HBO is broadcasting a great documentary called “Casting By” about the history, development, and wonderful contributions of the field of casting. The piece is an incredibly interesting description of how movies and TV have been casted since before there were true casting professionals, and how the field had been almost single-handedly created by one Marion Dougherty. It is interesting to learn about a whole field of creativity that didn’t really even exist until not all that long ago.
Ms. Dougherty was a true artist in that she had inspiration that she harnessed and used to create beauty – without any expectation of the results and overall effect she would ultimately produce. Her medium was acting talent, her brushes were relationships with directors and producers, her canvas was movies and television, and her audience was … us – and we are very lucky that we have the extraordinary enjoyment of experiencing the bountiful fruits of her creativity. She was dedicated to her craft, and her efforts fostered and benefited numerous actors and directors, and all of the casting professionals that were inspired to join her in this new art form. Many of the actors she touched, many with unusual and unexpected stories, went on to become amazing artistic icons, and these powerful artists were beautiful and generous in their expressions of appreciation for everything she did for them. Hearing about all the actors Ms. Dougherty affected and helped was truly awe inspiring
It was also really interesting to hear about the experience and contributions of other casting professionals, and how the whole field developed. Many directors and other movie/TV production professionals learned from, listened to, and flourished with the help of casting directors, ultimately and collectively creating amazing movie and TV experiences enjoyed by countless millions. The producers of this documentary were quietly thorough in their presentation of this element – they included the opinion of one director who staunchly disagreed with the granting of any special note or attention to casting professionals, and his position was included with as much respect as the overwhelmingly positive contributions made by the rest of the participants. In addition, the shall we say “non-support” of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of the casting field and Marion Dougherty in particular, was also quietly and factually presented, without any spectacularization. The choice to resist the urge to inflate a negative cast of some kind on an enormously unpopular position must be applauded.
If I had one issue with the documentary (and it is a small point, because I do really like the piece), it is that it was initially characterized as a presentation of casting directors and their contributions, which it did beautifully, but then became in actuality a powerful tribute to Marion Dougherty, which it also did beautifully. The other casting professionals who participated were presented very nicely, but the subcurrent that the piece was in actuality about Ms. Dougherty diminished somewhat the respect that should have been due the other professionals in a documentary that was actually supposed to be about the casting profession and not a single individual. Perhaps there should have been two pieces – one about the extraordinarily interesting history, participants, and effects of the field of casting, and then a second piece to present a detailed biography, portfolio, and tribute to the amazing Ms. Marion Dougherty.