How do casting directors get their jobs?

It’s useful for actors to know that casting directors get work in exactly the same way that they do – we’re all in this together.

Our favourite is the straight offer – a producer or director who has worked with us before and wants to do so again. The beloved repeat client. Sometimes we may have cast a short or commercial for someone and now they are making a feature. Occasionally the offer comes from someone who is familiar with and a fan of our work, or it could be a strong recommendation from someone of influence. It could simply be a chance meeting with someone at a screening or other event and we share the same passion, enthusiasm and sensibility.
All of these methods apply directly to actors too – especially as your body of work grows, your contacts develop, you become more well known, and your qualities and versatility become well documented in reviews by others. Let the offers flood in.

But sometimes it takes a little more work and we have to audition too – except we call it a pitch. We’re sent a script prior to a meeting with a producer / director, we prepare thoroughly, and then we go into a little room and perform our very own song and dance routine for them. We’ll speak about the script and the roles, we’ll see if our vision matches that of the director. We’ll talk about our methodology – how we would go about casting certain roles – especially if they are out of the ordinary and would involve a wider search than normal.
We have to make bold choices too. Film-making is a fine balancing act between art and commerce and casting can be at the sharp end. There’s a complex formula between budget, the strength of material and the quality of the individual roles, the status of co-stars that might already be attached to the project, the experience of the director and just as importantly the producer and the team that will get the film out into the world. For the most part movies are the director and producer’s passion project, it’s their baby, they’ve been working on them for years, and sometimes they don’t want to hear that Brad Pitt may not be interested in performing a minor role for scale in a film maker’s low budget debut. Or that a particular role is not written well enough or have sufficient impact on the story to attract a high level actor.

It’s our job to tread that line carefully during the pitch – to shoot for the moon but to manage expectations, to be constructive and imaginative, to understand and serve the director’s creative palette, the producer’s budget, and the sales and financiers requirements.

And just like actors who may see the same types waiting outside the audition room, more often than not we bump into other casting directors waiting for their turn to pitch.

Do we always get the job? We like to think we have a pretty high hit rate, but sometimes it is not meant to be. And just like actors – sometimes we are informed of a decision and sometimes we are not. The phone simply doesn’t ring.

Actors and casting directors work the opposite side of the same coin – we share the same highs, lows, frustrations and moments of pure joy – and we wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

How do I get a good agent?

This business is filled with catch-22s. A producer can’t get finance until he or she has name cast, but name cast won’t sign on unless a project is financed. A director can’t get a feature film gig without showing that they can handle the longer format but they can only do that by making a feature. And of course an actor can’t get a good agent unless they are working professionally, but they can’t work professionally without the help of an agent.

But films do get made, producers raise their finance, directors make debut features, and actors do have agents.

So what gives?

The catch-22 myth can be busted by a combination of persistence, hard work and a little bit of luck.

It is one of most frequent questions we are asked by actors – how can I get an agent, or how can I get a better agent? And we see actors time and time again spend so much time and effort in the pursuit of an agent that they miss out on the very thing that will help them land that agent – work.

Agents after all can’t give you an acting job – they can get you in the audition room, they can market you to casting directors and directors, they can use their contacts and influence to get you seen, they can negotiate a better deal for you – but ultimately it is down to you to get the job. And you can start doing that right now on your own. Indeed, it is exactly what a prospective agent wants you to do.

An agent loves nothing more than a self-starting, intelligent actor that understands the business and how to get on in it. They want you to have personal contacts with casting directors (this is where your records become invaluable – you can show them who you’ve met, who you’ve written to, who you’ve auditioned for – even if you have no responses they want to see that you’ve tried), and if you haven’t had an opportunity to meet a casting director they want you to at least know which ones you are interested in and what they do. So hit imdb and get researching.

They want you to have appeared in shorts, plays, low budget films – it shows them that you are employable, have initiative and have gained experience. That you are building up your own contacts, that you have the ability to get work. You’ll have material for a showreel – so an agent knows they can market you more easily. And you may even have some good reviews – make sure you keep all of these and make them available. You might even have built up enough contacts to get an offer of paid work – what better time to approach an agent than the possibility of them earning commission from you straight away?

They want to see that you take classes and showcases – that you are continually honing your craft, that you are networking with other actors (a wonderful source of information – buddy up). Indeed, referrals from an already represented actor is usually a great way to meet an agent.

