warner Brothers. General Electric created NBC Universal, and so on.
Then, the corporate suits just took over. They used the same Harvard Business School strategies for making airplanes and Walkman music players on the creative business of film-making. Box office money became more important than quality.
One story in the documentary told how Michael Eisner, then running Paramount Studios, wanted to cast Suzanne Summers in roles. Marion Dougherty disagreed and left for Warner Brothers.
The old independent studios made real films. The corporate-run studios were totally different. The art of casting was taken over by screen testing potential actors before sample audiences, and that pseudo-science failed miserably. Movies with budgets greater than $100 Million flopped due to bad casting and bad scripts.
To see some great examples of bad casting, watch Interstellar (Anne Hathaway, Matt Damon, and Topher Grace), True Detective: Season 2 (Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrel, and Rachel McAdams), Gone Girl (Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, and Neil Patrick Harris), American Hustle (all of the cast), or The Wolf of Wall Street (Jonah Hill).