Casting directors getting share of credit

Veteran casting director Marsha Chesley is casting for more credit.

The studio, producers, directors and writers are on one side; the actors and talent agents on the other – and the casting directors are right in the middle.

‘Hard to believe we become invisible once the shooting wraps,’ Chesley says.

After more than 30 years in the business, she says she’s had enough of seeing casting directors appear at the bottom of the credit roll.

‘When casting is good, producers and directors take credit. When it isn’t, we get that credit,’ says Chesley, whose recent projects include season three of Little Mosque on the Prairie and Sturla Gunnarsson’s docudrama Air India 182, both for CBC.

‘In Playback, casting directors are rarely, if ever mentioned. Obviously producers, writers, directors, stars, and even directors of photography are key ingredients in a production. But an ear cleaner gets more credit than we do,’ she quips. ‘I can’t help but think there’s more value to readers to know the casting director than the agent – everyone is interested in getting roles.’

Co-chair of the Casting Directors Society of Canada, Chesley wants people to have a better understanding of what exactly it is that she and her colleagues do.

‘When I worked on Air India 182, I cast 72 characters and hundreds of others. Everyone wrote about how amazing the casting was. But no one ever asks ‘Who cast it?’ People aren’t aware of the work that goes into casting, and the ramifications of our work,’ she insists. ‘When casting [the CBC drama series] This Is Wonderland, I cast 650 people, with 17 different language needs, and I negotiated the contracts. If I make a mistake and production is delayed, it can cost big bucks. Before shooting begins, the producer and directors are calling us all the time. Once they begin shooting, they forget about us.’

And, in the past, when the time came to hand out awards, the casting directors were not only forgotten, but ignored. CDC lobbied the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television for several years to include a best casting category at the Geminis, ‘but there was a lot of resistance to it,’ according to Chesley.

However, in 2006, the TV awards stepped up with the first-ever best achievement in casting award, which was won by Jenny Lewis and Sara Key for the CBC MOW Heyday!. Chesley notes that it is the only award in Canada for casting.

Academy CEO Sara Morton says it wasn’t resistance, but rather part of the process.

‘The Academy reviews its categories annually in response to requests from members and other interested parties,’ she explains. ‘As a result of such a request, the Academy established a casting ad hoc committee late in 2004, which recommended the establishment of the best achievement in casting category… It took a little time to develop aspects of the award such as its name and definition, judging criteria, eligible credits, and who can vote.’

Andrea Kenyon, one of four nominees this year for her casting work on The Movie Network/Movie Central drama Durham County, agrees it’s about time the industry recognized her craft.

‘This is only the beginning in Canada, and it will evolve,’ Kenyon says. ‘Now that this category has been introduced, the process of selection of nominees, and award recipients, will help to define that further categories are required for proper assessment, and acknowledgement.

‘[Audiences] see actors’ performances, but don’t see the lists, the inspired ideas, the ongoing conversations with the director, the insistence of a casting director to re-look at someone who has been passed over.’

She recalls that her personal highlight on Durham County was ‘returning an actress to the list of callbacks, at my own discretion, and her blowing away the director at the audition, and getting the part. These are the moments that we work towards!’

2008 Gemini casting nominees

The 2008 Gemini Award nominees for best achievement in casting are:

• Marissa Richmond, Andrea Kenyon, Wendy O’Brien, Randi Wells (Durham County)
• Carmen Kotyk (The Englishman’s Boy)
• Rhonda Fisekci, Susan Forrest (Mayerthorpe)
• Deirdre Bowen (Murdoch Mysteries)
• Jenny Lewis, Sara Kay (Rent-A-Goalie)