They want you to have a clear and realistic idea of where you fit into the industry – do you want to do stage, musicals, tv, commercials, films? Yes, everyone would like to do a mixture but if you are able to highlight your true strengths and then focus on those agents that are active in that field you’ll save yourself a lot of rejection. Some agents are great for musicals, others represent a plethora of soap actors, some specialise in actor-comedians. Again you have to research – look closely at client lists – find actors you admire and see who represents them. There’s no point approaching an A-list agent – they will find you when the time is right – so it’s key that you are honest with yourself about your own ability, your short term and long term goals.

They want to know you have perseverance, tenacity, and that you can handle rejection – so they probably won’t take you on at the first attempt. They might test your mettle, see what you’re made of, see how you bounce back with an even better approach and a more focused determination to succeed.

But don’t just sign with any agent – you want this to be a long term relationship, it’s a marriage, so you need to know that an agent is right for you. They need to be knowledgeable about what is casting, to have the contacts to be able to get you into the right kind of auditions for you, you have to be able to communicate with each other effectively through thick and thin, you need to have mutual respect for what each of you do, and perhaps most importantly they have to have a passion for your work, your unique talent as an actor and wanting to see you succeed. So be patient and trust your instincts – and never ever pay someone up front to represent you.

And once you have signed with an agent – even the agent of your dreams – don’t stop what you’ve been doing all along – still keep trying to find yourself work. Keep hustling, keep mining your actor friends for information about what they are going up for, keep in touch with casting directors of your own accord. Your agent will love you even more for it.

One final thought. Even agents have their catch-22s – they all want high-profile high-earning low-maintenance star clients, but it’s hard to sign a star unless you already have a stable full of them. And if they have the good fortune of representing a client that becomes a star it’s hard to hang on to them when another agent comes a-poaching. So you might not be able to help them with the high-profile high-earning part, at least not right now. But the low-maintenance part? Well, that’s entirely down to you.

Should I do short films?

We are always looking to develop relationships with new film-makers. Everyone has to start somewhere and more often than not short film-makers go on to other projects. At the very least once we get involved it gives us an opportunity to meet and audition actors and that’s never a waste of time for us.

But that’s not to say we jump on board every project that comes our way, and neither should you. It doesn’t matter if it is a student production, privately financed or come out of a lottery funded scheme, here are some questions you should consider:

a) does the script and role appeal to you?  Even if it doesn’t you may still want to consider auditioning just for the practice – but don’t ever let us know that!

b) is it a well organised production? You’ll be able to get a first inkling from the way a script or casting breakdown is written – does it have spelling mistakes, is it properly formatted, does it make sense? If you do decide to proceed further is the audition conducted well – does it run on time or are you kept hanging around, does the director know what he/she is after and is their direction clear? Are the producer and director respectful and polite? If the answer to any of these raises doubts then chalk it up to experience and take it no further.

c) will you get clips? All productions these days will offer to give you a version of the final film, but you should also politely ask if you could get copies of significant takes (including sound) containing your performance that you will solely use for your showreel. With all the will in the world  sometimes short films are not finished, or not finished for a very long time. If you make it clear that you won’t make the material available to the general public then there is no reason why this can’t be granted.

If you do decide to audition then it’s only fair to treat it like any other audition – prepare well, make bold choices, act professionally. Even if you don’t get the role you’ll be meeting new directors, producers and possibly casting directors – make a note of who they are because they might go on to do other projects. It’s networking-by-audition and that’s probably the best kind of networking you can do because they will see you in action.

If you do get the role then again – be professional, treat it like a proper paid job, give yourself wholeheartedly to it. There’s an enormous amount you can gain from it:

– You will develop working relationships with directors, producers and other crew (that runner who has offered to bring you a coffee may one day run a studio). All these people can get you work or recommend you for work.

– You’ll gain more experience on a film set, on the techniques required to act in front of a camera, hitting marks, creating a character and performing in disjointed takes. Even if you’re an old hand at this the practice will do you good.

– You will end up material for a showreel

But perhaps the most important benefit is exposure. Pretty much everyone who makes a short has in the back of their mind an Oscar acceptance speech at the ready, and if that happens then congratulations. But well-made shorts can be seen by a remarkably large number of influential people at countless festivals around the world, from prestigious ones like Cannes or Sundance, to short-only festivals all attended by industry professionals. They can appear on tv or be shown theatrically before features. And they will make up other people’s showreels – directors, director’s of photography, costume designers, set decorators, editors and even composers all have showreels that are watched by other producers and directors all looking for talent for their own productions.

If you are interested in taking part in short films keep an eye on the usual places (, etc) or get in touch with local film schools.

Just make sure that film-makers have the passion, dedication and ability to deliver a well-made short film. Who knows – that expenses-only gig might land you the role of a life-time – and how can you put a value on that?

