Hollywood's Unsung Scouts: THR Profiles Six Hot Casting Directors

9:00 AM PST 08/15/2012 by Tatiana Siegel
Fox Searchlight Pictures
"Black Swan"

These are the women and men who pluck the stars of “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “Looper” and “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire” out of piles of thousands of headshots.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Like scouts for professional sports teams, Hollywood's casting directors are entrusted with the task of combing through thousands of head shots and audition tapes, looking for that next wave of stars. Some of the most in-demand filmmakers -- including Christopher Nolan, Wes Anderson and Darren Aronofsky -- turn to these six women and men to build their ensembles.

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► At any given time, Francine Maisler might be toggling among a handful of films in various stages of preproduction and production. The woman behind The Amazing Spider-Man ensemble (as well as Tropic Thunder and Lawless) recently constructed one of the most buzzed-about casts for Steve McQueen's Twelve Years a Slave, which features Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Sarah Finn just might have super-heroic casting powers. Her recent credits (with former partner and current Disney vp Randi Hiller) include The Avengers and Thor. On her own, she put together the cast of Iron Man 3. She and Hiller also can lay claim to putting Channing Tatum in his first big-screen role in 2005's Coach Carter.

► One of the indie world's busiest casting gurus, Mary Vernieu takes the call from everyone from Aronofsky (Black Swan, Noah) to David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook). She also assembled the cast -- led by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis -- for Rian Johnson's Looper.

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Debra Zane's plate is filled with some of Hollywood's highest-profile projects, from The Hunger Games: Catching Fire to Steven Spielberg's Robopocalypse. Her films of the past few years include The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Parts 1 and 2, the Ocean's Eleven series, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Total Recall.

► Although casting still is largely a woman's world, John Papsidera (Gangster Squad) has carved himself a niche, putting together Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises and Inception. He's also filling in the holes for Nolan protege Wally Pfister's secret project at Warner Bros.

► As Anderson and M. Night Shyamalan's go-to guy, Douglas Aibel is the king of unconventional casting (think Samuel L. Jackson as a fragile supervillain in Unbreakable and Willis as a small-town cop in Moonrise Kingdom).

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