What Does A Casting Director Do?

casting director

Casting directors determine your success in the acting profession more than any other individual. They decide which potential actors get invited to the casting session, and then which ones to recommend to the director and producer. So it’s worth spending time understanding their role and profession if you’re looking for acting jobs.

What does a casting director do?

  • Read the script and liaise with the director & producer
  • Create casting breakdowns
  • Secure the stars as the lead names, to attract financing
  • Circulate casting breakdowns 
  • Review submissions & invite self tapes/ 1st casting session
  • Upload footage to directors, discuss recommendations
  • Subsequent rounds of casting sessions
  • Collaborate with director for final choice
  • Liaise with talent agent to secure actor’s booking
  • Continually look for new talent (see shows, review profiles etc)
  • They do NOT ‘represent’ actors (i.e. seek work for them)!

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Table of Contents:

What is a casting director?

A casting director finds the right actor for each role in a production. Each performer’s look, acting talent, experience and reputation is considered both for that role and how it fits with the production’s other roles and potential actors. Casting directors also work within the artistic vision of the director and the casting budget and timescale.

What does a casting director do?

A casting director talks to the director and producer about the roles available and the types of actors needed, to generate a casting breakdown. Then they circulate each brief among contacts, talent agencies and casting websites, review suggested talent, hold casting (audition) rounds and liaise with the director. Finally, they secure bookings via the actor’s agency.

Is a casting director a casting agent?

Don’t use the term casting agent. A casting director selects talent for the role, usually via auditions. A talent agency, which represents actors and suggests them to casting directors for appropriate roles, can also be called an acting agency, agent, or casting agency. Extras agencies also use the term casting agency. No one is a casting agent though.

What are the main responsibilities of a casting director?

Casting directors match each acting role to the best actor that the budget can afford. They are responsible for understanding and interpreting the director’s vision and timescales, selecting and auditioning actors from thousands of applications, getting the best out of the audition process, and securing the chosen talent for the production.

Where do casting directors find actors?

Actors known as ‘names’ will be recognised by the public or fans of a particular show. Their confirmed lead role for a production brings in money and gets it green-lit. For the majority of roles, casting directors find potential actors from job boards on casting websites, talent agencies, their industry network, received emails, and talent they’ve spotted on TV or at the theatre.

Street casting

Street casting involves casting teams finding ‘real people’ within communities and on the streets. Some commercial, TV and film roles need authenticity. So the aim is to find raw talent in people without training or experience of the industry. A casting director’s reputation and business can be built around this specialism.

Who does a casting director work with?

Casting directors often work in partnerships or hire staff in their business. At the very least they bring in an assistant for the casting calls. The casting assistant, casting associate and casting director roles are common steps on a career progression.

A casting assistant is at the beginning of their career. They can take over reception duties to welcome actors to the casting office and ensure all paperwork is collected. They also help with a wide range of tasks to help process submissions, invitations to casting calls, and callbacks.

A casting associate is an experienced casting professional. They can be freelance or work for a business, and the extent to which they work independently depends on the production and the casting director they are allied with. To an actor, there may be little difference between the casting associate and the casting director.

Casting directors spend their days working with teams from the production side including directors and producers. They meet thousands of actors each year in meetings, auditions and workshops, and spend a lot of time liaising with talent managers. 

How do casting directors work?

Casting directors are the middleman between production teams and actors. They translate the director’s vision, timescale and financial package into a brief, review the suggestions from talent agencies and actors, audition a lot of people for each role, and secure the bookings for the chosen actors. The role demands collaboration, organisation, and the ability to assess talent.

Where does the casting process begin?

For the casting director, the casting process begins by discussing the scope of the project with the production team, examining the script and identifying attached names. The character behind every role is examined and drawn up into a casting breakdown.

For the average actor, the casting process will usually begin with the job board on a casting website advertising a relevant casting breakdown. Actors either apply themselves, or their agent does so after checking their calendar for availability.

Casting directors typically hundreds, if not thousands of submissions for each job. They look at headshot, experience, training and showreel. Shortlisted candidates are invited to a casting session.

What is a casting session?

While casting is the process of finding the idea actor for a role, a casting session is an audition. It is also called a casting call. These days, self tapes have replaced the initial casting session, so smaller numbers make it to the casting office or studio. 

If you make it through to callbacks, you’ll be ‘pencilled’. That means you’re on the list of potential actors for the role, but aren’t booked. ‘Heavy pencil’ means you’re close to getting the job. It’s rare to be told when you’re out of the running, so you can spend a long time waiting for news.

