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Placing the Face

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There was a time in Hollywood when studios obtained lists of their actors, all under contract, and matched names for upcoming projects.

That was called "casting."

Today, of course, casting is a completely different animal -- and a field dominated by women.

"I think history has dictated that there has been more opportunity for women in casting to forge a career than there has been in other arenas," says Mindy Marin, a feature film casting director who began her career on the 1978-83 TV sitcom "Taxi." "Only recently have those other arenas widened for women in film and women, in general, in the workplace."

Similar to a few other entertainment professions, including publicity, casting traditionally has been led by women. Some observers say that owes to the field's beginnings, which hearken back to a time when secretaries of studio chiefs generated lists of contracted actors and their schedules then selected talent for roles.

"Typically, (secretaries) at the time were women, so it may have been born that way," says Debra Zane, casting director on such films as 1999's "American Beauty," 2002's "Full Frontal" and "Road to Perdition," 2003's "Seabiscuit," Warner Bros. Pictures' upcoming "Ocean's Twelve" and DreamWorks' planned 2005 release "War of the Worlds."

But today's casting directors are responsible for much more than producing a list, and some required skills probably enhance the job's lure.

"I think one of the big draws for women in casting is that there's something very nurturing about our vocation," says Marin, whose recent credits include 2003's "Paycheck," Paramount's current release "Alfie" and Fox Searchlight's planned 2005 release "Bee Season." "There's something about being able to really take care of actors and help them address what they're looking for; it requires a lot of patience and insightfulness using our instinct, and I think women are more in tune -- not in terms of comparison -- but we tend to be more nurturing."

Agrees Zane, "It's (a caretaker's) position, and I know that we often have to sort of make sure directors know that everything is being handled."

On the flip side, the job's demands consistently are overlooked.

"Nowadays, people have no idea of the work, preparation and politics that come along with this job, not to mention the hours put in," says Johanna Ray, whose casting credits include 1986's "Blue Velvet," 2001's "Mulholland Drive," 2003's "Kill Bill-Vol. 1" and the April follow-up "Kill Bill-Vol. 2." Ray, an actress and story editor before taking up her current profession, believes that some industry figures still consider casting a "glorified secretarial job."

Says Zane, honored in October by the Hollywood Film Festival for her body of work: "This is a job (that requires) tremendous organizational skills and multitasking because what people don't realize is we're not only coming up with the ideas for who might be best for a role, but we're also negotiating the deals. It's also a 'people' job: You have to relate to all sorts of people."

Zane believes that figuring out why women dominate the casting profession might be more of a "sociological question about why certain people gravitate to particular jobs." But man or woman, she adds, one quality is important: "You have to be unflappable -- never let them see you sweat."

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