How can I keep track of auditions and people I’ve met?

Making notes and keeping records is as important for actors as it is for any other professional in any industry. The contacts we all make and maintain are invaluable and it is through building long term relationships that we maximise our chances of getting work. Like it or not, networking is the lifeblood of the entertainment industry – but you have to know what to do with all that information to make it useful to your career.

As casting directors we keep notes on every director, producer, financier, agent, distributor or other related person or company we come into contact with.

We also keep a detailed database of every actor we’ve ever met – what they have auditioned for, notes on their performance, how well they knew their lines (yes, it’s that important) and any other snippets of information we find interesting. (For those of you not yet on our database rest assured: we rarely build our lists of who to consider for a role solely from our database – ordinarily we start from scratch on every single role – but we will cross reference once we have a shortlist to remind us of who you are and double check if you are appropriate).

So what kind of information does an actor need to keep?

In our view there are two key areas: 1) Contacts and 2) Auditions, and there is a cross over between them. You don’t need to use a complicated database, but you must be meticulous about recording entries. If you do, you’ll build up a really useful picture of who is calling you in on an routine basis (and, perhaps more importantly, who isn’t) what kind of feedback you get, when are you most successful, and ultimately what can you do to improve your chances.

1) Contacts

Perhaps the simplest way to keep tabs on your communications with casting directors, producers, directors or other people that are useful to your career is to create a separate folder on your computer for each category, eg. Casting Directors, Producers, Directors. And then inside each of those folders have a single named document for every person. So in your Casting Director folder you will have a document called “Puro Casting”. At the top of the document – in the Header – you would have the names of personnel, contact details (email addresses, phone numbers) and any other general information that is useful (“Doesn’t like phone calls” or “Email every 6 – 8 weeks” or “Prefers colour headshots” or even, yes it might be true, “Prefers actors not to be off book”).

And then every time you communicate with that person or company, write the date and make a note. Whether you’ve sent an email, attended an audition or workshop, bumped into them at an event – make an entry.

Your document would look something like this:

September 30th 2011: invited to audition for xxx, the role of xxx. Good feedback but was told looked too young for the role.

November 14th 2011: emailed a link to new showreel – no response.

December 4th 2011: saw xxxx at agent’s party, spoke about sail boats.

February 4th 2012: emailed flyer to new play with invitation – nice response but couldn’t make the show.

February 20th 2012: emailed key reviews for play.

Once you start doing this it should become second nature to consult the document before making contact with an industry professional, and you should be able to quickly build up a picture of how the relationship is developing. You’ll find out what each person responds to (or doesn’t), if it’s been a while since you’ve been in touch, if you made them aware of your new headshots or showreels or the great part you just landed. And having all this information to hand is also a great way of showing a new agent that you know what you are doing.

And why make a note about talking about sail boats? At this stage, who knows? But at some point in the future it might become useful.

2) Auditions

Equally important as your contacts are keeping detailed notes on every audition you attend. Again, as you make more and more entries a picture will develop – who is bringing you in most often? What kind of roles are you going up for? Is there consistent feedback and if so how can you take it on board? Are you getting mostly film, tv or theatre auditions?

Again, you don’t need a complex database. You could use a simple spreadsheet or even just a text document but we would suggest you make entries with the following column headings:

Date, Casting Director, Project Name, Role Name – what to put under each of these headings is pretty obvious. But then you’ll also need –

Type of Role – here you would put a short description of the part – “Mid 30s, disgruntled school teacher”

Wore – what you wore to the audition – “Blazer and corduroy trousers”

In the Room – the names of the director and producer if present, or anyone else of interest.

My comments – your own interpretation of how the audition went – “Good audition, learnt lines, asked to do each scene three times, complimented on my accent”

Feedback (this is from the casting director or your agent) – “Good read, too young for role”

Recall/Got the Job? – again, pretty obvious what to put under this column.

Over time you’ll be able to see who is bringing you in and for what kind of roles – do the character ages vary wildly or are they consistent? Is the role type the same? Do you get better feedback depending on what kind of clothes you wear? Are your accents up to scratch?

The answers to these questions will help you focus on what is working and what isn’t, and while it may not make you a better actor it may help you land the next job.

It all sounds like a lot of work, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it is. But it is another way for you to take control of your career, to treat it like a profession, to help you run your own business.

And it gets easier the more you do it. So why not start now?

Should I have a showreel? and other related questions…

Yes please!

It is as important as a good headshot. If we haven’t met you before it is usually the deciding factor on whether we invite you to an audition. It gives us a good sense of who you are – what you look like, sound like, the way you move, your physicality.

