Monday, October 24, 2016

Whoa! Avy Kaufman is a woman


When I saw Avy Kaufman's name in the credits of The Family Fang on Sunday night, I thought it was finally time to check IMDB and see how many credits this guy actually has. I told my wife it was surely the most number of credits anyone has on IMDB.

I may be right about that -- Avy Kaufman has 223 credits.

But I was wrong about Avy Kaufman being a guy.

I don't know why I assumed "Avy" was a guy's name. It can be a bit hard to tell with traditionally Jewish first names, unless you a) are Jewish or b) already know somebody else who has that name. I think I found it similar to another Jewish man's name, Ari, and just made my assumptions from there. Or maybe I was thinking Alvy Singer from Annie Hall.

But no, Avy Kaufman is a [??]-year-old woman (neither Wikipedia nor IMDB divulges her age) who looks like this:


Avy Kaufman is a casting director, which is part of the reason she's able to work so much. I don't know what a casting director does top to bottom, but I have to assume that his or her role is limited to pre-production. Once a movie starts shooting, the job is over -- unless of course a new part is written on the fly, in which case he/she clocks back in for maybe another week. 

At some point, for no good reason, I started to notice every time I saw Avy Kaufman's name in the credits of a movie I was watching. And because the casting director tends to have prominent placement in the credits, and I do tend to watch at least the start of the credits, it didn't take any special effort. She isn't getting lost in the long scroll at the end. She gets her own name on the screen, by itself, in the opening credits of any film that has them, and near the top of the closing credits if there are no opening credits. She's the be-all and end-all of casting directors, so I imagine her credit placement is a standard part of her contract, maybe even something dictated by a union. Is there a casting director's union? Hey, why not?

But does anyone other than Avy Kaufman even work in the industry? It's gotten to the point where it's more unusual to see a movie that wasn't cast by her than one that was. She's the Edith Head of casting directors. (Actually, Edith Head had almost exactly double her number of credits, with 444 -- so that means I was wrong in both of my two original statements about Kaufman to my wife.)

The little blurb about her at the top of her page on IMDB makes me laugh: "Avy Kaufman is known for her work on The Sixth Sense (1999), The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) and Life of Pi (2012)."

Several things about that are funny. For one, does a casting director have a "signature?" A signature that would allow her to be, say, "known" for something? She might argue that a casting director does, but she'd be having that conversation only with the seven or eight other casting directors who also work regularly (though a single other one I could not name). Only they really know the ins and outs of the profession well enough to recognize each others' work, and not think that any way to recognize the exact nature of their impact on a film isn't complete and total bullshit. (Which is not to say that you can't have good and bad casting directors -- obviously, Kaufman is a very good one. I just can't imagine someone watching a movie and saying "Uh huh, yeah. This looks like an Avy Kaufman cast.")

I was going to say that the other funny thing is that Avy Kaufman was also the casting director on The Bourne Identity, yet they emphasized one of the sequels instead in her blurb. But nope, that one slipped by her. That one was cast by some guy named Joseph Middleton. (See? No idea who that is.) Middleton has a mere 89 credits, the slacker. Though he did also cast Donnie Darko, so good on him. 

Making those 223 credits all the more jaw-dropping is that Kaufman has accumulated them in only 27 years. Well, 29 years, actually -- her first credit was in 1989, but she has credits on into 2018 on IMDB, which is not surprising for a person who is involved with pre-production. In fact, 2017 is set to be one of her biggest years on record, with a staggering 14 projects set for release next year. The 223 credits over 29 years comes out to an average of 7.7 per year, which is good but well short of the ubiquity I'm suggesting she has. Then again, when you consider that she had only six credits total in her first five years on the job, and didn't really pick up the pace until the 21st century, you start to really appreciate how prolific she's been recently.

To get some sense of the depth and breadth of her career, I'll start with the year in which she started casting multiple films per year and never looked back -- 1995 -- and give you her total for each year as well as my favorite film she cast that year.

1995 (3) - Home for the Holidays (dir. Jodie Foster). I actually don't like Home for the Holidays, but I haven't seen her other two films that year.

