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Cannes 2017 – AmPav Puts Spotlight On Casting Directors

The American Pavilion’s “Industry in Focus: The Profession of Casting” panelist included (left to right): Nancy Bishop, Tusse Lande, Debbie McWilliams, Jenny Juew, Donstance Demontoy and Richard Cook. Photo courtesy American Pavilion.

By: Marjorie Galas

Nestled in the Cinema de La Plage route during the 2017 Cannes Film Festival was the American Pavillon. In addition to providing a shady, coffee-filled refuge for producers hoping to catch up on business, charge their devices (and use free wi-fi while doing so) or generally network, the American Pavillon (AmPav) was also the center stage for a number of informative panels.

“Industry Focus – The Profession Of Casting” was one of AmPav’s most popular events.  With an overflow section twenty people deep, these production professionals listened in as specifics related to film, television and international casting were discussed.  Presented in association with the Casting Society of America, the panel featured Richard Cook, casting agent, Lisa Richards Agency (Ireland), Constance Demontoy, casting agent (France), Jenny Jue, casting agent/CSA (USA) and Tusse Lande, casting agent/ICDN (Sweden).  The panel was moderated by Nancy Bishop, CSA, ICDN.  Highlighting efforts the CSA is undertaking to obtain fair representation with organizations such as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bishop informed the audience that casting directors were more than “..just seeking out new talent.”

“We’re making people aware of what we do, and we’e making headway,” said Bishop.

The first question posed was “how does one become a casting director.”  Each panelists agreed they endured a “long and hard apprenticeship” that began under the tutelage of a senior casting director.  Each panelist then spent time either highlighting their casting process or discussing the current state of casting..

Lande, whose projects include “The 100 Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”, “The Paradise Suite” and the upcoming “Tom of Finland” described the challenge of casting in a small area.  Sweden has roughly 2,500 actors, all of whom Lande knows personally.  While the surrounding regions, such as Norway and Denmark offer a number of actors appropriate for Swedish roles, she notes finding talented actors that will be reliable from project to project is becoming increasingly difficult.

“We them, then they go away and they never come back,” said Lande.  “They get attracted to bigger things that we can’t offer them.”

After casting director Bong Joon Ho’s indie hit “Snowpiercer”, Jue returned to cast the director’s 2017 Cannes smash “Okja.” Jue described the challenge of finding individuals with unique aesthetics that will please the director and pop on screen without disrupting the storyline.

“When we find someone we know will work we call them a ‘Bong hit’,” joked Jue.

The panel took a moment to talk about importance of extra casting.  Jue described spending days looking for the perfect individuals to populate the background that will ultimately bring a reality to the scene for the viewer.   She described a minor part in “Okja” that involved pulling the lever of a machine: she had each actor considered for this non-verbal, minor scene look directly into the camera as they pulled a lever behind them.

“Casing of this role came down to a connection the actor was able to make between the director and the audience,” said Jue.  “The sequence adds character and layers to the story and was important to get just right.”

Constance Demontoy, the casting director behind films including “Elle” and “Down by Love” described her process behind “Rodin” – a bio-pic premiering in Cannes that focused on the famous sculpture’s romance with Camille Claudel.   She approached non-acting, working professionals for specific roles – such as judges for judicial roles or nude models to play the film’s nude models.  She also described the process of working with Dutch director Paul Verhoeven on his French language film “Elle.”  Demontoy and Verhoeven spent three weeks watching French films together prior to any casting discussions or sessions.

“He only wanted to see a few people; he had a more cerebral process (to casting),” said Demontoy.

Noting that actors have never had better access to a global opportunities, Cook pointed out a growing trend this access has sparked.  He called it “the fear of missing out.”

“Some actors have begun to change their focus into being noticed, not being good,” said Cook. “The better you are at your work, the better your chances are at being seen.”

Debbie McWilliams, a UK casting director whose credits include “An American Werewolf in London” and James Bond films from “For Your Eyes Only” through “Spectre” circled back to the need for more casting awards.  She felt an attention to casting would place a greater international value to the actors featured in films.

“America has a greater appreciation and (places a higher) value on actors.  Europe – not as much,” said McWilliams.

She stated she’d like to see more film festivals devoted to the craft of film making and less about the sales and distribution of films.  Her wish list includes festivals that no producers, buyers or agents are invited to.