It’s awards week in Oz as the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts handed out its major prizes. In a departure from years past, and in a win for the métier, AACTA for the first time recognized casting directors.

ABC
At a Monday luncheon ahead of the main prizes today, the inaugural AACTA Award for Best Casting went to Allison Meadows for period drama Riot. While the category was a combined race between film and TV professionals, it marks an important step forward for the industry, says Kirsty McGregor, President of the Casting Guild of Australia, whose credits include Lion, Thor: Ragnarok and Top Of The Lake.

She tells me it was a long road to getting the prize added, but after digging down this past year, and with the support of Casting Networks as a sponsor, the academy acquiesced.

Support also came from the industry at large with filmmakers and actors getting behind the movement. On the jury for the AACTA prize were Casting Society of America President Russell Boast and VP Rich Mento.

While ATAS has long recognized casting directors at the Emmys, neither AMPAS nor BAFTA have a slot for the profession. AMPAS officially recognized the group with its own branch in 2013, but the main domestic casting kudos are handed out by the Casting Society of America via its Artios Awards. In the UK, the Casting Directors Guild has plans to start its own awards next year.

McGregor says, “I think it’s a long road for every country. Last year, we went harder at it because casting is the only above the title head of department not to be recognized.”

She adds, “Every year, people go off to these awards and casting directors aren’t invited. They’re the first people on other than the writer to help shape a film and yet at the other end… It’s not even about the awards, it’s about being there to celebrate one another’s work, and year after year not being part of that is frustrating for a lot of people.”

To push the ball forward, she pitched an award to the board, “which was very interesting because one of the members said to me, ‘But Kirsty, what is it exactly that you do?’ Casting is so done behind closed doors and I think that’s another reason that we don’t really discuss it because there’s a lot of sensitive information that goes into how decisions are made.”

McGregor allows there can be some prickliness behind the scenes. “It becomes about relationships. This is an area where everybody wants to claim that they knew that an actor was perfect. You hear time and again directors saying ‘I always knew this person was amazing.’ Ultimately, people say they worked with a casting director who is not trying to claim they made every single decision. It’s always a collaboration, but the person who is the head of the department accepts the award on behalf of the film. I don’t know why people want ownership over the casting. I think particularly in America it’s been difficult for casting directors. We’ve been called glorified secretaries.”

She continues, “It’s time for an Oscar and for a BAFTA for casting. I’ve spoken to the UK Casting Guild and the Vice President of the Casting Society to say, ‘This is what we did. Obviously in Australia it’s a small community, but you’ve got to get the support of the filmmakers behind you.’”

Unlike the Oscars, prizes in some offshore outposts are sponsored, as is the case with AACTA. “Cost would have been an issue if Casting Networks weren’t so supportive,” says McGregor.

Rafi Gordon, co-CEO of Casting Networks says, “In any way that we can facilitate turing a spotlight on casting directors and the role in talent discovery that they’re playing, and their art and craft, is something that we’re eager to do.” The company’s software is used by all casting directors and managers in Oz while it has a major footprint in the U.S., Canada and the UK.

It’s also a globally expanding business. Casting Networks’ Daniel Rosenberg says, “We feel this is a step in the right direction to bring (the award) to the international stage.”

He adds, “The vast majority of casting professionals worldwide are women. Now with all of the attention towards equality I think there is a little bit more motivation to push this forward.”

But it will still take time. Gordon says, “I think the process of organizing an industry is probably a multi-year or multi-decade effort and this is probably still very young compared to other parts of the industry. We’re trying to do good by the industry. We think what we’re able to shine a light that others aren’t necessarily willing to do. I don’t think it’s a campaign we can lead, it’s a campaign others are spearheading and we’re playing a facilitating role.”