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Casting an Independent Shadow

bolingEarly in her casting career, Sunday “Sunny” Boling ’99 worked with Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington on his directorial debut, “Antwone Fisher.”

“It was just me and him in a room. He said hello and held out his hand, and I held out my water bottle,” she recalls, laughing. “He said, ‘Don’t I get to shake your hand?’ I was just so nervous.”

The experience taught Boling she needed to overcome being star-struck to succeed in the film industry. “The more you work in this business, the more you run into famous people, so it can’t be a moment of high anxiety,” says Boling, whose best-known casting credits to date include “Ice Age,” “One Hour Photo,” “Just Married,” and “Dude, Where’s My Car?

Arguably, the most impressive entry on her resume is forming her own company, Morman Boling Casting, with business partner Meg Morman in late 2004. With a focus on independent films, Morman Boling has cast such acclaimed movies as “Waitress,” “Mississippi Damned,” “Natural Selection” (2011), and “Serious Moonlight.”

“Independent films tend to be passion projects with strong messages,” Boling says. “I thought it would be more interesting to work on passion projects. Also, I wanted to work on films with positive female characters and diversity. That’s easier to do with independent films.”

“Some people said we’d never make enough money to live,” Boling says. “But we made money from our first movie before we even filled out the paperwork to be a legal company. That was confirmation this could happen.”

The public generally doesn’t know what goes into casting, says Boling, noting that her work ranges from auditioning hundreds of actors for all of the speaking roles in a film to negotiating the hiring of cast members, as well as working closely with producers and production attorneys.

“Casting directors have a lot more say in the process than people realize,” Boling says. “It’s a collaborative effort with directors and producers and studio executives. The needs of each acting role will be different, depending on the project.”

A native of Knoxville, Tenn., Boling grew up with a passion for films. At Johns Hopkins, she decided to major in the Writing Seminars to gain a strong foundation in writing as a springboard to filmmaking.

“I knew I wanted to create content and tell stories,” she says. “The writing is something I still use all the time, even when I’m reading scripts and working with writers and directors. When you’re a good writer, people are impressed.”

After graduating, Boling was accepted into the Los Angeles Film Studies Center. The center helped Boling secure an internship at 20th Century Fox as a casting assistant. She immediately enjoyed the rigors of the job—working with actors on auditions, developing script-analysis themes with writers and directors, and being hands-on in office decision-making.

Boling says the film industry has changed a great deal over the past 15 years, with a widening gap between big-budget studio films and the small indies. “There’s nothing in the middle now, and that presents less opportunities for actors and less opportunities to make more money,” she says.

Boling most recently worked on the film “Hello, My Name Is Doris,” starring Sally Field, and is currently waiting to get the green light to cast two films: “Single Carefree Mellow” and “Kid You Not.” She also hopes to direct a few independent films and web series in the future.

But casting remains her calling. “The great casting directors I’ve worked under, they can see something deeper within people,” Boling says. “And the more you do it, the better you get at identifying those traits. I feel like I’ve gotten pretty good at it.”