Big casting agencies becoming extinct in Oz

Boutiques taking over

SYDNEY — The Oz casting biz is undergoing a shakeout in favor of smaller, boutique operators, with the monolithic agencies left to mull their futures.

“In 12 months the makeup of Australian casting will be changed,” says Greg Apps, co-owner of mid-sized agency Prototype Casting.

Last year Christine King and Anousha Zarkesh ankled Mullinars, one of Australia’s leading agencies, to set up their own shingle, King and Zarkesh Casting. And the death last October of the charismatic principal of Maura Fay and Associates, Maura Fay, resulted in the departure, after a dozen years, of key casting director Lynne Ruthven to set up solo.

Ruthven said shrinking production budgets are squeezing casting fees, so “the days of the big casting company are numbered.”

But King, who cast “Moulin Rouge,” “Rabbit Proof Fence” and “The Quiet American,” rejects the notion there’s a trend toward boutique agencies. “It’s not necessarily a move away from large organizations — it’s always been about individual relationships,” she says.

King ankled Mullinars because “I just didn’t want to work in a large organization anymore.”

Solo casting director Nick Hamon — a former Prototype and Mullinars agent — says, “In the last 12-18 months, the number of producers actually looking around rather than just going to the big operators has increased.”

The producers complain of the same old faces, the lack of personal service and being shunted down the line. Having to pay premiums to cover the overhead of big agencies compounds their pain, he says. Hamon accuses the bigger agencies of “resting on their laurels.”

Maura Fay and Associates casting director Ann Fay, who is taking over the front-of-house activities that were Maura’s specialty, rejects the notion that anyone’s “resting.” Australia’s busiest agency, Fay employs about 30 people in Melbourne, Sydney, Singapore, Los Angeles and Queensland, where it controls the market. The agency’s highest-profile gig has been “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.”

The trend in Queensland away from telepics to blockbusters, according to Fay, is “not affecting the casting industry in any tangible way.”

The company’s client list remains formidable, but after casting major pics for Joel Silver (“Ghost Ship”) and Miramax (“The Great Raid”), it did not win the contracts for P.J. Hogan’s “Peter Pan” or Darren Aronofsky’s “The Last Man.”