How to Become a Casting Director
How to become a Casting Director
To do their job, Casting Directors draw on years of artistic exposure, imagination, knowledge, research and political expertise – all this before the collaboration with the Director, Producer, writer etc begins. The job is to provide and be in sync with their vision not your own.
It is a job that requires an understanding of psychology, intuition, empathy, interpretative taste and style, current and historical social politics – and most importantly, knowing the talent pool - the different levels and qualities of national and international actors and acting. We have to assess the limits to which actors can be pushed artistically, when to take a risk, when to cast against type. It is our job to know them intimately, and to use our knowledge of the wide variety of their skills to envision an acting company for a project that allows the visual story to be told.
It is both an extremely artistic and financially focused job. Without the Casting Director, a film, theatre or television drama would be much harder to produce. We are constantly auditioning actors, assessing and filtering theatre, film and television performances; often hundreds of actors will be considered for roles before you even set up an audition list. In addition we often negotiate actors’ contracts and so must be comfortable with the union agreements and contracting, frequently facing tough negotiating opponents and very stressful situations. The Casting Director is the middleman between the Producers and the Talent Agents/Managers; a very delicate dance.
There is really only one way to become a Casting Director - You have to work as a Casting Assistant/Casting Associate.
You need commitment and determination to embark on a career in casting. Like most professions within the arts, it is overcrowded. The majority of casting directors are independent freelancers running their own offices, expanding and contracting their staffing needs on a production to production basis. It takes years to build know-how and contacts. You need to know the people who can hire you. That’s why you need to work as an assistant first and you should expect to be one for several years.
It is important for any prospective assistant to know that casting is not just ‘choosing leading actors’. Although many Producers and Directors are delightful, you have to be able to handle difficult situations and sometimes nervous, ignorant or angry people with honesty, knowledge and charm. Your ego must take a back seat.
As a casting assistant, you will help the Casting Director with a multitude of tasks – you need to be an independent thinker and a pro-active worker. This position requires charm, brains and a sense of humour, not necessarily in that order. The job consists of talking to agents, doing availability checks, setting up casting sessions, uploading technical data and auditions online, typing deal memos and contracts – possibly juggling two or three productions at once, keeping calm under stress – of which there is plenty - and generally being as helpful as possible. You are the Casting Director’s representative so must be professional at all times. Casting Directors often have to work in high pressure/tight deadline situations. It’s hard work. The hours are long, often into evenings. It’s an international business – and that’s not counting keeping up with all current Theatre and Film & Television. Each casting job is finished when it’s done – not when you want to leave work. Potential Casting Assistants will often come from Talent Agencies, other industry positions and actors looking to make a change. They will therefore already be familiar with industry standards, know how sets work and have the right artistic temperament.
You need to keep up to date with what is happening in the industry – read reviews and interviews, look at the trade papers, go to the theatre, watch films and the TV. Get to know the actors. It’s all a matter of timing, patience and persistence. All routes have one thing in common; before applying for a casting assistant job you need experience of how the industry operates and a good understanding of the needs of a Casting Director.
It is not necessary to have a university degree. Some assistants do, some don’t. However, you do need a good speaking voice for the phone and good personal communication skills – Clarity is everything.
Things you should be aware of:
Do not expect to earn a lot of money in the beginning; you will be employed intermittently. When a casting director has no work, there will be no money to pay you and you will be laid off, sometimes for weeks. You have to be on the constant lookout for other casting jobs. Casting requires much more than a ‘good eye’ to get the balance of casting right, gain the agents’ trust, understand how contracts work and know the right actors for the smaller parts. All requires experience which can only be gained over time.