The World According To Casting Agents

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Christoph Waltz recently won an Oscar for Actor in a Supporting Role. His second one. Both for films of Quentin Tarantino. How did he meet Tarantino? By being the first actor on Simone Bar’s list to walk into her office.

Who is this Simone Bar? A casting agent in Germany. She was speaking at a talk organized at the Third Edition of the Discovery Zone Film Festival in Luxembourg on the 2nd of March, after the screening of a documentary, Casting By, which looked at how the profession of casting director came into existence.

The film outlines the career of the first official casting director Marion Dougherty, who started out in New York, and had a career peak in Hollywood. The film included many famous faces such as Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, John Travolta, and showed how crucial the role of their casting agent was in their careers. Many directors such as Woody Allen and other actors express their gratitude to Marion and other agents in the film.

However, this profession still doesn’t have the respect it deserves, as there is no category for ‘Casting Director’ in the Academy Awards. Since she is based in Germany, Simone Bar, head of CastingStudio, received the German Casting Award at the Cologne Conference in 2002. She has been involved in the casting of numerous film and TV projects, as well as international films such as The Reader, Inglorious Bastards, and War Horse.

A member of the panel, organized by the Discovery Zone Festival, she talked about her experiences after the film. She was joined by Casting Agent Lucinda Syson from the UK. The panel was ably moderated by Duncan Roberts, editor of Delano magazine. Luxembourg actress Vicky Krieps was interested in knowing about the new developments in casting. Both agents said that despite the evolution of technology, they preferred to see actors face-to-face. Simone Bar loves films with messages. She said she appreciated the fact that there were many films at the festival here which told the stories of women.

Lucinda Syson added that with the whole world becoming a stage, they look for actors practically all over the world. Therefore, their profession is becoming increasingly important, as directors cannot possibly know all the actors in their own countries, let alone the whole world. She said it was more of a feeling, the personality, and the inner world of the actor, more than hype or Internet ‘followers’ that guided her decisions.

Responding to the questions of a young actress, she said it was crucial for the actors to learn their lines, and to be ‘in the scene’ during the casting session. Most often film directors were not present at the sessions, and made their decisions based on the videos sent by casting agents. One of the roles of the casting personnel is to help the actors in getting the tone right, or simply to boost their confidence.

Duncan Roberts asked if there were so many women in the casting profession because their instincts were so good. Lucinda Syson agreed that it was all a matter of gut feeling, and she enjoyed working with directors who didn’t have a preconceived notion of the actors they wanted in different roles. She also compared working in big studio films in the US to working in Europe. She said that it was easier if the director had the same vocabulary as her.

Simone Bar highlighted a sense of responsibility, because if producers invest money in casting, then the casting directors are supposed to bring the money back to the film by choosing the right actors. Both Lucinda and Simone agreed that the profession of casting directors was still undervalued in the film industry as a whole, even though it is a crucial part of the film making process. Lucinda Syson emphasised that The Graduate has become synonymous with Dustin Hoffman, who was judiciously cast by Marion Dougherty.

After watching the documentary on Marion Dougherty, and listening to the lively discussion with lots of audience participation, the viewers agreed with them. If you ever see anyone staring at you in a public place, it might well turn out to be a casting agent. A professional hazard, or good instincts?

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