You might think you know what a Casting Director does, but you would likely be only partially right. Casting Directors do a lot more than just find actors for film, television, and commercials. In this post we’re going to talk about all the things Casting Directors do — and don’t do. We’ll also discuss casting in film vs. theater, what you need to do in order to become a CD, and how to find jobs in that arena.
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Casting Director Definition
The role of the casting director
Casting Directors essentially bring actors and productions together. Casting Directors (sometimes called “Casting Agents”) read over the script then contact the actors who they believe will best inhabit each role, according to the Director’s vision. Before we get into the nitty gritty of the position, here's a definition and overview.
CASTING DIRECTOR DEFINITION
What is a casting director?
A Casting Director is a liaison between the Producer and Director, and the actors and their representation. Also known as a CD, they are tasked with filling the character roles based on what the director is looking for. Naturally, they are in charge of the entire casting process, which is more or less involved depending on the scope and budget of the project.
Casting Director Duties:
- Reads over scripts and makes notes on each character.
- Meets with the Producer(s) and Director to discuss which actors would be a good fit.
- Contacts actors and asks them to audition. Open auditions for smaller roles.
- Helps the actor do his or her best audition.
- Negotiates and manages actor contracts before and during the production.
What does a casting director do?
Casting Directors find the best actors to inhabit each role, according to the Director’s vision (and the Producer’s budget). But, as you can see from the list above, CDs do a whole lot more than that. Let’s break it all down.
The first thing a Casting Director does for a project is read the script. Good CD’s will make copious notes on each character, their arcs, and particular skills an actor might need.
For example, if the story is a western, the CD might make a note of actors who can already ride a horse. If it’s an intense drama, there may be a lot of crying scenes; so it’s good to know who can cry on cue.
Did You Know?
Casting is the one aspect of the film industry that has always been dominated by women. Though there are certainly male Casting Directors, most CD’s are women.
Next the CD will meet with the Producer and Director to discuss the story and the budget. It’s important that the Casting Director not impose his or her own ideas about the story or the characters during the meeting.
The CD is there to get an understanding of the Director’s vision so he or she can help bring that vision to life.
However, the budget will determine whether or not certain actors can even be considered. If the budget is too low, there will be actors who are immediately out of the running.
On the other hand, Casting Directors also handle all the negotiations for actors, and manage their contracts once production begins. So once the CD knows the budget, he or she is free to try to get the actors the Director wants, even if those actors seem too far out of reach of the budget.
For example, an expensive actor might agree to a salary within the budget as long as the Producer agrees to accommodations for the actor’s spouse and family during the shoot. The CD would negotiate those terms.
On lower budget or indie productions, the CD will likely organize auditions for each role. Auditions still require a preference list of actors, but now each actor will need to perform for the Director (and probably the Producer).
Auditions can be a simple, short video that the Director watches later or they can be in person. It’s common for actors to submit themselves on video for the initial audition phase, then come to read in person during the callback phase. There can be as many callbacks as the Director needs to finalize casting.
During in-person auditions or even callbacks, an actor might read the part with other actors. Or that actor might even be asked to read for a different role than they originally came in for. However the auditions are conducted, the CD schedules all of it.
And contrary to popular myth, Casting Directors want the actors to do well. So CD’s might try to help shape an actor’s performance a bit so it more aligns with the Director’s vision. Being able to take direction is a key aspect of whether or not a CD will send an actor’s audition tape on to be considered.
Again, the CD will negotiate the deals with actors and generally function as the Human Resources department for all the actors on the production. Speaking of which, another important thing good CDs do is conduct background checks on anyone who gets offered a role.
Become a Casting Director
How to become a casting director
There’s a certain skill set you need to have in order to be a successful Casting Director. Primarily, you need to be able to work equally well with both artists and budgets.
You need to be able to understand the actor’s process while also knowing how to negotiate with producers and agents. In other words, you need to be able to comfortably straddle both the artistic and the business sides of the entertainment industry.
There are many ways to achieve this, not the least of which is taking an acting class or two. Acting classes help you understand the actor’s experience as an artist, which will in turn help you to guide them to a performance that will get them the role.
The more actors you get cast, the better your own reputation as a Casting Director will be. But the other side of that coin is the negotiating process. That means business classes, especially those emphasizing budgeting and the deals made in the entertainment industry.
You’ll also need to become familiar with union rates (i.e. Screen Actors Guild) and stay on top of any changes. And you’ll need to be able to do all of the necessary functions of the job with multiple projects simultaneously.
Casting Assistants help the Casting Director stay organized and handle a lot of the day-to-day operations of the process. Being a CA is a great way to work up to becoming Casting Director.
Case in point, here's CD Tara Rubin on her story about how she get into the business, starting as an assistant.
Probably the best way to get the kind of experience you’ll need to step out on your own is through working with an established Casting Director. Internships or other low-level positions that will allow you to gain first-hand knowledge of the process are a good way to get your foot in the door.
Learn more about How to Become a Casting Director →
How Much Does a Casting Director Make
Casting director salary
Casting Directors make anywhere from $36K as a Casting Assistant to around $105K annually. Just like any other position, this number depends on a number of factors. The most pertinent of these include the amount of experience you have and the budget of the project.
LOOK FOR WORK
Find casting director jobs
Casting Directors are needed for every kind of project that requires actors. From commercials and corporate training videos to blockbuster films and Broadway shows, the Casting Director assembles the actors (and/or dancers and singers) needed to bring the characters to life.
You can find Casting Director jobs on sites like Media-Match, Mandy.com, or Staff Me Up. You can also find jobs through networking. This is why it’s a good idea to always carry your business cards with you, and try to make a good impression on other industry professionals.
Discover more filmmaking roles
Casting Directors are the liaisons between the production and the cast. To continue through our series of the various filmmaking roles and positions, you can explore similar jobs like Casting Director, Director, or Art Director. Or you can jump over to our Film Crew Index to browse the entire range of filmmaking roles. Understanding what everyone’s role on a film set is will help make you a better overall filmmaker and a more efficient crew member.