CASTING DIRECTOR BLOG

What does a Casting Director ACTUALLY do?

20 Mar 2020, Posted by Nicci in Casting Tips

As I sat in my office yesterday, for what I imagine will be the last time for a while, shredding lots of old papers and Christmas cards (ok so I am a bit of a hoarder already), I came across an invite to one of the many Xmas events I attended in 2019. It got me thinking back and in particular to one event and an encounter with one of Yorkshire’s finest.

So what does a casting director do?” Maureen asked me as we waited in the queue for yet another festive glass of Prosecco.

Maureen had only been my new BFF for approximately 2 minutes, united together in our acquisition of the nation’s favourite bubbly Italian alcohol.

I trotted out my usual trite answer for “civvies.” “Well, we find the best cast for film, TV and commercials, blah, blah, blah”

But as a brusque Yorkshire lady of ageing years Maureen wasn’t happy with this…

“But what does a casting director ACTUALLY do?”

And it was a good question; in an industry shrouded in mystery and obfuscation (both inside and out) I agree there is certainly a great lack of understanding across many job sites in our industry. Maureen had got me thinking.

Is the Best Boy actually the best boy – or even a boy – and in these times should they be the “Best Non-Gender-Specific member of the Lighting team.” Does the Chief grip have a stronger handshake than anyone else.

And to quote our Maureen “What does a casting director ACTUALLY do?”

These new and uncertain times deserves a new level of transparency and so, thanks to the irascible Maureen, a new series of blogs has been born.

Over the coming weeks I aim to demystify and lay bare the whole casting process for both producers and actors and my working process. I am strong advocate for high professional standards in our industry and I am a member of the CSA, CDA and mentor and consult with organisations like BECTU and BFI Academy to help bring on the next wave of casting professionals.

Casting is not a difficult process, but like many things, I do believe that the skill lies in the execution and in relationships. So In this series of blogs I am going to focus on a couple of key areas to explore:

  • FOR ACTORS: How I find cast for the projects I work on / and how can you get cast in my projects?
  • FOR PRODUCERS: What do Casting Director’s bring to the production process

How I find cast for the projects I work on aka… how can I get cast in your projects?

This is my most asked question and there is no one easy way to get cast in my projects. Over the coming weeks I will break this down into a 4 or 5 separate blogs – but until then here is a précis of what I’ll cover:

The Casting “Platforms”

Some of these are for casting directors and industry only and some are more widely available to actors and producers.

Generally I will post on all of these platforms below, but sometimes depending on the job I may just limit this.

Casting Networks

https://corp.castingnetworks.com/uk/

A technology platform that aims to connect casting directors with actors and agents. If you are an actor it costs £5 per month (as at Jan 2020) if you are not repped, but it is free if you have an agency code from your agent

Spotlight

https://www.spotlight.com/

This is probably the oldest “directory of actors” that is much respected by the industry and has been around since 1927.

Like Casting Networks this is a platform for Casting Directors to post jobs that can only be by accessed agents and performers, however you can only join Spotlight if you have at least four professional, completed credits: commercials don’t count and neither does any work you may have done as an extra.

It costs £158 per year for actors to join (as at Jan 2020), but make sure you qualify. I’ll give you tips as to how to do this in future blog.

Castcall

Setup in 1986 by Ron O’Brien that has always been at the vanguard of casting from offering 3 updates per week to actors on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays – the vast majority of which are paid .

Cast Web

This is one of the longest running services for Casting Directors to post briefs. It costs approx £160 per annum (as of January 2020) and you have to be able to prove your professional status either by:
– a current entry in the industry casting directories Spotlight, Mandy or StarNow, or
– membership of Equity, or
– a suitable cv approved by Cast Web

Mandy.com

Mandy.com (previously Casting Call Pro) is an online community of creative professionals including actors, producers, film and TV professionals and many more. You can enter a profile on here and there are about 50 acting jobs posted per day.

Star Now

Founded in London in 2004 StarNow is a platform for actors, models, musicians of all ages and levels of experience to find work. Users can enter their own profile and currently (as of March 2020) there are over 2,200 jobs listed the majority for actors and models

Relationship with agents

Agents are often much maligned within the industry: some actors moan that they never get them any work whilst some producers moan that they are gatekeepers not facilitators to the talent, but whatever you think of them they are the glue that really hold the industry together.

I must admit I love my work with agents and just like anyone else they have a job to do: to get their clients – at all levels of their careers – the right kind of work.

Although they are very busy people with demanding clients to feed, I do try and take time out to meet up with them to hear what new talent they have signed and what is going on in their world. Building these relationships and helping them to help me is a VITAL part of being able to do my job.

