Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Casting Directors Work

Responsibilities of a Casting Director
Casting directors sought a girl who could act and play soccer to play Gracie finally settling on Carly Schroeder.
Casting directors sought a girl who could act and play soccer to play Gracie finally settling on Carly Schroeder.
© Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

A casting director is a middleman (or more likely a middlewoman) who finds the actors needed to fill roles in movies, TV shows, theatrical productions, commercials or even corporate and music videos.

The studio, producers, director and writers are on one side, and the actors and talent agents on the other -- with the casting director in the middle. "Middlewoman" applies because casting directors represent one of the few entertainment occupations that's dominated by women, not men [source: Chinoy and Jenkins].

A casting director's responsibilities extend beyond contacting actors or agents and holding auditions. Casting directors assemble casts that may include hundreds of actors, negotiate deals with the actors' agents and manage the contracts once the actors have signed.

Casting directors become involved in pre-production. The casting director may be employed by the studio, own or work for a casting agency or be a solo operator. The casting director:

  • meets with the producers, the director and possibly the writer to understand the project
  • meets with the production accountant for information about the casting budget, the money that'll be used to pay the actors
  • reads the script and make notes about all the speaking parts
  • creates a list of possible actors, in preferred order, for the most important parts first
  • contacts the actors or their agents to determine their availability
  • provides the list to the producers and director to make their decision Lead actors may not be asked to audition.
  • prepares lists of actors and production schedule for supporting and more minor actors
  • makes appointments for auditions or readings with the available actors
  • provides information about available parts to talent agencies and lists opportunities with Breakdown Services, a company that maintains a daily list of acting opportunities
  • conducts auditions
  • makes recommendations, based on auditions, for each speaking part The director and producers make the final selections.
  • negotiates contracts with the actors' agents, keeping an eye on the casting budget
  • issues casting calls for minor acting parts and conducts those auditions
  • acts as a liaison between the director and the actors, once contracts are signed
  • finds replacements, as needed, during production for actors who can't fulfill their contracts

[sources: Levy,]

That may all seem straightforward, but imagine the complications of:

  • Holding auditions throughout the United States for three years for a lead actress, as the casting director did for "Gone with the Wind" (1939). The role of Scarlett O'Hara finally went to British actress Vivien Leigh after auditions with American stars Katherine Hepburn, Paulette Goddard, Lana Turner and many others [source: 9 Outrageous Publicity Stunts].
  • Trying to find a teen-age girl skilled in both acting and soccer, as was needed for the lead in "Gracie" (2007). The casting director considered thousands of girls, eventually finding actress Carly Schroeder who went through 12 weeks of soccer training to prepare for the part [source: How 'Gracie' Works].
  • Matching actors by appearance to comic-book characters for "Hellboy" (2004), a live-action film. Writer Mike Mignola and director Guillermo del Toro wanted the actors to bear a close resemblance to their comic-book counterparts [sources: Adapting 'Hellboy'].
  • Filling dozens of guest actor spots for each weekly episode as casting director for a television series like " House" or "ER" [source: Variety].

It's all in a day's work for a casting director. Keep reading to find out how to become one.