Casting Directors Celebrate New Academy Branch, Hope for Casting Oscar

Oscar Statuette Generic Art - H 2013
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Oscar Statuette Generic Art - H 2013

Will the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences's July 31 announcement of a new branch for casting directors lead to an Oscar for casting?

"I hope so," says Kerry Barden, a board member of the Casting Society of America who cast Oscar winner Octavia Spencer in The Help and had to fight to cast Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry -- for which Swank thanked him in her Oscar speech. Barden, who is applying for Academy membership this year, says, "The precedent was set by the Emmys, which started a casting award that we got nominated for the first year, for Sex and the City, and Jennifer McNamara went on to win the next two years in a row. Finally, the Spirit Awards also started acknowledging casting directors." Barden believes the trend points to an eventual Oscar category for casting, but "it won't happen tomorrow," cautions one Hollywood casting expert.

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Reacting to the news of the new casting branch, most casting directors contacted by The Hollywood Reporter chose to focus on Wednesday's victory rather than mention the long-running campaign to add a casting Oscar -- perhaps because campaigning for more when you've just won a lot might smack of ingratitude.

"This is a really triumphant day for us, and [Academy president] Cheryl Boone Isaacs is wonderful," says 22-year Academy member Pam Dixon, a former CSA president who has won one of the CAS Artios cast awards and also received six nominations. "We're so excited about getting a branch after all these years. We're going to be represented on the board of governors. We've never had that before. This makes us equal to the other crafts, and that's more important than any award we would get at the moment. This is such a major step because our numbers are not that enormous."

Richard Hicks, Dixon's successor as CSA president, says casting directors were on the phone to each other all day to exult. "Everybody's kibbitzing and celebrating, but we haven't set up any Maypoles yet," he says.

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Barden commented that casting is coming out of the shadows. "The old guard at the Academy didn't consider casting as an art, or us as the final deciders, but neither is the production designer," he says. "We get choices, just like a designer, and the director or producer then says, 'I like that table/rug/actor/costume/location -- let's shoot it.'"

"I feel like this is all part of the process of making people aware of what we do," says Barden. "For 10 years, my mother said, 'Now what exactly do you do -- pick the actors?' I said, 'Um, no, not exactly, mother.' I didn't go into this to win awards, but it's certainly nice to be recognized."