Why Casting Directors Can't Win an Oscar

2012-05 FEA Casting Director The Help H
Dale Robinette/DreamWorks II Distribution Co.

From left, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis in "The Help"

Despite a stellar year for ensemble acting, the Academy thrice has rejected requests to start a casting branch.

Casting director team Kerry Barden and Paul Schnee helped create two quadruple-Oscar-nominated films, 2010's Winter's Bone and last year's The Help, which won SAG's ensemble award Jan. 29."There's nobody super-famous in either movie," says Barden. "They were just the right people for the movie." But at the Oscars, Barden and Schnee are, like all casting directors, treated like the help. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has rebuffed requests to start a casting branch three times since 1996. "Casting is the only main title of credit that doesn't have an Oscar category," says Schnee. "Perhaps because the craft of casting doesn't involve an Avid, a sewing machine or a camera, some may wrongly perceive it as less skillful and less crucial," says Casting Society of America president Pam Dixon.

"There is not really a terrible difference between us and a set director or designer," says Schnee. "You put the puzzle pieces together," says Barden. "The Help has Viola Davis, Emma Stone and Octavia Spencer, but without Allison Janney, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain, it doesn't add up. They all have that Southern feeling. It's like what Bernard Telsey did with Margin Call -- Kevin Spacey is the standout, but no one is out of place. In The Artist, you don't go, 'Look, it's John Goodman, Missi Pyle and Penelope Ann Miller.' They embodied the people they played. You want to help the director make one seamless, believable thing. It's a good year for ensembles: The Descendants, Midnight in Paris, Bridesmaids."

And casting directors are partly the reason why. So when do they get an Oscar? "The Emmys adding a casting category 10 years ago was a first step to AMPAS doing so," says Barden. "I'm surprised it hasn't happened yet," adds Mark Teschner, who led the four-year campaign for the casting Emmy.

If there were a best casting Oscar this year, who might win? One candidate might be Laray Mayfield, who cast Rooney Mara as a badass hacker in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on the heels of her role as a staid college girl in 2010's The Social Network. "It's only the polar opposite," says Teschner. "That's good casting."