Cast System

International casting directors descend on the Berlinale to talk shop

Casting directors are used to being low on the production totem pole -- usually ranking somewhere between screenwriter and best boy. But at the Berlinale Shooting Stars, casting professionals have carved out a space to assert themselves.

Casting directors from across Europe and the U.S. have been checking out the up-and-coming talent at the Shooting Stars since the event began. Four years ago, after a group of 15 casting professionals decided to set up a formal network, the International Casting Directors Network (ICDN) was born.

Now every year in Berlin, and informally throughout the year, some of the best in their field meet to exchange information and facilitate cross-border cooperation.

"Casting directors are usually independents and have little contact with other members of their profession, particularly those in other countries," says Karin Dix of Shooting Stars organizer European Film Promotion. "The network gives them the rare opportunity to meet and talk about common problems."

"The issues are very similar in every country," adds Simone Bar, one of Germany's leading casting directors, who joined the ICDN last year. "For example, though my colleagues in the U.K. and the U.S. tend to get paid more, there is, similar to here in Germany, still very little recognition of the work they do."

While the film industry has become increasingly international, casting remains a stubbornly local business. A big studio production could involve casting in half a dozen European countries. But if it weren't for the ICDN, those casting directors would likely never speak to one another.

"I've noticed that agents in other countries often don't even respond to a request from a German casting director," she says. "But if I call a (ICDN) collegue and get them to make the request for me, the response comes right away."

The ICDN has now grown to 28 casting directors in 12 countries, many of whom will be heading to Berlin this year. Some of the better-known include Lana Veenker, whose Portland, Oregon firm helped cast "Twilight;" Spain's Pep Armengol, whose recent credits include "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" and Leo Davis of Brit firm Just Casting, which helped select the talent for "The Constant Gardener" and "Girl With a Pearl Earring."

While the network continues to grow steadily, the ICDN is careful to only take the best of the best. In addition to being established casting directors in their home territories, potential new members have to have at least three international co-productions under their belt and be recommended by at least three current ICDN members.

But while the ICDN remains a small, exclusive club, it's likely its importance will continue to grow as filmmakers in Europe and the U.S. look beyond their borders for the world's best talent.