How Casting Directors Work


Casting directors interviewing actresses at an audition. See more movie making pictures.
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Those are the types of problems that casting directors face, along with meeting the needs of the studio, writer and director. For example, writer-director Nancy Meyers wrote "The Holiday" (2006) as a romantic comedy with four specific stars in mind -- Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Hugh Grant.

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Diaz liked the script but had already decided to take a year off. Winslet didn't want to come to Hollywood to film while her children were in school in England. Black had a scheduling conflict, and Grant refused to take a role so similar to others he had played. Without these four stars, the movie's future became uncertain.

By the time the casting directors started working, Diaz had agreed to play the part. They went searching first for the other female lead, who needed to be British, beautiful, funny and of star quality. Maggie Gyllenhaal read well but wasn't British. Minnie Driver was British, but Meyers didn't see her in the part, and so on. Several months later, Winslet said she was now available, and luckily the shooting schedule change worked for Black, who also signed on.

Casting directors originally pictured Hugh Grant in the role that became Jude Law's in "The Holiday." Here Law, center, is pictured with co-stars Cameron Diaz, left, and Kate Winslet, right.
Casting directors originally pictured Hugh Grant in the role that became Jude Law's in "The Holiday." Here Law, center, is pictured with co-stars Cameron Diaz, left, and Kate Winslet, right.
Anthony Harvey/WireImage/Getty Images

That left the casting directors hunting for a charming, funny, handsome Hugh Grant replacement. They brought in Colin Farrell, Ewan McGregor, Clive Owen, Daniel Craig, Robert Downey Jr., Brendan Fraser and at least 20 more actors to read. Then, with time running out before the scheduled start of production, Meyers decided Jude Law was the best choice. With the stars set, the movie was a go [sources: Hirschenson and Jenkins].

Casting the right stars definitely can save a movie. But what else do casting directors do? And what skills do you need to become one? Let's look first at the responsibilities of a cast director.

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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].

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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, Skillset.org]

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.

Becoming a Casting Director

Casting directors often hold auditions such as this one for the TV movie "Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story."
Casting directors often hold auditions such as this one for the TV movie "Spunk: The Tonya Harding Story."
© Bob Strong/AFP/Getty Images

As with most entertainment jobs, if you want to be a casting director, you'll need to start low, aim high, network and have some luck along the way. And while no specific training is required to be a casting director, you'll be more likely to succeed with some education, experience and the right personal skills.

Education

To understand the industry, you'll probably want to study at a two- or four-year college that offers classes in film and theater arts, such as acting and directing, as well as business management. Casting directors need to know how to negotiate contracts and understand the complexities of working with union employees.

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You should also take acting classes. Casting director Kim Petrosky notes in the book "100 Careers in Film and Television" that acting classes will help you understand actors and the acting process, recognize talent and put actors at ease for better audition performances. In fact, starting as an actor can lead to a career as a casting director [source: Crouch].

Experience

Becoming a casting director usually means starting at the bottom in the industry. Look for an internship with a casting agency, or a casting director who would take on another assistant or low-level helper. From there, you can work your way up to associate casting director. Remember that producers, directors and studios won't be willing to hire you unless you can show you have the experience to do the job well.

For an updated list of casting directors and agencies, go to Breakdown Services. The Casting Society of America, a professional association for casting directors, offers a member directory and a glossary of casting and film production terms.

Networking

More than other entertainment jobs, this one is about who you know. Making connections will help you move up in your career, and it'll give you the contacts you need to make good casting decisions. You'll need to be able to quickly and easily find the right actors for the roles, which means knowing the actors and keeping good relationships with talent agents.

Personality

Is being a casting director a woman's job? Casting director Juliet Taylor makes the argument in the book "Women in American Theatre" that women may be especially suited for it. Here's what she says you need: curiosity and patience to get to know people well, as well as an instinct about whether an actor will project a certain quality" [source: Chinoy and Jenkins].

But as a casting director, you'll also need:

  • excellent communication skills to work with both sides -- studios and directors, and actors and talent agents
  • negotiation skills
  • organizational skills to juggle projects and keep them all on track
  • good memory for script details, actor abilities and contact names
  • careful attention to detail
  • patience and persistence

[sources: Skillset.org, Payscale.com]

If you're an empathetic person who is good at sizing people up but also tough enough to handle contract negotiations, maybe it's time to start moving toward a casting director career.

For lots more information about casting directors and related topics, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links

Sources

  • "A Star is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood's Biggest Movies." Janet Hirschenson and Jane Jenkins. Harcourt Trade. (http://books.google.com/books?id=3hEsm6J-aBkC&pg=PA242&dq=%22re-casting%22+film&lr=&sig=uyTbE7ZmIBRdHct0WEsgVkRnrwE#PPA254,M1)
  • "The Holiday." Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457939/
  • "Women in American Theatre." Helen Krich Chony and Linda Walsh Jenkins. Theatre Communications Group. http://books.google.com/books?id=VqKejFYZii4C&pg=PA222&dq=%22casting+director%22&lr=&sig=OTM4LufXi9hDKzd1GMXaWrJdKKQ#PPA223,M1
  • "Hollywood 101: The Film Industry." Frederick Levy. Macmillan. http://books.google.com/books?id=8xMcdY0LxekC&pg=PA189&dq=­%22casting+director%22&lr=&sig=cnWCAnxTZKhku6CbSyomlrIMV0I
  • Skillset.org. http://www.skillset.org/film/jobs/casting/article_3879_1.asp
  • Payscale.com. http://blogs.payscale.com/salarystories/2006/12/salary_info_cas.html