Why the Oscars need to recognise casting directors

Why the Oscars need to recognise casting directors

For many people who work in the film industry, Oscars night is the one occasion they excitedly count down to each year like a child waiting for Father Christmas.

If you’re actually in the running for one of the Academy’s coveted awards, the seal of nomination approval alone can often open doors to your next project, and provide a global showcase for your skills.

But if you work in casting your luck’s out as the profession does not exist among the 24 categories eligible for a golden statue – leading many in the film industry to say it’s time those who do this important job were invited to the party.

Good casting is vital and can ensure a film’s success at the box office.

Lucy Bevan was the casting director on films such as Maleficent and The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes. She says she hopes to see at some point “the Academy recognising casting in the same way it honours every other key contributor to film-making, which is a collaborative art form”.

BBC News has contacted the Academy for a comment about the absence of casting from the Oscars, particularly since its president David Rubin is a veteran in the field, but at this time it has not responded.

In 2020 Bafta took the plunge and introduced a best casting category for both its film and TV awards. Chair of Bafta Pippa Harris said: “Casting is essential to the screen industries, and vital in terms of promoting diversity and inclusion on screen.”

Lucy Pardee took that Bafta home two weeks ago for her work on Rocks, much to the delight of her peers, who regard her style of “street casting”, and ability to scout non-actors and turn them into stars, as second to none.

She discovered Bukky Bakray – the lead actress in Rocks – in a Hackney classroom. She was only 15 when the film was made and had no background in drama.

Fast forward three years and Bakray picked up the rising star Bafta award earlier this month and has a number of other projects in the pipeline, which wouldn’t necessarily have happened if Pardee hadn’t found her.

“Casting directors are often the first people to join the crew so it’s great the Baftas have moved to recognise casting and the Oscars should follow suit. It is long overdue,” Pardee says.

Fiona Weir is regarded as royalty in the field of casting. She worked on nearly all the Harry Potter films as well as other big hitters like Judy, Brooklyn and Love Actually.

On Bafta’s inclusion of her profession she says: “Ultimately, I think it’s wonderful that Bafta have acknowledged what we do, they’ve been on the right side of history on this.

“For so long there’s been such a lack of understanding of what casting is. We are a major part of the process and that was really important that that be acknowledged, and I hope the Oscars will catch up.”

The casting process is a crucial piece of the early pre-production jigsaw of film-making. Getting the right actors attached to a film can make the difference between it being “green-lit” or not.

Weir says it takes a certain skillset to make a good casting director. “You have to be a good listener and be patient as well as being clear of your own opinions and instincts.

“The director’s vision is key but sometimes it’s your job to show them a different perspective. I love working with actors and finding the perfect people for roles, finding new talent and securing old talent.”

Scouting for new talent and holding open castings has been near enough impossible in the last year and that’s the part Weir enjoys the most.

“Nothing is quite the same as being in a room with an actor, there’s something magical that happens… which is when two people click and the actor understands what the director is really looking for. I am really looking forward to things returning to normal.”

So which film does Weir think would win the casting Oscar this year if there were such an award?

“It would have to be Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom [starring Viola Davis, the late Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman, Colman Domingo, and Michael Potts]. All those actors were completely at the top of their game, both emotionally and technically, they were just stunning,” she says.

“But it’s not just about winning awards for what we do, it’s about being acknowledged and looking after the art form we love and handing it on to the next generation.”

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