Casting sessions are filmed. It helps the casting team make later decisions. Where individuals show potential for the role, the production company and director receive the footage. Sometimes, the director likes to watch the casting session on screen or in person.

Does the director choose the cast?

Although the casting director does the heavy lifting of assessing thousands of brief submissions and running dozens of auditions on casting days. But ultimately, the production’s director chooses the cast. They collaborate with the casting director over the brief, attend meetings with leading talent, watch selected audition tapes and consider the casting director’s recommendations.

How do casting directors get work?

It’s rare for a casting director to work for a company. As self employed individuals, they run their own business and team. They work for a client production on a short or medium term basis. Casting directors have agents, who source their work and negotiate their fees, though industry contacts are important too.

Reputable British casting directors belong to the Casting Directors Association (CDA) or the Casting Directors’ Guild (CDG). Membership of these organisations requires extensive industry experience before offering full membership to a casting professional.

Who are the top casting directors?

Each area of the industry has its own top casting directors, and it differs in each country. Many casting directors experience casting across theatre, musical theatre, radio, TV, feature film, short film and commercial work, but they usually specialise in only one or two areas. 

At the top of their profession, they work on well funded award winning productions and win casting awards in their niche.

Who are some famous casting directors?

Famous British casting directors include Nina Gold (Game of Thrones), Fiona Weir (Harry Potter films), Susie Figgis (Pirates of the Caribbean films), Jina Jay (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), Shaheen Baig (A Monster Calls), & Des Hamilton (Jojo Rabbit). But many top and award winning casting directors work beyond the TV & film industry.

Amy Hubbard is a part of a family of famous casting directors. Hear her talk about the casting process and significant changes the industry has seen in the past few years.

Who is the casting director for Netflix?

There is no such thing as the casting director for Netflix. As we discussed in the article ‘how to sell your story to Netflix’, the streaming service does not make its own content. Instead, it licenses, buys or commissions films and TV shows from production companies and aggregators. Therefore, each production company sources its own casting directors. 

Is Netflix looking for actors?

If you see an advert suggesting Netflix is looking for actors, it’s a scam. Don’t pay for access or account upgrades. Netflix doesn’t make productions but commissions other people to do so or licenses existing content. Each movie and TV show on Netflix is made by a production company who sources their ideal actors through casting directors. 

Call the Midwife casting director

In line with many long running TV series requiring lots of guest appearances, several casting directors, casting associates and casting assistants have worked on Call the Midwife over the years. Sophie Parrott joined the production in 2016 as casting associate, rising to casting director for Call the Midwife in 2019.

Long running series such as Call the Midwife, Eastenders, Casualty, Holby City, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks and the Dumping Ground require many series regulars, guest leads and supporting roles. Talent agents normally submit suggestions for relevant roles, but some casting directors keep unsolicited emails on file.

Is it OK to contact casting directors?

It is normally OK to contact casting directors if you have a reason – you’re in a show, or have a great new showreel. But first of all, check whether they specifically ask actors not to contact them, otherwise you are wasting your time. Many don’t want social media contact because they can’t conveniently put your details on file.

It is not OK to contact casting directors asking for representation. If you want someone to represent you and find you acting work, that’s the work of a talent agent. You’ll find most acting agencies in London, but they are found across the country from Glasgow to Cardiff and down to the South East corner of England. Casting directors audition actors for jobs, usually following recommendations by the talent agencies.

Emailing casting directors

Many casting directors are happy to receive emails from actors. But first, do your research. Understand their role so you don’t ask for representation (that’s a talent agent!) Check if they’ve said how they want to be contacted – most want emails only. Then craft a summary, lightweight headshot, Spotlight link and contact details.

By lightweight, your headshot needs to be no more than 2MB. There are plenty of online tools which compress images, but don’t take compression too far. The casting team needs to glance at a crisp image which encourages them to click through to your profile link (preferably on Spotlight).

The time casting directors most want to hear from you is if you’re on TV or appearing on a stage near them. British casting directors are generally based in London, and attending theatres each week is a normal part of their job. Time your email a week to 10 days in advance, so they have time to make plans but not too far ahead for you to be forgotten. After all, they work on a project basis and have intensely busy periods.