1996 (4) - Walking and Talking (dir. Nicole Holofcener). A female casting director working with the female directors! Love Walking and Talking.

1997 (5) - The Ice Storm (dir. Ang Lee). Steadily stepping up her output by one title each year.

1998 (6) - Monument Ave. (dir. Ted Demme). Kind of amazing how she is adding a project every year, isn't it?

1999 (7) - The Sixth Sense (dir. M. Night Shyamalan). And the steady march toward dominance contnues. 

2000 (3) - Dancer in the Dark (dir. Lars von Trier). And she falls off a cliff, down to only three films. What, did she have a baby that year or something? - D. Trump

2001 (9) - A.I. Artificial Intelligence (dir. Steven Spielberg). Baby is with the nanny and she's back in action.

2002 (5) - Moonlight Mile (dir. Brad Silberling). Terrible two's? I don't know.

2003 (5) - The Human Stain (dir. Robert Benton). Maybe we are starting to see a Kaufman signature after all. She cast Nicole Kidman in both The Human Stain and Dogville in 2003 ... and also in The Family Fang in 2016.

2004 (12) - Birth (dir. Jonathan Glazer). First double digit year and another Kidman movie in Birth.

2005 (12) - Brokeback Mountain (dir. Ang Lee). Another dozen, led by the should-have-been best picture winner. She's also Ang Lee's personal casting director as she worked with him on Hulk in addition to the aforementioned The Ice Storm (and aforementioned but not yet reached chronologically Life of Pi). Interesting, IMDB notes that in 2005, she was credited as "Amy Kaufmann" on Syriana. Would love to know the story behind that, unless it was just a spelling error in the credits -- in which case someone must have lost a job over that. That would have left me little doubt about her gender.

2006 (12) - 10 Items or Less (dir. Brad Silberling). She's establishing that she's comfortable with a one-movie-per-month pace. Weak year overall though in terms of quality. Another Silberling film after Moonlight Mile.

2007 (11) - American Gangster (dir. Ridley Scott). Another weak year -- I only decided I liked American Gangster at all upon a reappraisal. 

2008 (8) - Phoebe in Wonderland (dir. Daniel Barnz). Lowest output in five years ... a consequence of two years of not-great quality?

2009 (11) - State of Play (dir. Kevin Macdonald). Back in double digits again. 

2010 (11) - Let Me In (dir. Matt Reeves). Some stuff I haven't seen this year but the Let the Right One In remake is actually quite good.

2011 (7) - Shame (dir. Steve McQueen). I'm going to say she treated herself to a month-long vacation in the Maldives this year.

2012 (10) - What Maisie Knew (dir. Scott McGehee & David Siegel). Great year also includes Lincoln and Life of Pi, though I really consider Maisie a 2013 film.

2013 (12) - Europa Report (dir. Sebastian Cordero). Pickin's a little slim this year but Ain't Them Bodies Saints is also good.

2014 (19) - The Skeleton Twins (dir. Craig Johnson). And Kaufman goes crazy. Not only does she set a new high output for a year, but she also casts two of my top ten (Love is Strange along with Skeleton Twins) and two TV series, which seem like they might require more work. Interestingly, as I was watching The Family Fang I thought it had a bit of a Skeleton Twins vibe (so maybe more signs of a Kaufman signature?). 

2015 (10) - The End of the Tour (dir. James Ponsoldt). Numbers are reasonable again, although three of the films are actually ones I consider 2016 films (Green Room and A Bigger Splash along with Family Fang). 

2016 (13) - How to Be Single (dir. Christian Ditter). Second highest yearly total. Family Fang would beat this if IMDB counted it with 2016. 

Whew!

Was Kate Bush's song "This Woman's Work" written about Avy Kaufman?

Actually, that song's about pregnancy, so unless we're talking about the 2000 Avy Kaufman, then no. (Um, I have no idea if Avy Kaufman had a baby in 2000.)

Well that was fun, getting to know this woman whose name I'd seen so many times, who I thought was a man. I'm glad to give credit where credit is due ... and also to give gender where gender is due.

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