What is a Casting Director?

Working as 1st AD (Assistant Director) is Film Connection graduate Shaylah Conley (in green) and the crew of short film “Sweet Lemonade”

What is a Casting Director?

What Does a Casting Director do?

The casting director plays a vital role in selecting the actors who appear in a film, TV series, or commercial. In major motion pictures, some of the lead roles are already cast—either because the film’s director or screenwriter has their mind set on a particular actor for a particular role, or because the producer packaged and sold the film idea based on specific actors for specific roles. That still leaves a lot of parts in the film in need of actors. On smaller films, the casting director plays an even bigger role as their input is required for casting all roles in the movie.

Before setting up auditions, the casting director must familiarize themselves with the script so they know what is required for each role. They also have meetings with the director and producer to understand what their requirements are as well. As a result of these meetings, a casting breakdown (also known as a casting notice) is created. Becoming a Casting Director can be an extremely rewarding film career path.

What is a Casting Breakdown or Casting Notice?

The breakdown is similar to a help wanted ad and contains information about the film and the parts being cast including the logline (a brief description of what the film is about—usually 25 words or less.) As an example, here’s the logline for the movie Spartacus, “When a Roman general is betrayed and his family murdered by a corrupt prince, he comes to Rome as a gladiator to seek revenge.”

Besides the logline, the breakdown includes a brief synopsis of the film that summarizes the plot and introduces the main characters and setting as well as practical information about the project.

What’s included in a casting breakdown:

  1. Logline
  2. Synopsis
  3. Title of film
  4. Screenwriter
  5. Director
  6. Producer
  7. Production company or studio
  8. Union (SAG/AFTRA) or not
  9. Feature or short or commercial
  10. Shooting dates
  11. Location
  12. List of roles being cast with brief description of each part and how that character fits into the overall story

Once the producer, director, and casting director agree on the breakdown, it is distributed to various talent agencies with whom the casting director has relationships and in many cases it is also published on services like Breakdown Express, Casting Networks, or Backstage.
At this point, the casting director acts like a screener, narrowing down actor submissions to a manageable number to be considered for the part. The screening process is based on headshots, experience, ability, looks, reputation, availability and in some cases video submissions of the actor reading for a part. Typically, actors who make it through this first round of screening are then asked to audition. Depending on budget, time constraints and the number of actor submissions, a preliminary round of auditions (or readings) may take place without the producer and director to narrow the choices down to the “selects”—actors who are definitely in the running for the part.

Callbacks are auditions of the selects and almost always take place in front of the director, producer, and casting director. Once the callbacks are done (sometimes there are multiple rounds of callbacks), the person who has the final say in choosing the actors makes their decision—in most cases this is either the producer or director. Once the decision is made on the first and second choices for each part, the casting director then negotiates the money, schedule and billing credits and acts as the liaison between the director, actor, and the actor’s talent agency. In many cases, casting is one of the final steps in pre-production, often occurring weeks or even days before shooting begins.

How to Become a Casting Director?

The casting director is largely self-taught and the position is achieved through working their way up the ladder with an established casting director, starting as an intern, apprentice, or assistant. The next step is to become a casting associate. The casting associate will often do the majority of work for which the casting director gets credit.

After extensive experience as a casting associate, the next step up is the casting director. One of the biggest differences between the casting associate and the casting director is that the casting director has to be a ‘rainmaker’—in other words, they are the ones who get hired to be the casting director and then hire casting associates to help them. There are no formal educational programs associated with being a casting director.

Skillset for a casting director:

  • Vast knowledge of cinema and actors
  • Passion for cinema and theater
  • Computer literacy
  • Great people skills and ability to work with big egos
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Innate ability to recognize talent
  • Superior memory
  • Excellent organizational skills and attention to detail
  • Ability to give and receive direction
  • Knowledge of health, safety, and labor laws
  • Excellent negotiation skills and full understanding of industry pay standards

The Casting Society of America is one of the top organizations for casting directors and casting associates for film, television, theatre and new media (it does not offer memberships to those who cast commercials, extras or background actors or short films). It should be noted that the majority of casting directors and casting associates are freelance-based on a project by project basis so it is important to establish relationships with producers, directors, and production companies in order to get jobs.

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