HBO Summer Documentary: CASTING BY

By Jef Dinsmore on Aug 12, 2013 to Documentaries



Overview: From the HBO Press Release – The casting director is the only opening single card film credit that does not receive its own Academy Award nomination. However, as Martin Scorsese emphatically states at the start of the documentary, “More than 90 percent of directing a picture is the right casting.” Director Tom Donahue combines extensive archival material and exclusive interviews with A-list actors and directors, including Glenn Close, Robert Duvall, Jeff Bridges, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Jon Voight, John Lithgow, Bette Midler and John Travolta, as well as Martin Scorsese, to tell the story of Hollywood’s most invisible and unheralded profession.

Perhaps the foremost caCastingBy_postersting director, Marion Dougherty plucked several now-iconic actors out of obscurity, among them James Dean, Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Christopher Walken and Glenn Close, giving them their first break in front of the camera. CASTING BY examines Dougherty’s early career and uses it as an example of how important and invaluable the Casting Director is to the movie making process.

Expectations: Okay, I’ll admit that this documentary was not one of the hot topics I was most interested in. That fact should not be a surprise to anyone as I have clearly raved more about the more edgy documentaries and series (like WITNESS and VICE) than the lighter material such as CASTING BY.  That lack of interest should not, however, indicate my reason for my delay in posting this review. The actual reasoning is because of a well needed beach vacation. So, upon my return I now must catch up.

My expectations that I will be wowed by this film are small and it is not because I have a lack of appreciation for the profession under examination. As the poster depicts the job of making a movie is like a puzzle and each part of a production is a crucial step. I also have an appreciation for ‘classic’ movies. It will be interesting to see what movies are used as example here. It is certain that this video chronicle will explain the necessity for the Casting Director and just might prove a nice diversion from the darker documentaries in this HBO Summer Documentary Series. Check out the trailer before I weigh in on my thoughts on the piece.



Gut Reaction: Well, that proved fun and reminds us that documentary films can be informative and entertaining at the same time. However, this documentary may not be for everyone. It offers us a look at the industry from the 1940s through the 1970’s mostly and reminds us of the talents that were in film and TV back then. Certainly, those too young may not even know some of the titles listed and be less interested. But, if they stick with it, they will get a good slice of entertainment history and learn how some talents known today got their start. It seems many actors got that foot in the door because of Marion Dougherty and Lynn Stalmaster, who is also featured. These two often fought for their casting picks believing them to be the right choice.

Besides the fun history lesson given here it is also fun to play a “What If…” kind of game because of this work. It fact CASTING BY just might have been too entertaining for its own good. I found myself pondering some scenarios about casting alternatives as I watched the film. Though this documentary used older references you could make it about current actors today in film or TV. What if…James Franco and Johnny Depp had changed film careers or, in relationship to HBO, what if…Warwick Davis was cast instead of Peter Dinklage in GAME OF THRONES or Danny McBride was anchoring ACN instead of Jeff Daniels. See what fun you can have?



It is a nice 89 minute film well crafted by Tom Donahue with a crafty way of showing old photographs and headlines across the screen and presenting a light-hearted look at the importance of casting. There is only one sad moment at the conclusion of the film as we learn that Marion D. was never acknowledged by the Academy before her death in 2011.

In Conclusion: If you love movies and what a good history lesson from famous people in the business than seek out CASTING BY and have fun with it. It is a nice diversion.

HBO airdates are 08.14 at 2:45pm; 08.17 at 12:45pm; 08.20 at 5:45pm and 08.24 at 5:35am. HBO2 lists dates of 08.26 at 12:00pm & 11:30pm and 08.31 at 12:55pm. You can also find it on HBO On Demand and HBOGo.

  • Robbie Moraes

    still waiting for a DVD release.?

  • Robbie Moraes

    Behind the scenes in what goes on in Feature Movies is almost always interesting. This one was a winner. Hope HBO gives it a DVD/Blu Ray release soon.

  • tnsmoke

    I LOVED this documentary! I have always wanted to know more of what the casting director did, always thought it was just all the smaller roles and crowd scenes etc. How nice to see the bonds of trust and friendship between the casting directors and the actors and directors and the respect they have for their peers. Once again HBO comes up with a facinating topic.

    • Jef Dinsmore

      HBO is full of surprises! We are glad you enjoyed it. There are plenty of informative documentaries out there.

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