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‘Orange Is the New Black’ Casting Director on Not Casting Stars and Why There Should be a Best Casting Oscar

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Orange Is the New Black and Girls are award-winning shows and they have two important things in common: neither show was built around a particularly big acting name, and both of the shows were cast by Jen Euston. Euston has worked in casting since working as a casting assistant on Law & Order in 1997 and has cast film and television projects throughout her career. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, Euston spoke about why she prefers not to cast stars and why she thinks there should be an Oscar category for Best Casting.

Euston confesses that she prefers to work on projects in which producers don’t demand that she cast stars. She explains, “I hate casting someone in a part just because they’re a star, and I try to avoid it at all costs. If they’re a star and they’re right for the part, that’s one thing. If you’re just hiring them because they bring money or viewers or whatever, that’s really hard for me to come to terms with because, for me, that’s not a creative thing, it’s more about the bottom line. I’ve been so lucky with both Girls and Orange Is the New Black because we cast the best people for the part. That’s what attracted me to the jobs, because they told me, ‘We don’t need any names for this.’ If I get approached by a project and they’re like, ‘Well, we need names,’ I’m like, ‘You probably need to find someone else, because I’m not going to be your girl and I’ll be resentful and you don’t want that.'”

Euston has won three Emmys — two for Best Casting for a Comedy Series (for Girls and Orange Is the New Black) and one for Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie or a Special for The Pacific. However, there is no equivalent Oscar category for Best Casting. For those whom deny the importance of casting directors, Euston says, “That they have to educate themselves on what a casting director’s role in a film is. Casting [happens] behind closed doors, that’s the whole thing. And it should be that way — it is private, and we need to keep it private because these are people’s lives and there are human beings involved. So it’s a very hard argument.” She then adds, “There’s a lot of creative energy and work being done by somebody assembling a cast in the right way and serving a director’s vision. Just like a costume designer does, or a set decorator does, or any of those jobs that all have Oscars — they show their director choices, just like we show our directors choices. It’s the same process, so the fact that we don’t get recognized doesn’t make any sense. It’s like, what’s the difference if a costume designer is showing you five different choices for the leading lady’s dress and us showing you five different choices for the leading lady? It’s contradictory.”

8 Comments

  1. Rebecca Warner

    August 28, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Nonsense. Movies and television are cast by directors and producers. The title of casting director is highly misleading. Casting is an office job with no advanced degrees or unique talents — to present actors suggested by agents and managers to the filmmakers. It’s not collaborative in a true sense as Art Direction or Cinematography. Often Casting “Directors” never even meet the key actors, or favor actor not cast. They shouldn’t get awards for this. Casting workers rarely do any real scouting, they simply contact the same few agents with the click of a mouse.

    On top of that, casting workers are making up to six figures charging actor for access through workshops, casting sites, webinars and other marketing scams. CSA is doing nothing to stop this. Some casting workers even take the jobs for themselves. Let’s hear no more talk of awards until casting workers actually hire everyone on a project, stop the scams, and scout fairly.

  2. Lance Carter

    August 28, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    Hi Rebecca –
    Thank for the comment but you are wrong, wrong, wrong on the first part.

    Movies and TV aren’t cast by directors and producers. For the major stars (Brad Pitt, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, etc), they are usually attached to a certain project, but after that, that’s where a casting director takes over. Sure, agents suggest their clients to a CD but that’s all it is, a suggestion. CD’s have tons and tons of files on all types of actors. They audition all the time trying to find new talent.

    I’ve never once been cast by a director or producer. It’s all been through casting directors.

    On your second point, I seriously doubt they are making a six figure income from workshops.

    And yes, casting directors deserve an award. It’s one of the most collaborative parts of the whole process.

  3. Rebecca Warner

    August 28, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    Thank you, Lance. I appreciate your opinion. Casting workers often suggest actors for roles, as do agents, managers and the producer’s neice, but are very rarely allowed to actually cast (hire) any important role all on their own. Any significant role, not just the stars, is almost always cast or approved by a director or producer. These key roles make the project, and should determine the awards.

    As to the scam issue, I don’t want to name names, but as one of many examples, one of the head CD’s on Criminal Minds makes $65 a head for an average 22 actors per workshop every week of the year sometimes twice a week, and has even bought his own casting workshop company. It’s pretty easy math. This is not to mention the casting site fleeces, webinar scams, Nerium chains… I could go on and on.

    Just ask Billy DaMota if you don’t believe me. The dirty secret of casting workshops and other scams is above six figures now and growing by leaps and bounds, though few are investigating it.

    Best,

    R. Warner

  4. Lance Carter

    August 28, 2014 at 4:20 pm

    Well, I think we’re getting off-topic a bit. You won’t get a big argument from me about workshops, etc. They’re just a necessary evil of the industry. That being said, I’ve had a lot of success in casting director workshops and anyone who asks, I’ll always recommend actors try them at least once.

    And for how much money that head CD makes… hey, good for him. If he can make some extra cash by doing workshops, then he should. I’ve gone to his workshop before and I’ve since been called in for auditions several times.

    I’ve met Billy a couple of times. Really nice guy!

    But, back to the issue at hand :) Most casting decisions are made by the director and sometimes producer, that’s true. But, they also do that with sets and costumes, etc. And they all have awards given to them. So, with that argument, CD’s should get an award.

  5. Rebecca Warner

    August 29, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Thank you again, Lance. I think we’re mostly in agreement. The first time that’s happened on the internet.

    Remember that Set and Costume designers have an artistic field, background and education… and are making an artistic creation. The casting worker usually has none of that, and in a way must take credit for someone else’s talent, the performer, often without ever meeting them or solely hiring anyone significant.

  6. Cap Hart

    September 14, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Oh please…if casting directors are worthy of awards, then I can give you a LONG list of others who should be too. A costume designer is presenting their work of art. A casting director is presenting someone else’s…the actor’s creation. The casting director is merely a filter, like so many others in a chain of making a production happen. There are VERY few casting directors around who have the Marion Dougherty approach.

    As for workshops, I don’t have a problem with them as long as the casting director is in it for the right reasons and is actually imparting helpful information. Some are clearly doing it for the paycheck and are a waste of time. Scott David is not to be clumped in with them.

  7. A Casting Director

    September 14, 2014 at 8:08 pm

    Rebecca, you’re killing me here. As a casting director for 8+ years, to say that what we do doesn’t require instinct, intelligence, great business sense, and a HIGH level of creativity would be to sorely misjudge what we do. There’s a lot of alchemy in film, and that same process is very present in casting.

  8. Billy DaMota CSA

    September 16, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Rebecca.

    Yeah, just ask me.

    I find it ironic that you use my name to slam other casting directors. No question that the industry is subsidizing itself (mostly associates) with actor dollars in so-called “workshops” – but to suggest that casting directors don’t represent an integral part of the creative process, or that they somehow are secretaries for directors is absurd. I can tell you – for a fact – that the last 20 movies I cast had ensembles which were suggested by me, auditioned by me, and ultimately – as part of the overall creative process – cast by me. Without my specific, creative input at the outset, without my good taste and judgment with respect to the human puzzle I was assembling throughout the process, without my knowledge of the talent pool, their reps, their salaries, and their intrinsic value in the equation – and without my savvy business sense in making EVERY deal from the stars on down…there would be no cast.

    I think I speak for all hardworking casting professionals out there.

    Are there lazy, greedy, uninspired people out there calling themselves casting professionals? Uh, yes. But to diminish what the majority of us do, and to say we don’t deserve credit for our contribution because of a handful of con artists out there is misguided.

    Best,

    Billy DaMota CSA

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