In simplistic terms, casting is the process of searching for, recommending, interviewing, setting up readings for and negotiating deals to secure the principal cast members on any given production—the term "principal" referring to those actors with speaking parts. Casting personnel work closely with actors, agents, managers, producers, directors, studio executives and assistant directors. They're always on the lookout for new talent and creative suggestions to bring to the decision-makers' table. Those making the final casting choices would include any or all of the following: director, producer, studio or network executive overseeing the project and sometimes (depending on the part), the casting director.
I spoke to casting director Susan Johnston, and in her view, a casting director has to understand the unique needs of each individual and be innately adept in psychology, whether it's in dealing with actors or their gatekeeper—agents and managers. She said the challenge is often in having to figure out why certain roles would be great for certain actors, and then having to sell them and their agents and managers on accepting the roles, all the while anticipating their needs before they even know what they are themselves. I asked Susan what qualities would make someone good at this job, and she said, "Someone who loves people, can see outside the box, is intuitive and dedicated and doesn't mind the long hours." Her favorite part is the joy she derives from connecting with people in a way that offers them their "15 minutes of Andy Warhol fame"; also discovering talent and seeing them come to life artistically with a team (director, producer, other actors, etc.). She loves choosing an "outside of the box" person for a role and gets a thrill out of helping talented actors get into SAG. I asked her about the worst part of her job, and she told me about the time an actor showed up at her front door (which wasn't easy being that she lives in a security building) at 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday night to give her his headshot. He handed it to her with an air of entitlement, because he thought he was perfect for a role she was casting and the sooner he got it to her the better it would be for him. She calls this the "oooohh factor," when an actor thinks if he sees a casting director in person, she will notice his greatness and get him an acting job. She said casting directors are looking for actors to be themselves, to use common sense and to be team players. She added that protocol and professionalism go a long way.
Some companies employ in-house casting executives, but many casting directors work on a freelance basis. Getting a job as an assistant in a casting office is a great way to learn this end of the business and to be in a position to move up.
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