Our audition slots are precious and we want them to be filled by actors who have a chance of getting the role. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time – yours, ours and certainly not the directors and producers we work with. But at the same time we like to discover new actors rather than simply bringing in the same faces.

When filling our audition slots we are far more likely to call you in if we have been able to see a snippet of your work as opposed to somebody who just has a headshot.

So what do we like to see in a showreel?

Firstly, it should be short – no more than 3 minutes. And if we’re honest we don’t usually watch all the way to the end. We rarely cast simply from a showreel – we use it as a tool to decide whether to bring you in – so usually after a minute or two we’ve made our decision.

We like an opening montage – some casting directors don’t – but we do (although they are not, of course, compulsory). A quick trailer showing your versatility, a few different looks. And the choice of music interests us too – it gives us a slight insight into your tastes. This montage should last about 30 seconds or so.

And then if you have them three of four good sequences, tightly edited to show us your performance. It doesn’t have to be the entire scene either – we are less interested in narrative, more interested in seeing what you can do. Each sequence should be about 30 or 40 seconds long.

Choose contrasting clips – we like to see variety and versatility, depth and range.

Resist the temptation to include work where you are not featured prominently – make sure you choose scenes where we can see your face. So avoid those long shots where we have difficulty picking you out. Close ups or medium close ups work best.

If in doubt about a clip – don’t use it!

What if you haven’t got anything worthwhile to put on a showreel?

We’re more than happy to watch a simple video introduction straight to camera. It doesn’t need to be gimmicky – just who you are, what you are about. Just to give us a sense of you. Everyone has to start somewhere.

There are a whole host of companies that will now film a showreel for you from scratch. If you decide to go this route choose carefully! Research what they do, watch as many showreels they have produced as you can, check for hidden extras.

Try to pick material from lesser known productions – there’s something off-putting about seeing re-enacted scenes that just don’t have the production value or star power of the original.


We watch all our showreels online – YouTube, Vimeo, Spotlight – it doesn’t really matter, but we no longer watch DVDs…


How can we get in touch with you?

We’re happy to hear from actors – let us know what you’ve been up to, if you have new headshots, if your showreel has been updated, if you have any questions, or if you’ve been cast in something we should know about.

We run a paperless office so hard copies of photos and cvs are no good to us – we literally have nowhere to put them.

You can either use the Leave A Reply form below or send us an email. Our email address is easy to find (hint: subscribe to this website and you’ll get it!) or otherwise use your detective skills on Google.

If sending us an email we like it if you embed your photograph into main message rather than send it as an attachment. It seems like a small point but we’d rather be able to see your photograph immediately rather than click and wait for our ‘photo viewer’ software to open. You should also include a link to your Spotlight page or other online version of your cv, and a link to your showreel if you have one.

Some other tips if you do decide to get in touch:

Make it personal
We understand it can be time consuming but we’d much rather read a personal email sent by a human being rather than being another name on a bulk mailing list sent by a robot. Mention if you’ve auditioned for us before, if you’ve seen some of our work – anything that will make you stand out from the mass email.

Don’t expect a response
We do try our best to answer every email but sometimes we just get overloaded. Forgive us.

Keep it short
Enough said.

Don’t over do it
We would suggest getting in touch every 6-8 weeks or so – more or less the turnover of one of our film projects. If you’re not right for something when you email us, the chances are you won’t be right until the next thing comes along a couple of months later.

Do your homework
If you are reading this website you’ll have a good idea of what we’re about and the kind of projects we’re involved with but if you are writing to other casting directors find out what sort of material they cast and look at their recent work. The more specific you can be when you contact someone the better chance you have of making an impact and getting a reply.


Why didn’t I get the role?

Regrettably we’re rarely able to give individual feedback after most auditions, but the reasons why you were not successful are usually less to do with you being rubbish and more do with something like this:

The role has been cut
Film-making is a fluid process and sometimes we turn up for a casting session to be told that a certain role has disappeared or been merged with another character. Usually it’s to do with budget, the pacing of the story, or to make another role more attractive.

But you’ve been called in, spent time preparing your lines and developing the character, so we go ahead with the audition anyway. It’s never a waste of time – the fluid process could work in your favour – someone might drop out before filming or a new role created at a later date – so if you make a good impression, take direction and have prepared well you could be offered a different role. At the very least we’ll have noticed you and won’t hesitate to call you in again.

