Who could ever imagine an American film world without the likes of performers such as James Dean, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, Glenn Close, Sissy Spacek, Bette Midler, Robert Duvall, John Voight, Diane Lane and Jeff Bridges ? Add to that list about a couple hundred other important contributors, including Directors such as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Norman Lear, John Sayles. Take it a step further and ask yourself what if someone else had been cast in their pinnacle roles in film? Well, due to Marion Dougherty, a casting legend, we often have the perfect person for the role .
Tom Donahue directed a very engaging documentary all about Marion Dougherty entitled, "Casting By". BUREAU Editor Joshua Triliegi spoke to Tom about the film, his prior documentary on Artist Cindy Sherman & the general process of film making. Since then, the film has been picked up by HBO Documentaries and won a bunch of festival awards. The gist of the film: Are casting professionals 'Directors' ? Are they, 'Casting Directors' ? Any actor will tell you: " Hell yeah." Apparently, no matter how many chime in, and many great directors too, it is still debated by the powers that be. The film's story line takes us through, not just Marion's career, but the trajectory of many performers and ultimately through film history itself. Here at The BUREAU, we thoroughly love this film.
JT: Your first film was on Artist Cindy Sherman, What led you to this project and how were you first introduced to the subject ?
TD: "Guest of Cindy Sherman" came about from a phone call I got from artist Spencer Tunick (I had edited two HBO feature docs about him). He told me about this guy, Paul H-O who is dating Cindy Sherman and sitting on a mass of amazing footage but had no real idea what to do with it. Paul and I met and agreed to co-direct though we didn't exactly know what we were going to take at that point. From the footage I saw, I could only see a first act. A month or so later, Paul called me & told me he was going to do a monologue for a bunch of friends & that my producing partner and I should come check it out. He thought this monologue might hold the key to the rest of the film. He was right. Paul titled it 'Guest of Cindy Sherman' and, in it, detailed the emotional crisis he was going through dating such a famous artist. The monologue appears in the film. Now, we at least had the first two acts. We wouldn't have the third until three years later when Cindy and Paul called it quits (partly due to the film).
JT: Your Most recent film, " Casting By " tells a personal story, but also a larger overall history and evolution of the film industry. How did you go about correlating the two with such a nice balance ?
TD: It was not easy. We culled through a mountain of 240 interviews (with lots of conflicting stories) and a seemingly limitless amount of archival material. There are actually three stories in the film. There is the story of Marion's career with Lynn Stalmaster playing counterpoint & then there is the story of the industry politics. For a while, the film got away from me as I began interviewing people with no connection to Marion, opening the doc up to stories from multiple casting directors. This proved way too much. We scaled back and refocused the doc on our primary character but now with the added benefit of a broader perspective. Note in the structure that Lynn's career is introduced through Marion's. All of the film's themes remain tied to her story.
Casting Choices : Robert Redford, William Shatner, Warren Beatty, Robert Duvall, James Dean, Burt Reynolds, Peter Fonda and Martin Sheen, Christopher Walken
JT: The editing in this picture is very smooth but rather complicated, so many interviews and personalities, was this the first time you worked with the editor ? How did you go about picking and choosing ? Was there an EDL [ Edit Decision List ] prior to inviting in The Editor ?
TD: I had an amazing editor ( my wife, Jill Schweitzer ). The editing took eighteen months. Yes, this was the first time we worked together on such a large scale as director and editor. Initially, I would select from the transcripts and figure out the anecdotes and sequences we needed to build ( way too many, of course ).
JT: You sat in the room with some of the most brilliant Actors, Directors and Producers in the industry, What was it like to be interviewing some of your heroes, realizing that you were now one of their contemporaries ?
TD: I treated each interview like a masterclass in filmmaking. I learned more than I probably even realize.
JT: The Film tells the story, as well as subtly advocates for the respect of Casting Directors in the industry, a somewhat controversial position up to this point. How did you see this challenge when you started the project ?
TD: I believed very strongly that casting directors needed to get their due. I never doubted that I had to take a very firm position on that.
JT: You went for two whole years, without turning a camera on, while your producers went searching for more finishing funds. What did you do during those years and did that reprieve allow you to review material and in the end, assist to make this picture what it is today ?
TD: I finished, went around to festivals & theatrically released 'Guest of Cindy Sherman'. And I produced & edited the feature film, Ponies (starring John Ventimiglia and Kevin Corrigan). Once that was completed ( early 2010 ), I decided to go full steam ahead on Casting By, even without much money in place. After accumulating some amazing interviewees, we got our financing. Sometimes you just need to do it.
JT: The interviews with your subject are heartfelt, honest & deeply moving. How did you get such an honest and open relationship with your subject and what advice do you have for Documentary film makers in this regard,
TD: Be real. Be open. Know that it's not about you. Don't talk too much. Listen. Listen. Listen. Don't try to show how smart you are or what a good talker you are. You are there to hear their stories. They don't need to hear yours. And in that regard, know what your objectives are. Know what you need to get and know that you are getting it. That said, be open to surprise and go with it. Never shut it down. Know when to interrupt & mostly, don't. Don't step on sentences. You never know. And acknowledge that you are listening in the silences. Finally, I don't use narration, so I try to make sure I am hearing complete, coherent sentences so my editor has what they need to tell the story.
JT: The music is very effective and straight ahead, loyal to the period and moves the sections along nicely, Did you work with a team of sound designers and musicians ?
TD: I have a brilliant composer named Leigh Roberts (Leigh scores White Collar, Graceland and has done work on House & Parenthood). We started by spotting the cut together, identifying what our themes needed to be & where music needed to go. We decided Marion needed two themes - A "process" theme, which we heard whenever we discussed the mechanics of casting and Marion's theme, which was more romantic, more about the magic of Marion and her gut instincts. We gave Lynn a jazz-inflected theme to help differentiate his sequences. In the end, Leigh composed sixty-two cues for the film, an incredible number. I absolutely love his work on this picture.
JT: The re enactments and graphic realization using Photographs are extremely effective and completely service the story, how did you go about creating the graphic elements and who did you work with on these segments ?
TD: Michael Saul did an excellent job on all of the motion graphics. There is such amazing heart in his work. Ken Edge did the color illustration of key photographs. River Road Creative provided the tree/watercolor animation toward the end. My basic philosophy regarding animation, music, etc is to help keep the story moving, add to it emotionally and never get in the way.
JT: I understand you also have enough footage in the archive to create a series, Do you foresee another larger version and or continuing the saga on cable in some way ?
TD: We are hopeful that we can create a series with the additional interviews we gave ( 180 ! ) and will explore the possibilities down the road. Needless to say, there is a lot
of great material !