Once you’ve emailed a casting director, they might or might not get back to you. Don’t bother them with further messages, unless it’s much later and about new work they could see. It’s more likely that you won’t hear anything until a relevant brief pops up many months later and they look through stored emails. Your email may even be forgotten until your profile on a casting website is spotted during a submission review.

Casting director emails

It’s easy to find an email address for a casting director. Although they have agents to arrange much of their work, their websites are a showcase of the productions they have cast for. The websites list contact details, including where to send emails. Never send your headshots, profiles or showreels to them via social media unless they specifically invite actors to do so.

What do casting directors want in a showreel?

Your contact with a casting director should include showreel, even if it’s a monologue filmed on your phone. It has to be quick, no more than two minutes. Yet it must demonstrate what you look, sound and move like, and indicate your ability to convincingly portray a character. Also, label it properly with YOUR name.

Research A Casting Director Before A Casting

So what does a casting director do? They collaborate with directors, production teams, talent agencies, and actors. In street casting, potential actors are identified from members of the public.

Casting directors pull together casting breakdowns, review submissions, run and film the audition room, identify the ideal actor for each particular role individually and as a group, agree the selection with the director, and liaise with the talent agent to secure the bookings.

But each casting professional has their own specialism and approach to their work. You should find out more about each casting director before you contact them with an unsolicited email, and definitely if you attend a casting session.

Here are three of the UK’s casting directors you may meet at a casting for a Commercial production.

Casting Director Leanne Flinn

UK Casting Director Leanne Flinn, finds interesting and diverse talent for such projects as the iconic “This Girl Can” campaign.

Street casting is one of the ways Leanne Flinn brings real-life people to our screens and billboards, backed up by well-advertised castings on social media. In an age where drama school and London rents are beyond the reach of most people, allowing normal people to access castings means directors can hire talent which looks and feels like the audience they are trying to connect with.

She also uses traditional casting methods where it suits the project better, connecting with experienced actors and reputable agents to find the right look and talent.

What Type Of Projects Does Leanne Flinn Cast For?

Leanne Flinn Casting takes on projects for commercials, music videos, TV, short films and feature films. She has worked in the casting industry since 2009. Sometimes she works with some of the other big names in the casting industry, including  Dan Hubbard, Des Hamilton, Lesley Beastall, and Tree Petts.

She has a number of IMDb credits, both as Casting Associate and as Casting Director. The comedy series ‘People Just Do Nothing’ has gone on to achieve great success with the public and at industry award ceremonies.

Leanne has received nominations for a number of industry awards. Her work on Delaval Film’s “Marina and Adirenne” won her a nomination for the 2017 Casting Director Association’s inaugural awards. Furthermore, Leanne and Camilla Arthur received a joint nomination for their stills castings for Selfridge’s “Everybody”. She has twice received nominations for the coveted UK advertising industry British Arrows Awards. In 2015 and 2016 she won D&AD Awards for casting, in the annual competition for global advertising, design and digital professionals.

Leanne Flinn On Social Media

Leanne has a highly engaging Twitter account. It advertises current commercial castings; congratulates and furthermore promotes completed projects; and is also used to thank and congratulate individuals and companies that she works with. She has around six thousand followers, and almost a further two thousand follow the Leanne Flinn Casting Page on Facebook. The Facebook Page is used in a more targeted way to advertise current commercial castings.

A more casual look at Leanne’s professional life can be found in The Picta’s collection of Instagram photos and by following her Instagram account.

The website for Leanne Flinn Casting makes it easy to get in touch. You can phone on the General Enquiries number, but preferably email her with a recent photo – that looks like you do if you walk in the room today – and your contact details.

Leanne Flinn’s Experience As A Performer

Leanne trained as a performer on the Italia Conti musical theatre course. In adult life, she has continued to love singing and performing. She has also done voiceover work, including a Tamagotchi Friends advert. She has taught, directed and choreographed projects for children. So you can see why she was a natural choice for casting the 2015 Christmas advert for John Lewis. “Man on the Moon” featured a little girl looking through a telescope at an old man on the moon.

Leanne has even got experience as the director of her own short film, “Eli”. She made it for the Straight 8 no editing short film festival in 2010. Subsequently, the film was screened at the Cannes Film Festival. Other film festivals then also picked it up, including Raindance, Rushes Soho Shorts, CFC Worldwide short festival & Couch Fest.

Mark Summers

Award-winning Casting Director Mark Summers is based in London, delivering high-quality services to international clients. His separate Talent Agency also represents a select list of talented performers.

