Casting (performing arts)

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Casting call for black cats, Los Angeles, 1961. The studio was seeking cats for the Roger Corman film Tales of Terror. Casting Cats.jpg
Casting call for black cats, Los Angeles, 1961. The studio was seeking cats for the Roger Corman film Tales of Terror.

In the performing arts industry such as theatre, film, or television, a casting (or casting call) is a pre-production process for selecting a certain type of actor, dancer, singer, or extra for a particular role or part in a script, screenplay, or teleplay. This process is typically utilized for a motion picture, [1] television program, documentary, music video, play, or television advertisement, etc. This involvement in a dramatic production, advertisement, and or industrial video is intended for an audience, or studio audience.


Cast types

Actors are selected to play various types of roles. Main cast, also called starring roles, consist of several actors whose appearances are significant in film, theatre, or television. The largest role who plays protagonist is called a leading actor (or leading actress for a woman). [2] When there is not a single leading actor, the main roles are called ensemble cast which comprises multiple principal actors and performers who are typically assigned roughly equal amounts of screen time. [3] A supporting actor is an actor who performs a role in a play or film below that of the leading actor(s). Supporting roles are above that of a bit part which is direct interaction with the principal actors and no more than five lines of dialogue, often referred to as a five-or-less or under-five in the United States, or under sixes in British television. When a well-known actor or other celebrity appears in a bit part, it is called cameo appearance.

Casting process

The casting process involves a series of auditions before a casting panel, composed of individuals within a theatrical production such as theatrical producer, and theater director. However, within a given television production a casting panel can consist of a television producer, or within film production a casting panel could contain a film producer, film director, and/or choreographer. Usually, in nearly all areas of show business, a casting director [4] is on this panel as well. In the early stages of this process performers often may present, or are presented with prepared audition pieces such as monologues, songs, choreography, scripts and or sides. [5]

These audition pieces are usually video taped, typically in the form of screen tests and then attached with resumes, [6] as well as head shots and or viewed online via websites such as IMDb, then shared with film producers, film directors and or studio executives. Later stages may involve groups of actors both union, (SAG-AFTRA) and non union depending on the size and scope of the production, attempting to read material from the work under consideration, paired off in various combinations of two, three or more. With each of the actor's overall motivational choices evaluated, the casting panel considers both the individual actor, and the chemistry created from either one of the combinations set forth within the read-through, such as boy meets girl, etc.

Within the production of a prestigious work under consideration for film or television, and depending on the difficulty in finding a lead or supporting actor for the role, such as with the casting of the biopic films Notorious, [7] Straight Outta Compton [8] and All Eyez on Me, [9] casting calls may go out into the general public at large, this is referred to as a Cattle Call [10] (typical for community theater), to professional and semi-professional local actors where a similar process is followed (for supporting roles in theater and film) or for specifically selected actors (for leading roles, especially in films).

Casting character breakdowns, [11] not to be confused with script breakdowns, [12] are often provided by production agents who submit their clients to casting, which provides a brief summary of character (age, gender, race or ethnicity, situations they may be involved in). A more robust version of this painstaking task can be made through the Breakdown Services, [13] which was founded by former actor Gary Marsh [14] [15] over 40 years ago. This was due to the difficult logistics issues for agents to get their actors submitted for acting roles from major film studios and casting directors.

This casting breakdown service provides a complete character breakdown of various scripts and projects from production companies for film, television, modeling, commercials etc., to only agencies and managers who meet certain criteria.

These agents and managers are positioned all over the world, and subscribe to this service that literally has an entire suite of services for just about every aspect of the breakdown, for a monthly service subscription fee. This suite includes services such as Breakdown Express, [16] which offer representatives, casting and those who subscribe, a quicker way to post projects themselves. Another more limited version of the breakdown service, also for a monthly subscription fee is called Actors Access [17] where acting can subscribe to what is only made available to them, more like an entry-level acting position, like under-five, or a bit part, a great tool for the actor who is without an agent or manager.

An actor may go through several casting calls before receiving a part, and even though well known actors or actresses oftentimes still go through this very necessary process, some are privileged enough to have well known writers, screenwriters and or directors /producers pitch a project for their intent to be cast in a role. The well known actor or actress oftentimes negotiates producer credit as well as very lucrative monetary compensation.

Independent casting studios like Film Independent who hosts the annual Independent Spirit Awards and the Los Angeles Film Festival are often utilized for casting calls so that auditions can take place in one location, as well as possible affiliated various locations saving valuable time, energy and money.

