Dublin based Casting Director Ali Coffey is a member of the Casting Directors’ Association (CDA) and Casting Society of America (CSA). She is the founder of the Fishpond database for Irish actors.
Her casting work includes TV series Moonhaven, Black Sails and Reign, and she was also Casting Director for the fantasy film The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box (2013).
Ali Coffee Casting won the 2020 CDA Award for Best International Casting, for casting Vodafone Ireland commercial “The Joy of Connection”.
How Ali Coffey Got Into Casting
As a child, Ali Coffey attended a children’s acting group. Her parents, entrepreneurs in Dublin’s hospitality industry, had encouraged it as a good environment for children to learn to be confident in expressing themselves. And not only did she enjoy it, but she received a callback from Ros Hubbard for War of the Buttons when she was just 12.
Her parents were shocked when Ali decided to leave school at the age of fifteen, to follow an acting career.
Following an open casting advertised in the local newspaper, Ali had won a part in an indie film called “How to Cheat in the Leaving Cert” and took away the message that she didn’t need to continue in education.
As a confident 16 year old, she was great at talking her way into jobs in the casting room, but had no formal acting training and within five years realised she wasn’t going to scale great heights as an actor.
That said, she enjoys acting, still does reading in, and even does some small performance jobs including voice-overs for audiobooks and commercials.
By about the age of 20, Ali had lived in London and appeared in TV series and soaps. But she’d also experienced the pitfalls of the industry, especially the insecure nature of the work. At one point, a full year had elapsed between two acting jobs. So she found work to pay the bills where she could, doing things such as delivering flowers and working in a nightclub.
She also chaperoned on film sets, which was a chance to earn money looking after child actors while also learning more about the entertainment industry behind the camera.
Ali Coffey almost made it into the cast of Eastenders. After five auditions, it was down to the last two actors – and the other actor was chosen. Casting Director Gillian Reynolds then told Ali she was about to start working on casting an indie feature, and offered Ali the chance to be her Casting Assistant.
Ali took the opportunity, thinking it might be a good way to be on a Casting Director’s radar, but quickly found the profession was a great fit.
The young cast they selected for a film about a group of Irish students going to New York on a J-1 visa included Killian Murphy. The Producer was Jean Doumanian, whose previous work included Woody Allen films. Ali loved the unconvential nature of the work, such as the very late night auditions scheduled for actors arriving after their stage work had ended for the night.
Ali Coffey and Gillian Reynolds worked together for the next few years.
She found it a good training ground to learn the differences between screen and stage acting, having previously only experienced screen acting.
Ali Coffey Casting
Ali Coffey Casting was established in 2002, when Ali was just 22 years old. For several years, she and Gillian worked collaboratively on a number of productions, until an amicable split when they went off in different directions.
Ali Coffey Casting has had its own team for many years, and there are usually five of them altogether. Since 2020 they are no longer working from an office, since remote working turned out to be a good fit for the team.
They cast adults and children for film, TV and commercials.
Ali Coffey Casting has about twelve client production companies that they regularly and repeatedly work with over the longer term, as well as taking on work with new Irish and international clients.
Ali Coffey Casting takes on some jobs working collaboratively with international Casting Directors on just one part of a production, or just doing a one day job of local through to casting an entire production, and everything in between. If it’s a good fit and the timescale and calendar commitments work, the team will accept the work.
In September 2008, Ali Coffey set up Fishpond. It’s a database for Irish actors and Casting Directors to find each other for appropriate roles, similar to Spotlight and other casting websites for UK actors, but run specifically for Irish actors.
It was not easy getting Fishpond set up, though, and she faced a wide range of challenges, including financing the project.
Ali worked as the night announcer for RTÉ in addition to her casting work, to earn the money to pay coders in India. This meant she was literally working night and day while also trying to project manage overseas freelancers to get the software ready.
It took a year to get Fishpond launched, and all users were given free membership in the first year. Today, the site is still free for agents and Casting Directors, while actors are asked to pay an affordable monthly fee, which is the international standard for this type of platform.
Later, Fishpond was expanded to include a database for child actors, which had to be carefully planned to keep children safe.
In 2016, Fishpond was ready for remote auditions. At the time, the idea of screen auditions was still relatively new. It was really only the 2020 pandemic which made remote auditions a commonplace experience.
During 2020, recogising how hard things had become for every actor, agent and Casting Director in the country with most of the performance industry closed down, Fishpond offered free subscriptions to every actor who wanted it. They also offered talks and a community, to help reduce the feeling of isolation many in the industry experienced.
Auditioning for Ali Coffey Casting
The pandemic forced a change in the way people are auditioned.
The system at Ali Coffey Casting quickly became one where self tapes were submitted for the first round, and then the actors and casting team met online on zoom for the second round.
It significantly reduced travel costs for actors, and allowed casting teams to work more easily around the commitments of working performers.
Actors coming in for a zoom audition are first seen by the Casting Assistant, who gets the actor to adjust their camera angle so the camera is level with the actor’s eyes.
Spending a small amout of money on a ring light is a worthwhile investment, but you don’t need an expensive one. A tripod is also an inexpensive yet invaluable piece of kit to have.
It also good to use a microphone, particularly if you’re recording from your phone.
Once the Casting Assistant has got your setup looking as good as it can be, you’ll then be ready to meet the casting team.
One of the disadvantages of zoom auditions is that they reduce the actor’s energy. So you might find it useful to stand up and do your zoom audition standing.
Ali also suggests a prop, such as a cigarette holder or champagne bottle, or something else relevant, might help you create a performance. Check with the Casting Director that it’s Ok with them, but small props can help create the scene.
Ali Coffey Casting likes – and expects – actors to be off book.
It can be hard to quickly learn lines, especially with other work or family commitments in your life. But LA has a cut-throat entertainment industry where every single working actor will be off book for every audition. And this is an international industry, so you are not just up against a few other local actors.
Getting off book frees you up to think about the character, immerse yourself in the character, give your best performance of the character.
Ali asks actors to remember that you are called to audition because the casting director genuinely thinks you might be the right person for that role. You’re not there just to make up numbers, but hand picked because you might be the one. So you need to give it your best shot.
She also asks actors not to audition if they don’t like the script. It’s much better for an actor to turn down the opportunity to audition, than to turn up and tell everyone why they think the script sucks.
Contacting Ali Coffey Casting
Every single week, several people email Ali Coffey Casting to ask for representation.
Casting Directors do not represent actors.
Acting agencies represent actors.
If you didn’t know that, you don’t understand why, then BEFORE you approach any industry professional please check out:
Then, if you understand what the casting director’s role is and know why you are getting in touch with Ali Coffey Casting, make sure you have relevant links to send.
They need to see headshots, showreel (up to 3 minutes max), and some sort of CV or actor profile to see what you have done.
You must not send these as attachments for them to download. They only want a link.
Interview with Ali Coffey
YouTube – Nick Dunning: Casting Director Advice For Your Next Remote Self Tape