What IS Casting? Casting Directors are hired by production companies, directors, or ad agencies generally to find talent to fit specific roles. Those production types dictate what the “specs” or types of talent they are looking for to be in their project. So, when given those specs, whatever they are, we make a giant list of literally every single person we know who could potentially be right for the job. We go to our databases, we go to our stacks of headshots, we check various talent sites like Casting Networks, or NE Actor or Breakdown Express, depending on which ones we are members of etc. We look to the agents in town to submit the talent they represent who would fit that type.
From there, we figure out how many talent we can see per role during the amount of time that those production types are paying for. This is what determines if it’s a half day of casting, or a full day, or multiple days. I then go back to the giant list i made and highlite the number of people I’ve determined i can see in the day, plus a few extras for when people aren’t avail, and the ones i highlite are the ones i think have the best chance of being the perfect match for the job. Someone may be KINDA right for a job, and I’ll wait on calling them in because i know they’re only KINDA right, and i don’t want them to waste their time coming in for something they probably will not book. As people respond and say they are unavailable for the casting or for the shoot, i continue to go back to the list and reach out to additional people in the order that i think they best fit the role and project. Sometimes i might see 120 people in a day if we’re casting for something with a ton of roles, and then it ends up being something like 12-15 talent per role that i’m aiming to get in. Sometimes if it’s a tighter session, i might only see 5-8 talent per role, and sometimes it’s bonkers and i’m seeing 50 per role.
So how do you get called for auditions? Super simple. You have to be a great fit for that very specific role and project. If I’m casting for an African American female talent in their 40’s, and you aren’t that - you aren’t getting a call for that audition. Some people naturally skew more blue collar or white collar, some people read more like a mom or dad, and some people don’t. Some people read on camera much older or much younger than they really are. I will never invite a talent to an audition if i don’t think there’s a solid chance they could book it.
The bulk of the work that happens through my specific office is commercial in nature, so everything is about an instant “read”. If someone doesn’t give off the parental vibe, and that’s what the spot calls for, then i wouldn’t waste YOUR time by calling you in to read for the role. No matter how talented and wonderful of an actor you may be, or how much i love you. There is infinitely less wiggle room in terms of “type” and the flexing of those serious acting muscles that force you to push yourself outside of type. That kind of thing happens way more in theater, TV and film. Those are the projects where a Casting Director gets to explore what the role MIGHT be a little bit more. There’s more room for interpretation and creative license. In commercial you have 30 seconds total to get the point across, so it’s always about a look and a feel. That’s when we get to play against type, but in commercials, it’s largely about the look followed by the acting ability.
As i get to know each individual talent better, and see them perform in different auditions, i get a better sense of where their strengths are. Sometimes i may call you for something YOU don’t think you’re right for, but KNOW that I think you’re a good fit, maybe you’re younger or older than the role is calling for, but i need your acting expertise and that may be more important than an age. I also often try to push talent into settings they may not have envisoned themselves in. I’ve pushed MANY a print model to consider doing more on camera work, and then moving on to SPEAKING on camera work. There’s always room for growth, and i love being along for parts of that ride with talent. I’ve also had the benefit of speaking with the director, or the creative team, so I have a solid grasp on what they want to achieve. Trust in the casting director. I often ask talent to “just do one and we’ll go from there”. That largely so i can see where YOUR take on the scene is, and the nudge you from there to what i know the client wants to see. Sometimes YOUR take on it is something brilliant that i haven’t seen all day, and while we’ll do another to get exactly what the client wants, those are the takes that sometimes book you the job.
Once the audition is scheduled, you guys come in and we do the audition. I post those clips in a private link for the clients to review.(i will address WHAT gets shared with the client in a subsequent post!) They come back to me with a list of talent they are interested in. If we are doing a callback session, we’ll bring those people back in for a callback. If we are not, which is happening more and more these days, i get all talent on their selects list on “first refusal”. (Quite frankly my office puts all talent coming to a callback on first refusal so we can troubleshoot any availability issues well in advance).
Ah, the first refusal, we’ll circle back to it at some point, but, essentially, it means you are granting the production asking for it the first rights to your time on the dates requested, and you should not accept anything else for that time without getting yourself released from the first refusal first. So let’s say i’ve got a list of 6 talent on first refusal for 3 roles. 3 of them will booked, and 3 will be released from their first refusal. Sometimes the decision on who books the job comes down to who has the availability to actually make it work. If they adore a talent, but that talent just is not available at the specific times they want them for (based on the avail they gave during the first refusal checking process), they might book their back up choice. That’s why i always want to know where you have to be and for what time. if you have an evening call time for a show, let’s say it’s in Boston and you need to be there by 6pm. I would give production that info, and they would know that if they book you, they have to get you out by that time. If they don’t think they can manage that, they will not book you, as no one wants to be in the position of it being 5 minutes from when talent has to leave and not be anywhere near completing their shots.
Once production signs off on who they want to hire, i reach out and get talent booked, either through your agent, or directly with you. From there i send everyone’s email and cell phone contact info, often along with the sizes you filled out on your Casting Networks sign in(so when you are signing in please do you best to make sure those are filled out and accurate!), to production, and they reach out to you with call time, location and wardrobe info. At that point, Casting’s involvement in a project is essentially over.
I’ve often correlated Casting to Head Hunters to my friends and family who work in the more corporate world. We’re like job placement liaisons. We aren’t the ones doing the actual hiring, but we’re putting the right candidates in front of the “hiring manager” for interviews. In our world, those interviews are the audition process. And rather than asking specific questions about your work experience or personality, we make you demonstrate briefly that you are qualified for the role by acting out the scenario, saying a line a couple different ways etc. The major difference i guess is that actors have the benefit of the casting director leading them down the right path to the right answers. Almost like we get to sit in on the interview with you, or tweak the you we present to the hiring manager/producer.
While we may be the “gatekeepers” of who gets to be seen, know that ultimately we are striving to show the people paying us the best possible talent for their very specific needs on a job. Sometimes you’ll be the EXACT person we need, and sometimes you won’t. It’s a very up and a down business, we all go weeks and months doing nothing, and then suddenly all are crazy busy and booked on long days for several days!