A casting director is responsible for selecting appropriate actors and actresses to be used in TV shows, theatre and film productions.
The casting director is appointed by a production company to select and source professional performance artists to complete a given production. Often, the production company will approach a casting agency and choose their actors based on the recommendations of the agency’s own casting staff, but on a larger production, it requires that a casting director and casting assistant be appointed to look after the selection of actors specific to the production. Whilst this holds true for American productions, the UK market works slightly differently. 'Casting Agencies' like the Casting Collective are usually for extras and walk-ons, and not trained actors who deliver speaking roles.
The director (in consultation with the executive producer) will make ultimate decisions on the selection of actors and actresses, but it is done on the express recommendation of the casting director.
The work is both freelance and seasonal to a certain degree. Although top salaries in Hollywood can easily exceed £250,000 per production, candidates should understand that they will be employed only intermittently. No production means no remuneration, so the role requires a pro-active stance on hunting out new productions in the offing, and a lot of patience. Many casting directors who are starting out supplement their income in the first instance with part-time secretarial or bar work just to keep themselves afloat financially until they secure a profitable assignment on a major production.
- Work with casting assistant on tasks they may need help with
- Talk to agents, in both procurement (casting) and contract closing
- Complete availability checks
- Set up casting sessions
- Type deal memos and contracts
- Possibility of having to multi-task two or three productions at once
- Handle multiple personal schedules for casting and production
- Be as helpful as possible, to the actor, the agent and to the hiring production company.
- Attend plays, showcases, film screenings and drama school productions
- Keep an eye out for who is in what at any given time
It is not necessary to have a university degree. Industry opinions agree that the only true way to become a casting director is to first work as a casting assistant or casting associate. The role demands real commitment and determination, as, like most professions within the arts, it is oversubscribed and hotly contested. A number of well-known institutions still maintain internal casting departments, such as RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), BBC, National Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, The Royal Court and Manchester Royal Exchange. However, the majority of casting directors are independent freelancers running their own offices and expanding their staffing needs on a production-to-production basis.
Routes in include training at drama school as an actor or actress and completing a “sideways slip” into casting through contacts, or moving from another area of the industry, for instance, film or TV production or stage management.
- An eye for spotting up-and-coming talent
- Be able to multitask several different productions at the same time
- Work fast and accurately under enormous deadline pressure
- Be an excellent manager of one’s own diary
- Be an excellent networker and marketer
- Be calm in a crisis
Casting Directors often have to work in high pressure, tight deadline situations. It’s hard work and demands the candidate put in long hours, especially during the pre-production phase. It’s an international business, and that’s not counting the endless theatre visits or film set visits necessary in delivering the production package. Each casting job is finished when it’s done, not when the casting director wants to leave work.
The job is people-dependent and admin-heavy, so is not as glamorous as most people would believe. Although there are casting opportunities around the country (e.g. the new BBC location in Salford, Manchester), living outside London can be difficult, simply because the majority of directors, producers and actors are London-based. The job also entails regular travel, which means family life can suffer on occasion.
The candidate’s own interest in drama should propel them into the company of people already working in the industry, whether their preferred area is in theatre, film or TV. Casting directors gain a reputation for their casting expertise in specific fields, i.e. film, TV, theatre or commercials, although some shift from one medium to another. It takes years to build know-how and contacts. This is why it’s important to work as an assistant first, and this can demand several years of input from the candidate.
In order to do their job, casting directors draw on years of artistic taste, imagination, knowledge, research and political expertise. It also takes time to build and maintain strong relationships with actors' agents, as those involved in a production need to work together as a team in order to get the right person cast for the role.
All routes have one thing in common: before applying for a casting assistant job, the candidate needs experience of how the industry operates and a good understanding of the needs of a director in collaboration with the casting director. As with many jobs in the entertainment and media sector, progression is the result of tireless networking and the ability to market oneself personally.
Casting Directors are mostly self employed individuals and therefore there is not one significant leader; there are several different fields of production entertainment, including radio, TV, commercials, cinema and theatre.
Annie Rowe is an emerging freelance casting director with a passion for promoting and championing actors via groundbreaking new writing. She trained as an actress at The National Youth Theatre and RADA before becoming a freelance casting assistant in 2007.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I trained as an actress at The National Youth Theatre and RADA before embarking on a career in casting six years later. I fell into casting purely by accident, and loved it straight away. All the skills I learned from drama school and after training are now being utilised in a different capacity, and the insight I gained into the profession (having been an actress) has been an invaluable asset to my process and approach to casting.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
Yes. I go to the theatre at least four times a week, so I have to do quite a lot of diary management. And if an actor has invited me to a show and I can't make it, I always endeavour to drop them a line.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Non applicable really, as every project is different.
What do you like most about the job?
Its diversity. I might be looking for tap dancing seven-year-olds for a corporate film one day and a hard-looking football manager for a gritty new play the next. This scope and range keeps your eyes and ears open to all kinds of talent, and I'm constantly refreshing and updating my internal roller index of names and faces.
What do you like least about the job?
It takes a long time before you can make a proper living out of casting. You have to really stick at it and plough on; it's very tough!
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, e.g. A Levels?
None at all.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
I started as an assistant on £10 per hour but when I branched out and began casting independently, I worked for free for the first year. In order to get your foot through the door, you have to be prepared to put in a lot of time, passion, energy and hard graft in return for very limited remuneration.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
For starters, buy the latest copy of Contacts. It is a very useful industry directory that is updated every year and can be purchased from Spotlight or Waterstones. And you should also be aware of the perks: agents will take you to the theatre and to Press Nights and after show parties, actors will offer you complimentary tickets to see them perform in shows, and occasionally, you may get invitations to film and television screenings. If you can manage the administrative as well as the creative aspects of the job, casting can be an incredibly inspiring, fulfilling and rewarding career.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
It is important for any prospective assistant to know that casting is not just ‘choosing leading actors’. Although many producers, directors and agents are delightful and a pleasure to work with, at times you may have to handle difficult situations and sometimes nervous, ill-informed or frustrated people with honesty, knowledge and charm. It requires much more than a ‘good eye’ to get the balance of casting right; gaining the agents’ trust, understanding how contracts work and knowing the right actors for the smaller as well as the leading parts is integral to the job. All this requires huge experience which can only be gained over time.