Casting directors

For some major productions, the process of selecting actors for sometimes hundreds of speaking parts and roles, may often require a specialized staff. While the last word remains with the people in charge such as the director, producer, artistic departments and overall production team, a casting director [18] or "CD" (and sometimes the casting associate) is in charge of most of the daily work involved in this process during pre-production. A casting director is sometimes assisted by a casting associate; productions with large numbers of extras may have their own extras casting director as well, however in all aspects of a film or television production's budget, they are all a part of the above-the-line, answering to the director as part of his or her staff. [19]

The "CD" remains as a liaison between director, actors and their agents/managers and the studio/network to get the characters in the script cast. Some casting directors build an impressive career working on numerous Hollywood productions such as Marion Dougherty, Mary Jo Slater, Mary Selway, Lynn Stalmaster, April Webster, Tammara Billik, Marci Liroff, Avy Kaufman, Mindy Marin, and Robi Reed.

At least in the early stages of casting and or extras casting, the process may be decentralized geographically, often in conjunction with actual shooting planned in different locations. Another reason may be tapping into each home market in the case of an international co-production. However, for the top parts, the choice of one or more beautiful people, whose presence is of enormous commercial importance, may rather follow strictly personal channels, e.g. direct contact with the director. During this time known as the "attachment phase" of a film, the casting director's job is to send out copies of the current script to agents for what is known as coverage. Coverage is when a script yet to be cast is read, summarized into a one-pager, and a brief set of character descriptions established. At this time, if an agency agrees to give coverage to a film, they will submit a list of ideas to the casting directors of actors available, capable, and in the price range of the film. Also, casting directors create their own [20] idea lists and can "check avails" or call the actor representation to see if they are available and interested in taking on potential projects. If an idea that is generated from a casting director and a subsequent avail check or from an agent's recommendation is "approved" by the director, producers, and financiers (or studio), the casting director sends out what is called an "Offer." The offer, usually contains a letter to the actor's representative explaining the role in question, a copy of the script, why the actor has been selected, the length of time commitment, the approximate start date of filming, the filming location, and the proposed salary offering. If the actor does not respond to the material or for whatever reason cannot accept the job, they respond to casting with what is called a "pass." If they accept the offer, the agent engages the casting director and a deal memo is sent from casting to the representative. It is at this time when negotiations between agency and production happen to finalize any deal points before the entertainment lawyers step in and draw up the attachment contracts. If this process happens very early on in the development of a movie but the official shoot dates and details are not yet known, a Letter of Intent or "LOI" is drafted, to indicate, if and when the project is "green lit" or begins active production, the actor is already hired to portray that particular role.

After the attachment phase is complete (which depends on many factors—including but not limited to: financial backers, studio heads, availability of other above the line personnel), the physical auditions begin for all of the remaining roles. During this time, depending on the budget of the film, they could have what is called "pre-screens" where you audition only for a casting director (or associate) to see if the actor is right for the material. After pre-screens would be a "director session", during this time the actor comes in and auditions (usually with the same material) and now performs for the casting director and the film director. If there is a next step, it is usually a "callback" or producer session, where anyone who has decision making power is in the room for your audition. In television, this phase is referred to as a "screen test" and Network Executives would also be in attendance. Once actors are selected from the pool of available actors, the same booking process that happens in the attachment phase takes place for any actor except extras. [20]

The resulting list of actors who were selected to play a character for a production, is called a cast list, which is incorporated into a production company's daily call sheet, [21] and reflected in the projects title sequence especially with film and television.

Casting office personnel

Readers: This person reads all other character's lines opposite the actor who is currently auditioning. A good reader is someone who has acting skills, but who has no interest in booking a role through that casting director's office at that time. A reader will know how to give and take and play with other actors without ever outshining the auditioning actors. [20]

Interns: Interns are more common to commercial casting offices which host as many as a dozen different casting directors holding different auditions per day. While some commercial casting offices hold permanent casting space, many rent out studios on a project to project basis. A key intern will work with many busy casting directors sorting mail, copying sides and transcribing them onto "cue cards" or large boards to be read off of as prompts in the casting room, help actors sign in, and keep the flow of actors going in and out of the casting room as smooth as possible. [20]

Casting Assistants: This is the entry-level position in the field of casting. These people go above and beyond the call of duty of your typical office assistant. They do everything from covering phones, to making copies, setting up audition (aka "session") equipment like lights, the camera, sound equipment, etc. They sometimes can be found in the office relaying audition appointments, checking actors avails, or in the casting room making sure the recording software is running smoothly so the Casting Director can focus on each actor's performance. [20]

Casting Associates: Associates is the second chain of command in a casting office. Once a casting associate has worked for two years in the field of casting, they can apply for membership in Casting Society of America. Typically, the work under a Casting Director running pre-read sessions, prepping deal memos, and doing any calls to agents. Many associates begin to take on smaller scale projects so they can amass enough credits to move up in rank in CSA to a full-fledged Casting Director. [20]

