The Making of Casting By

When I was sixteen-years-old, living in New York City, I loved Woody Allen films. I may have seen Annie Hall fifteen times. I noticed that “Woody” used many of the same key players again and again in making his films. One of those players was his casting director, Juliet Taylor. I remember looking up at the screen and seeing her credit: “Casting By Juliet Taylor” and thinking ‘that’s what I want to do’. I had no idea what a casting director did, but I knew that I wanted to do it.

I had a stroke of luck. Juliet Taylor’s son went to the same school as I did; he is many years younger and I did not know this fact when I had my epiphany, but I took it as a sign. I met her at the school, asked her if I could work for her for free, and the rest is my professional history.

I did end up working for Juliet: I was her intern, and then her assistant, and I was truly lucky to learn from such a kind person at the top of her field. Through Juliet, I met the legendary Marion Dougherty. Marion was such a force of nature; I was in awe of her.  Any time I would see her she would say with a Cheshire grin, “Juliet came in (to work in my office)  as a lamb and went out as a lion.”

Many years later, as a casting director on my own, I had a strong desire to tell Marion’s story. I was having lunch with Kate Lacey when she was a casting executive at Disney—Kate  had been Marion’s assistant. I told Kate that I’d always wanted to make a documentary about Marion’s life and Kate agreed that it was time to honor Marion, and so we set out to make the film!

We started with a three-hour marathon interview with Marion at her New York City apartment in the West Village. Marion was enthusiastic about telling us all of the amazing stories of discovering DeNiro, Gene Hackman, Al Pacino, Bette Midler, James Dean . . . this woman changed film history and only a few knew her name.

It took seven years to complete the film. We shot a few interviews guerrilla-style, i.e., no budget, until our financing was in place and then we were off and running! Anyone and everyone we called, including DeNiro, Pacino, Danny Glover, Robert Redford, etc., wanted to talk about how Marion “believed in them” and gave them their start.  All of these interviews with our Director, Tom Donahue, and the editing by the brilliant  Jill Schweitzer, turned into the HBO feature documentary Casting By.

Marion was known for her “index cards” with every actor’s name , height, and one of her signature descriptions, e.g., “Gene Hackman can play big, dumb guys”. Cast It has changed the days of index cards forever, and I’m sure Marion would have loved to use Cast It and have all of her iconic notes organized online!

I encourage any actor, film maker, film lover, etc., to watch the film and see film history through the lens of this legendary woman.

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Joanna Colbert began her career as a casting director in association with Juliet Taylor on Interview with a Vampire for which she conducted a nationwide search resulting in the discovery of Kirsten Dunst. Colbert then went on to work at Universal Pictures as the Manager of Casting and then Senior Vice President of Casting, overseeing such blockbusters as The Mummy series, American Pie, Meet the Parents, and Bruce Almighty. She formed Joanna Colbert Casting in 2001 and Colbert/Mento Casting in 2006. Her credits include: No Strings Attached, the Step-Up series, Cedar Rapids, The Mummy, Everything Must Go, Hollywoodland and The Good Girl. Colbert is currently producing several projects, including a documentary about casting and its influence on film titled Casting By, a feature film titled Atticus Run, The Black Version tv series and Kate McClafferty’s blog, 356 til 30.