You have become physically wrong for the role
Again, during a fluid casting process someone else may have been cast in a role that has an impact on the role you have come to audition for. We may now require a different family resemblance, or you may look too similar another actor which could confuse an audience, or you might be much taller or shorter than our newly cast leading man. It’s important that we get the right mix of physical characteristics and sometimes that means you might miss out.

You’ve had the bad misfortune of following someone who blew the director away
This one is a particularly tough one to swallow but sometimes a director can get so excited about someone that they’ve just seen for a role that the following person isn’t able to make such a big impact. In the director’s head, the role is already cast and nothing we say or you do is going to change that. Again, we do database and keep note of every audition so if you’ve done a great job we will call you in for another project.

We got it wrong
Yes, it happens! Sometimes when we’ve not had a chance to properly discuss a role with a director we might bring in entirely the wrong type of person. The script may simply say NURSE or CASHIER or THUG or DRIVER so we call in who we think can fill the role and fit in with the rest of the cast, but the director sees it differently. And let’s be honest here – we probably won’t ever tell you that we messed up – but if you auditioned well and gave it your all we’ll make it up to you.

You were rubbish after all
Sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned. You keep forgetting your lines, you don’t understand what the director wants from you, you have a terrible cold on the day. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Everyone can have an off day, but as long as you tried your best, were professional and polite – you will get another chance on another project. Of course if you were impolite, unprepared, a pain in the waiting room…

What should I do before… and after an audition?

We’ve written about what we like you to do during your audition, but what should you do immediately before, and after?

When you arrive at the audition room take a moment to get the lay of the land. We tend to see people in the order in which they arrive and hopefully there won’t be too long a wait – enough time for you to catch your breath, get settled in, calm you nerves and start focussing on the task at hand.

Sometimes our timings do go amiss and when you arrive there may be several people already waiting. In that case consider letting someone know that you have arrived but then go and find a quiet corner on a stairwell or corridor to prepare.

If for whatever reason you don’t have a copy of your sides turn up early to collect some – we always have several copies for such an occasion. We don’t want you to walk into the audition room with excuses as to why you haven’t learnt your lines.

Try to stay loose, quietly going over your sides and reminding yourselves of the choices you have made for the character. Resist the temptation to talk and joke around with the other actors – it is distracting to you and to them, and more often than not we can hear you from the audition room. By all means make arrangements to meet them somewhere afterwards – not least because fellow actors can be a great source of information on what else is casting – but we like our audition waiting rooms to be serene and calm environments.

But most importantly in those few moments before the audition TRY TO RELAX. You are about to have an opportunity to do something you love – perform in front of a keen and receptive audience. We are willing you to blow us away with your talent – and if you do, you might even get a paid job out of it. At the very least you will be getting yourself noticed and building relationships with directors, producers and ourselves.

After the audition we would recommend that you hang around for a minute or two, at least until the next person has been called in – just gather your thoughts, take a breath. Like it or not as soon as you leave the room we’ll start talking about you – we might want you to read for another role, read with another actor, or just try it one more way that we didn’t think of while you were in front of us.

Let us have any other questions by leaving a reply below.

Should I Use Props in an Audition?

While in principal we don’t mind you using props in your auditions we would advise exercising extreme caution.

Props can become distracting and actually hinder a performance, especially if you are not used to handling the prop. We’ve had actors drop props, misuse them, and spend so much time with the prop that we’ve not been able to see their faces or judge their acting skills. Or directors become more interested in the prop rather than your performance.

If a prop is too elaborate it can smack of desperation – it can be in the same arena as wearing a costume to an audition – resist the temptation. Let your acting ability do the work.

If the prop is something that you would normally carry – say a mobile phone, a bag, some keys etc – i.e. something that you handle every day and can do so without any additional thought then it can be appropriate.

Cigarettes are borderline – they can be distracting, some people hold them in a weird way – and please never ever actually light up.

While auditioning for a lead role in Paris the scene called for the actor to grab some books and throw them on the floor in annoyance. To a man every actor found something in the room that they could use – a box of tissues, an empty dvd case, the sides they were holding. It was extremely effective. (As a side note – every single actor had also thoroughly learned their lines – no mean feat given that we asked them to do several meaty scenes and the dialogue was not in their first language).

And once, during the final rounds of auditioning for a leading lady when the movie star leading man was in the audition room to test chemistry – one of the shortlisted actresses unexpectedly pulled a gun. Of course it wasn’t real – but we weren’t to know that at the time. For a brief moment we could imagine the next day’s headlines – “Disgruntled actress exacts revenge on movie star and lowly casting director”. Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.

So please please never bring any weapons – real or otherwise – into the audition room.

Any more questions – feel free to ask in the “Leave a reply” section below.