Casting Director: Their job is to know a lot about a lot of actors, so that they can advise and present to the director the best of the existing possibilities. Casting directors are highly influential and is usually on the project because the director trusts their judgements. They are also the ones who decides who the director does see. Good casting directors "discover" actor by carefully setting it up so that the director and producer will feel as if they've made the discovery of the new actor. On the occasion when the director or producer does not respond to the actor presented, they must keep in mind that they aren't directing the production, the director is the one who's going to have to work with that actor—therefore, it is casting's responsibility to delicately balance between showcasing the actor available to them and the director and producer's sensibilities, tastes, and expectations. [22]

Casting Society of America (CSA)

The significant organization of professional screen, television, reality, and theater casting in the US is the Casting Society of America (CSA), but membership is optional. Casting directors organized in 2005 and became members of a collective bargaining unit, the Hollywood Teamsters Local 399 and New York Teamsters Local 817.

Casting director workshops

A common practice of many casting directors and casting associates have been casting director workshops. The types of workshop practices vary, but typically aspiring actors pay to perform in front of a casting professional who gives back feedback on the performance. Actors and industry professionals against workshops argue that casting directors are paid to find talent, not have talent pay to be seen by them. Supporters of the workshops argue that the workshops have classroom like settings and are a good source of feedback and networking. [23]

Because of their mixed reception, casting director workshops have not been met without controversy. Former Criminal Minds casting director Scott David was fired after The Hollywood Reporter published a story about his casting director workshops. [24] In February 2017, five casting director workshops were charged with criminal charges for charging actors to audition for projects. [25] In January 2018, Lindsay Chag, the casting director of films like Robin Hood: Men in Tights and Dracula: Dead and Loving It , was convicted guilty of violating the Talent Scam Prevention Act for her role in casting director workshops. [26]


United States

The highest honor a casting director can receive in the United States is the Artios Award, awarded by their peers in the Casting Society of America. Artios comes from the Greek word meaning "perfectly fitted." The Artios award excellence in casting for all genres of casting except commercials. The Artios are currently held mid-January annually with ceremonies in New York, Los Angeles, and (beginning in 2018) London. Since their incarnation in 1985, they were held in November but were moved in the 2013–2014 season to align with the rest of the film and television industry's awards season. The Artios is awarded to those CSA members who receive primary screen (or program) credit for casting on the winning project. Location Casting Directors, Casting Executives and Department Heads who are CSA members and who receive credit on winning projects also receive an Artios Award. CSA Associates on those projects are recognized in the press and with a certificate. [27]

The Emmy Awards has a category for casting directors. As of 2017, Junie Lowry-Johnson has won the most casting Emmys as an individual, all in the drama category. She has six awards for her work on NYPD Blue , Six Feet Under , True Blood and Homeland . The only shows to win casting Emmys three times were 30 Rock and Veep , both in the comedy category. In 2017, at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences introduced the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Casting for a Reality Program.

United Kingdom

In 2020, the British Academy Film Awards introduced the BAFTA Award for Best Casting.


The national Canadian Screen Awards has presented an annual award for Best Casting in a Television Series since 2006. [28] A new award for Best Casting in a Film is slated to be introduced in 2021.

The Prix Iris, the regional Canadian film awards for Quebec, introduced the Prix Iris for Best Casting in 2017. [29]

See also

Related Research Articles

Film crew

A film crew is a group of people, hired by a production company, for the purpose of producing a film or motion picture. The crew is distinguished from the cast, as the cast are understood to be the actors who appear in front of the camera or provide voices for characters in the film. The crew is also separate from the producers, as the producers are the ones who own a portion of either the film studio or the film's intellectual property rights. A film crew is divided into different departments, each of which specializes in a specific aspect of the production. Film crew positions have evolved over the years, spurred by technological change, but many traditional jobs date from the early 20th century and are common across jurisdictions and filmmaking cultures.

<i>Galaxy Quest</i> 1999 sci-fi comedy film by Dean Parisot

Galaxy Quest is a 1999 American science fiction comedy film directed by Dean Parisot and written by David Howard and Robert Gordon. A parody of and homage to science-fiction films and series, especially Star Trek and its fandom, the film stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Tony Shalhoub, Sam Rockwell and Daryl Mitchell. It depicts the cast of a fictional defunct cult television series, Galaxy Quest, who are visited by actual aliens who think the series is an accurate documentary, and drawn into a real interstellar conflict.

