Unconventional Advice for Auditions from Casting Directors

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If you read all about auditions, monologues, agents and acting classes, maybe it’s time to dive into the other party’s perspective

If you’re secretly asking yourself how the actors on Glee got cast and you fantasize about securing an audition for the Disney Channel or whatever else you fancy, there are a few things you should know before heading to Hollywood. Castings are essential for the good outcome of television shows and films. Can you imagine someone else doing Nucky Thompson in Boardwalk Empire instead of Steve Buscemi? No, you can’t. How did you get so attached to Days Of Our Lives or MTV presenters? Good characters played by well-chosen actors. What is the secret to impressing the casting directors?


Casting director trying to reach a decision
Casting director trying to reach a decision

A casting director is the essential intermediate between the pool of talent, usually represented by agents, and the process of character building for any entertainment product. Except for indie productions, most directors and huge studios collaborate with casting directors in order to obtain the best possible options in illustrating the traits of the characters. In the industry of performing arts, except for main character roles which sometimes are directly attributed to famous actors, a casting call is a pre-production development process of selecting a certain type of performer: actor, voice actor, singer, dancer, model to play a particular role in a script. Castings go out to specifically selected actors, to professional and semi-professional local talent or to the public at large. Most of the times, criteria starts from age, ethnicity or race, gender and physical aspect. There won’t ever be a firm definition of casting procedures, but if you’re interested in becoming a casting director, internships in large agencies or entertainment companies will probably give you some insight. Casting directors usually work for theater or film productions, as well as for the advertising industry, for which they provide characters for a given commercial. A good example for advertising specialists is Barry Shapiro, who delivered talent for more than 7500 commercials.


The casting panel is usually composed of producers, directors and choreographer, if applicable. Performers start by preparing audition pieces, songs or monologues, which they submit alongside headshots, resumes and cover letters. Auditioners are usually provided with character and script breakdown and if getting selected from the gross talent pool, artists may have to interpret material from the work under consideration in order to evaluate the individual talent, as well as the group dynamic and the so called chemistry of the combination. For the casting director to finally evaluate the decision, the process can take some time and effort on behalf of the actor’s performance and interconnected influencing factors. Castings usually take place in the proximity of the film set or theater (so, basically, most of them in two main cities: New York and Los Angeles, but in several other as well, like Chicago, Georgia, Las Vegas, etc). Open calls are more flexible and recruit local talent from tens of smaller towns as well, in most of the states, from Atlanta to Florida and Texas to Ohio.


Top casting directors sometimes get involved in conducting workshops, which are beneficial for emerging talent mainly for getting a glimpse into the selection process and leaving the individual and personal ambition and focus on the side. Getting into such a workshop (and previously relocating to LA or NYC to do so) is definitely a step towards obtaining exposure and experience. You know, if you want to know more from the casting director of The Wolverine, get into one of Jessica Kelly’s workshops.


Some Tips Gathered from Influential Casting Directors’ Confessions

  • Before you get to the audition, make sure your show reel isn’t boring and redundant. It needs to reflect your true nature, behavior and personality. Do something that you’re good at and keep yourself away from mediocrity if you don’t want to end on the black list.
  • It’s advised to position yourself in the waiting line in such a manner, so that your individuality can stand out. Don’t sit next to people you look similar to and try to find yourself between two people you have nothing in common with. You know, a little anarchy won’t hurt anyone, especially if you don’t have a heavy resume.
  • Don’t hide your flaws. No one is looking for ideal, pale personalities, because those are, well, unrealistic and impossibly to be cast, since they don’t “give” you anything. That doesn’t mean that you have to act stupid or fake just because you’re feeling silly that day.
  • Don’t overdo your clothing or styling. It’s going to be obvious and it will interfere with your performance. Hint at your physical advantages, but in a discrete manner. You should even consider avoiding logos or annoying accessories. Basically, you simply need to contain yourself and not distract attention.
  • Keep yourself available. Check your emails. Answer the phone. Be honest when answering questions the crew asks.
  • Manage your emotions and stress. Everyone before you was nervous and everyone after you will be the same. Instead of excusing yourself, better start communicating with the casting professionals and tell them about yourself and your possible contribution to the plot.

Particular types of TV shows, theater plays or films demand special traits. Judy Taylor, Casting Director at Disney Channel, mentioned good acting and strong comedic skills as a must in the case of kids and teenagers who want to try acting for a TV series. That is pretty self explanatory, as Nickelodeon won’t look for the same talent as a producer doing horror shorts.


This is how the casting process unfolds.
This is how the casting process unfolds.

Being a casting director isn’t a job that one can simply start doing at the beginning of a career following a firm description and waiting for a monthly salary. These people are often former actors, singers or screenwriters – at any cost, the majority has had plenty of ascension in the performing arts industry before occupying a job like this, as the case is with James Levine. Keep this in mind: the ones who evaluate might have a common background with you. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any exceptions, like Scott David, who was previously a sales representative for pumice stones and then became appreciated for his work on Criminal Minds.

Some focus on a niche – take Tyler Perry for an example, who is specialized in gospel genre. Other casting directors focus on similar drama types – Ellen Lewis is known for her work on Goodfellas and Forrest Gump. Allison Jones did realistic ensemble casts for television shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Parks and Recreation.

Most casting directors, like Julie Ashton for an example, only accepts submissions through agents and managers. That’s also the case of Billy Hopkins, who is credited for over 200 film and television productions. Some casting directors are renowned for their incredible ability for finding top new talent, like Mark Teschner, the General Hospital Casting Director since ‘89.


Researching the background of the people who will watch you perform in auditions can help you stand out by signalizing what you need to put an emphasis on – you can certainly benefit from a little inspiration and since when do you need an excuse to surf trivia websites?!

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