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Title:"Painting with faces": The casting director in American theatre, cinema, and television
Author(s):Jaher, Diana
Director of Research:Capino, Jose B.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Hohman, Valleri J.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Capino, Jose B.; Leff, Mark H.; Projansky, Sarah; Walker, Julia A.
Department / Program:Theatre
Discipline:Theatre
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):theatre history
film history
television history
industry
casting
women in theatre
women in film
Abstract:In Casting By (2012), HBO’s documentary on the casting director, Martin Scorsese praises his close working relationship with his casting director. “More than 90% of directing” he asserts, “is the right casting.” Taking as its starting point that the casting director is, as Scorsese’s enthusiasm reveals, a vital but often unrecognized part of the production team, “‘Painting with Faces’: The Casting Director in American Theatre, Cinema, and Television” offers the first extended scholarly analysis of the profession. This comparative history broadens the concept of what constitutes a decision-maker in three major culture industries by arguing that casting directors, often devalued as feminized clerical labor, exercise more control over the creative and economic aspects of production than we usually acknowledge. Chapter one, “The Pre-Professional Casting Director,” offers a pre-history of the theatrical casting processes to explain how and why the professions of casting director and talent scout emerged in the twentieth century. Examining how casting operated throughout different epochs and in diverse production practices (particularly the medieval cycle plays, the English early modern theatres, and the American stock companies), I contend that those who took on the functions of proto-casting director were, contrary to today’s perception of the casting director as “below-the-line” labor, usually the production’s most important creative personnel. Turning to the twentieth century, chapter two, “The Company Casting Director,” argues that in-house casting employees working during the golden age of Broadway, classical Hollywood, and early television eras exerted more creative influence within their respective companies than industrial scholarship allows. Seen as what one film historian calls “low-level decision-makers,” casting directors rarely figure in industry studies because these analyses typically focus on directors or producers. Archival documents such as memoirs, memos, and casting idea lists indicate, however, that casting personnel were not simply clerical workers, but, rather, by contributing to hiring decisions, among those who helped shape their respective companies’ aesthetic vision. My project’s third chapter, “The Independent Casting Director,” brings women into the historical record by explaining the rise of the female casting director and the concomitant gendering of the profession. The chapter’s first half argues that examining the major entertainment industries concurrently reveals that media scholars have profoundly misunderstood the rise of female labor in entertainment occupations such as casting. By focusing on Los Angeles and the classical Hollywood studio system, critics ignored the more permeable divisions of labor that existed in New York-based theatre and early television. The looser organizational structure of these two industries allowed women to pursue entertainment careers and produce culture on the east coast in ways they could not on the west. Also concentrating on gender, the latter half of this chapter contends that the disproportionate number of women who entered casting in the 1960s-70s led scholars, journalists, and industry professionals to devalue the profession by associating it with stereotypically feminine traits. Arlie Russell Hochschild’s theories of “emotional labor” and Vicki Mayer’s media scholarship on “nurturing,” accommodating feminized workers apply to common observations about casting directors. Whether or not casting is a service profession, certainly casting directors (male and female) perceive it as such and often use feminized language to describe what they do. Yet casting requires skills typically seen as masculine, which many industry studies theorists argue the role of decision-maker demands. For example, with production funding increasingly scarce in today’s weak economic climate, casting directors often serve as de facto producers by attaching talent to theatre and film projects to secure the necessary financing. The funding for the Oscar-winning Crash (Haggis, 2004) was cast-contingent, and that movie’s casting directors, Sarah Halley Finn and Randi Hiller, received credit for getting the film made. Chapter four, “The Digital-Age Casting Director,” explores the digital revolution’s impact on today’s casting practices. As I trace casting offices’ increased use of digital media to locate and audition actors, I argue that digital devices give casting directors more control over the decision-making process. Digital cameras and video-sharing websites, for example, allow casting directors to edit most auditions and regulate the content upon which many hiring decisions are now based. My work on casting culminates by examining the digital era’s implications for casting’s future. I contend that even those digital special effects such as vactors that could potentially limit the casting director’s creative input are unlikely to do so as most CG-manipulated characters are still modeled on live performers.
Issue Date:2014-05-30
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/49780
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Diana Jaher
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-05-30
2016-09-22
Date Deposited:2014-05


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