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And the Oscar Doesn't Go To...

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And the Oscar Doesn't Go To...
When the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony takes place Feb. 27, winners will be honored in 24 categories—with trophies going to art directors, sound mixers, costume designers, and makeup artists, among others. But, once again, no casting directors will be receiving awards.

Many within the casting profession have questioned why there is no Oscar for casting. Other organizations honor casting directors, such as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which gives Primetime Emmys in three casting categories. So why, they ask, doesn't the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences award at least one Oscar for film casting?

In response to a request for comment on the subject, the Casting Society of America released the following statement: "Casting directors already receive Emmys, Media Access Awards, and Independent Spirit Awards. The CSA has been in conversation with various other organizations for a while now, and all parties are definitely invested in searching the reason casting directors are not receiving appropriate public recognition for their work. The CSA remains optimistic about future discussion."

Unfortunately for the CSA, when asked about the likelihood of there ever being an Oscar for casting, Bruce Davis, executive director of AMPAS, said, "I think it's slim. There have been two formal discussions regarding this, and both ended with the entire group recommending against it."

In addition to the two formal exchanges, Davis said, there have been numerous other discussions on the matter, because some members of the Academy are casting directors. "We do have members in a number of areas where we don't have awards," he noted. "So that in itself isn't that unusual." He added that, in general, the Academy is not planning to increase the number of awards. "We're looking to trim awards rather than add. So with any proposed new award—and there are always a couple of new ones on the table—you have kind of an uphill struggle just because of that. There is a natural resistance."

But the number of awards is not the main concern when it comes to a casting Oscar, according to Davis. While the Academy agrees that there ought to be awards for television casting, an award for film casting might be tricky, as well as difficult to defend artistically, he said:

"Things work differently in television, particularly with episodic shows, where you might have a different director doing each of six shows in a row. The casting person becomes much more important in providing an interesting and ongoing series of actors. It's really a crucial job for the success of the enterprise. In movies, the casting process can be extremely varied. You may start, and often start, with a couple of major actors that are contractually involved from the get-go. The producer or the director has brought them in, and the movie wouldn't be going ahead if you didn't have those actors."

Academy directors have told Davis firmly that they make the decisions on which actors are cast in many of the secondary roles, he said. The directors contend that if a casting director is involved in the process, in many cases he or she is bringing in actors only for tertiary characters.

But the Academy is sympathetic, Davis said. The organization is not saying that having an Oscar for casting "would be crazy, but it would give a false impression that all the casting was done by the casting director. Whereas in films, that's just never the case."

COLLABORATION

The Casting Company's Jane Jenkins—a noted casting director based in Los Angeles, co-author of the book "A Star Is Found," and a member of AMPAS—thinks the Academy needs to reconsider.

"Every aspect of filmmaking is a collaborative effort, with the director as leader of it all," Jenkins said. "But from my point of view, after the script, the actors who bring it all to life, and the editing, all guided by the director, the person who helps to assemble those actors is equally important and deserving."

According to Jenkins, frequently one "name" actor is attached to a project before casting begins, but often no actors are attached. On most films, the casting director must consult with the director, discuss budget constraints and the level of star the film might cast, and work to achieve the director's vision and fill the needs of the production. The casting director also negotiates most deals, hires the actors, and gets them to wardrobe.

"Every actor on the set is there because we knew them, discovered them in the audition process, and believed in them enough to present them to our director for a final choice," Jenkins said. "Just as the director makes final choices from the wardrobe the costume designer presents, or the art director, or the editor, or the hair and makeup people, our efforts are no less important and every bit as meaningful to the success of the film. The time has truly come to end this yearly discussion and give us our due."

One feature-film casting director, who wished to speak anonymously, told Back Stage that it's understandable that someone who has never been directly involved in the casting process could underestimate its complexities and significance. "The more Academy members are thoroughly enlightened about the craft itself, the more likely casting will be perceived in the light it deserves," the casting director said. "It's just a matter of time."

NO RECOGNITION

But awards journalist Steve Pond of TheWrap.com believes that it's a long shot there will ever be a casting Oscar—and that film marketing might be to blame.

"I recently interviewed Julianne Moore about 'The Kids Are All Right,' " Pond said. "She said she was cast because she ran into the director six years ago at a function and said, 'I would love to work with you someday.' Then the director sent her the script as soon as it was finished and she signed on—before there was a production, before there was a casting director. Then Julianne Moore sent Annette Bening an email. Now, the actors in that movie all do a great job, and it's a great job of casting, but was it done with a traditional casting director? The story I hear is it was all done with personal relationships. As long as they're selling that story when they're promoting the movie, it's going to be hard to get the recognition the casting directors think they should have."

Film casting directors aren't the only ones fighting for recognition. Year after year, Broadway casting directors go unacknowledged at the Tony Awards. (The American Theatre Wing, which administers the Tonys, declined to comment for this article.) Even television casting directors, already recognized at the Emmys, feel they don't get enough respect for what they do. At the CSA's Artios Awards this year, when accepting his award for casting the "Modern Family" pilot, Jeff Greenberg received a huge round of applause from his peers when he gave special thanks to creator and executive producer Steve Levitan, who, Greenberg said, was "the only person at the Primetime and Creative Arts Emmys to thank their casting director."

It appears that film casting directors will continue their uphill fight for their Oscar. "As long as there are awards dedicated to acknowledging excellence in the arts and sciences of moviemaking," said the anonymous casting director, "there is no logical reason for the field of casting to be omitted from those recognized."   

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