<i>Star Trek: Phase II</i> Un-aired television program

Star Trek: Phase II was the initial working title for what officially became titled Star Trek II, an unproduced American science fiction television series created by Gene Roddenberry as a sequel to the original Star Trek, which had run from 1966 to 1969. The plans for the series were first developed after several failed attempts to create a feature film based on the property, coupled with plans for a Paramount Television Service (PTS) as a fourth broadcast television network in the United States.

<i>Northern Exposure</i> American comedy-drama television series

Northern Exposure was an American Northern comedy-drama television series about the eccentric residents of a fictional small town in Alaska that ran on CBS from July 12, 1990, to July 26, 1995, with a total of 110 episodes. It received 57 award nominations during its five-year run and won 27, including the 1992 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, two additional Primetime Emmy Awards, four Creative Arts Emmy Awards, and two Golden Globes. Critic John Leonard called Northern Exposure "the best of the best television in the past 10 years".

Miranda Otto Australian actress

Miranda Otto is an Australian actress. She is the daughter of actors Barry and Lindsay Otto and the paternal half-sister of actress Gracie Otto. Otto began her acting career in 1986 at age 18 and appeared in a variety of independent and major studio films in Australia. She made her major film debut in Emma's War, in which she played a teenager who moves to Australia's bush country during World War II.

"The Pilot", also known as "The One Where Monica Gets a Roommate", "The First One" and "The One Where It All Began", is the pilot episode and series premiere of the American television sitcom Friends. The episode premiered on NBC on September 22, 1994. It was written by the show's creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman, and directed by James Burrows. The pilot introduces six twenty-something friends who live and work in New York City: Monica Geller: a single sous chef in her early 20s who is illegally subletting her grandmother's apartment; Ross Geller, Monica's older brother, a paleontologist whose marriage recently ended because his wife, Carol, is a lesbian; Rachel Green, Monica's spoiled, self centered high school best friend who has just left her fiancé at the altar and is financially cut off by her father; Chandler Bing, Ross' college roommate and best friend who lives across the hall from Monica; Joey Tribbiani a struggling Italian-American actor and Chandler's roommate; and Phoebe Buffay, a laid back, hippie-ish masseuse, singer and guitar player.

Script breakdown

A script breakdown is an intermediate step in the production of a play, film, comic book, or any other work that is originally planned using a script.

Filmmaking is the process by which a film is made. Filmmaking involves a number of complex and discrete stages including an initial story, idea, or commission, through screenwriting, casting, shooting, sound recording and pre-production, editing, and screening the finished product before an audience that may result in a film release and an exhibition. Filmmaking takes place in many places around the world in a range of economic, social, and political contexts, and using a variety of technologies and cinematic techniques.

Television crew positions are derived from those of film crew, but with several differences.

The Casting Society of America (CSA), founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1982, is a professional society of about 700 casting directors for film, television, and theatre in Australia, Canada, India, France, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The society is not to be confused with an industry union. The Teamsters represent most of the major casting directors in Hollywood. Members use the post-nominal letters "CSA".

Pilot (<i>Lost</i>) 1st and 2nd episodes of the first season of Lost

"Pilot" is the two-part television pilot of the ABC television series Lost, with part 1 premiering on September 22, 2004, and part 2 one week later on September 29. Both parts were directed by J. J. Abrams, who co-wrote the script with Damon Lindelof. Jeffrey Lieber, who had been commissioned by ABC to write the first version of the script, earned a story credit. Filmed in Oahu, Hawaii, it was the most expensive pilot episode up to that time, costing between $10 and $14 million, largely due to the expense of purchasing, shipping, and dressing a decommissioned Lockheed 1011 to represent Flight 815's wreckage. Many changes were made during the casting process, including the selected actors, the characters' behaviors and fates.

Pilot (<i>Smallville</i>) 1st episode of the first season of Smallville

The pilot episode of the television series Smallville premiered on The WB on October 16, 2001. It was written by series developers Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, and directed by David Nutter. The Smallville pilot introduces the characters of Clark Kent, an orphaned alien with superhuman abilities, and his friends and family who live in the fictional town of Smallville, Kansas. It follows Clark as he first learns of his alien origins, and attempts to stop a vengeful student from killing Smallville High School students. The episode introduces many themes that were designed to run either the course of the season or the entire series, such as the triangular relationships of the main characters.

Pilot (<i>Ugly Betty</i>) 1st episode of the first season of Ugly Betty

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Robert J. Ulrich is an American casting director known for casting musical television shows like Glee, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist and The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again. He has also cast various Ryan Murphy productions, including Glee and American Horror Story. He won a Primetime Emmy Award and two Artios Awards for casting Glee.


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