And not only that, building such relationships helps them trust my choices and taste so that when I have a project that I would love to cast one of their bigger clients in they already know that I will not be approaching with something random or unsuitable.

I will cover more on what an agent can or can’t do for their clients in a future blog and some input from agents too.

My Own “Little Black Book”

As you might imagine I meet MANY actors and who, more often than not, are not successful in a casting call.

BUT… just because they are not suitable for one role (for which might be looking for someone very specific) does not mean that I do not rate their work or that indefinable “je ne sais quoi” that they have.

Although we don’t run an official database I do have a “Little Black Book” of actors who catch my eye (well it’s more like a lever arch file or two!) and I often cast people one casting call in another project because they impressed me.

Later this year I will be launching my own official signup process for actors (with an agent or without) to sign up and upload their details so they can be notified of casting calls. I don’t want to compete with any of the wonderful platforms above all of which I use regularly, but hopefully this will help me expedite the many last minute castings we do Watch this space.

Street Casting

We are sometimes asked by clients / director’s to go out and find “real people” doing actual “real jobs” that might relate to what we are casting or just someone that might fit the description we are looking for even though they haven’t had any formal training.

This way of working has become really popular and fashionable in this current climate especially for TV Commercials – Lots of brands / directors / like the idea of casting “real people” – although actors are obviously real 😂

But street casting is certainly not the easy option or as straightforward as producers think. We don’t just go out onto the Hugh Street and collar people we do an awful lot of research and t does require a certain skill and “eye.”

Although this method is not that helpful to actors looking to get cast, it is something we often recommend to commercials producers as it has proved very successful for us getting some interesting talent who are the “real deal.” We have cast mechanics, DJs, nurses, dog walkers, you name it… its almost like casting a method actor!!

Scouting / Showcases

I LOVE going to see actors in theatre productions of all types (concluding amateur dramatics you might be surprised to hear). I think it is a great way to find new talent and have approached actors to read for me based on their theatre performances.

I also go to as many showcases as I can and I have been a judge on panels too including the D&AD Awards and various Monologue Slams in London and Manchester – events such as “The Slam” gives actors the opportunity to perform and It’s a great way for Casting Directors to see up and coming new talent

I do try and attend as many shows as I can, but as I receive SO many emails from actors and agents inviting me to see shows obviously that this is not always possible and I don’t have time to reply to everybody either (I’m not rude just busy!).

We are expanding our team to be much more proactive in finding new talent and going to events and I am going to elaborate on this in later blogs, but in future all requests will only be read or considered if they are sent to aboutme@niccitoppingcasting.com.

Workshops

This is one of my favourites to be honest and an area I am pretty active in. There is nothing better than running through a script without the pressure of a casting session – when you are more relaxed you are much more able to deliver first class work.

I run sessions for agencies very regularly for both adults and children and again I have cast many a role based on an actors work in a casting session.

What do casting Director’s bring to the process

If you are a producer you could just whack your projects on any of the casting platforms, but an experienced CD can offer so much more.

  1. A strong relationship with agents – built up over many years a CD’s relationship with a variety of agents and their knowledge of their personalities and the social dynamics of the industry will certainly be vital in helping you secure the right level of talent
  2. Their “Little Black Book.” A CD’s knowledge of rising actors, and their perception within the industry, can bring so much perspective and insight to the process than just watching a show reel on a platform.
  3. Greasing The Wheels – CD’s often form a useful “buffer” between producers and agents that can help smooth over the negotiation process and can give comfort to agents that their talent will be looked after
  4. Keepin’ It Real – When working on smaller budgets I do try and be the”voice of reason” and help newer producers negotiate the casting process. We do try and advocate that producers only approach cast that are appropriate for projects with a smaller budget – we are often asked to attach a big star that isn’t going to be available or would not work with a first time director which can be a MASSIVE time sap on a project and delay production

What else CD’s do!

From a wider perspective I believe that Casting Directors can be a real transformational force for good within our industry, especially with regards to diversity and inclusion – and as a black woman this is a subject I am passionate about! Everyone agrees the industry MUST change, and I believe that CD’s can be the vanguard for such change.

Personally I am Chair of Inclusion and Diversity for the CSA European Chapter and work with many fellow hard-working Casting Directors to help shepherd in such change.

I hope this post will give you a bit of insight into what we do and therefore how you can be more aligned with what we as Casting Directors do.

Until the next post, keep safe and good luck with the hunt for Toilet Paper wherever you are!

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