Have you just watched a high-quality advert showing a diverse cast of dancers performing at an exceptional level of skill? You can take a good guess that Mark Summers and his team were involved in the casting process. He won the prestigious British Advertising Craft Award for Best Casting Director in 2003. He also received nominations on six other occasions.

His business is based in the Kensington area of London, and auditions are usually held there. His clients and jobs, though, come from the US and across Europe. That means someone attending an audition in London on Tuesday could be filming in central Europe on Saturday. For many people, it can be expensive and difficult to get to a central London casting at short notice. If Mark Summers has invited you in, this is your big chance – so TURN UP!

Mark Summers Has Extensive Industry Experience

Mark attended the Barbara Speake Stage School and started his own business at the age of 16. His regular clips on twitter are an invaluable insight into his work. They show how he and his team work hard for long hours to deliver the kind of service required by top international clients.

Mark and his team communicate with actors, dancers, and agents on a daily basis. Anyone hoping to work in the industry will find his advice on Twitter invaluable.  In addition, he highlights the practices he does and doesn’t like, which you can definitely learn from. There are also very helpful articles on the Mark Summers blog.

His team also tweet regularly with the latest news and castings:

@sarah_lyons   @marksummerscast   @lou_marksummers

Mark Summers is a member of the Casting Directors Association.

Mark Summers Is Also A Talent Manager

Would you like representation by Mark Summers? Make sure you do your research and prepare thoroughly before you apply because those first impressions matter. Watch the twitter streams and website news to spot audition slots coming up.

You will need to include a well-presented CV and a headshot when you make your very first contact. If you don’t, you will not get a good response to your application, simply because you did not read the instructions. Check the talent listed on the website, and assess whether anyone seems to share your Unique Selling Point. If you don’t know what that is, you aren’t ready to take this step yet.  

If you are invited in for a dance audition workshop, prepare for a long wait. The standard is very high, and moreover, there are a lot of skilled hopefuls who understand the opportunities on offer.

Casting Director Nicci Topping

Nicci Topping is more than a leading Casting Director in the UK. She runs workshops and she also blogs so that actors can get the advice they need to succeed.

Nicci Topping Casts For A Wide Range Of Projects

Nicci Topping is a member of the Casting Director’s Association (CDA). She has worked on over a hundred commercials, twelve feature films and a variety of other projects in the past fifteen years. She casts for short films, pop promos, TV dramas, theatre, photographic projects, and voiceovers. While some of her castings demand trained and experienced talent, and often household names, whilst others look to street casting to find the perfect contender for a role.

Nicci set up Topps Casting premises in her native Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, and these days also has premises in London and Manchester. She goes wherever the work requires. Casting can be across the UK and further afield.

Nicci Topping Has An Impressive Track Record

Her IMDb listing includes thirty credits as a casting director and a further seven under the casting department. Post Production film Angel 2.0 gives her credit as producer.

Awards and nominations include the British Arrows Craft 2015 nomination for Best Casting alongside Leanne Flinn. This was for the iconic Sport England campaign “This Girl Can”. She also cast for the award-winning music promo Chase & Status featuring Blind Faith and The Resident Evil Ads.

Nicci Topping Casting On Social Media

The Facebook page for Nicci Topping Casting includes links to her blog and interviews with esteemed organisations such as The Stage and Casting Networks. Following the Facebook page is a great way to keep up to date with the advice she gives. Sometimes she gives a shout out when looking for specific skillsets for casting when something unusual is needed.

Nicci Topping’s Twitter feed has some different content on Facebook. For example, the Nicci Topping workshop for Spotlight in conjunction with Actors Guild BG appeared here. Retweets for her work also appear here; they demonstrate the high regard for her work in this competitive profession.

How Nicci Topping Helps Developing Actors

The Nicci Topping Casting website is a good introduction to the work they do. However, the Nicci Topping blog is invaluable for any performer. In addition to interesting interviews, the topics include:

  • Marketing for actors
  • Cosmetic enhancements
  • Audition nerves
  • Casting low budget feature films
  • Advice to parents bringing children to castings
  • Getting your first acting job
  • Why some actors book the best jobs

Casting directors often send out the message that they want to give you a chance to book a job with them. Nicci Topping is no exception. Moreover, her constant work engaging with actors through her blog, interviews, and workshops aim to give everyone some preparation advice and encouragement.

With thousands of contenders for each role, it can be hard to get into the audition room. If you are invited to a casting, make the most of the opportunity you are being given.