How To Become a Casting Director
The Casting Director is first asked by a Director or Producer if they want to cast a film. There is a whole process of reading the script, breaking down character descriptions, and deciding if they are going to do it.
Kara Sullivan, a prominent Casting Director in Hollywood says, “I usually meet with them to talk and go over everything and make sure we’re on the same page. After that, it’s running the casting sessions, writing a breakdown and constantly updating the casting notice. The project dates and info always need to be current (such as the Director, Producer, and time frame).
“I post it on websites where Actors, or their representatives, submit headshots, resumes and demo reels for consideration. All entries are reviewed, and the ones appropriate for the role are scheduled to come in and audition. There can be anywhere from five hundred to five thousand Actors and I must whittle each role down to the top forty people.
“I see Actors every ten minutes, doing two to three pages from the script. I usually have them do it once their way then have them do it once my way with notes. During the first round, the Director can watch the auditions online. After that, I send my top four choices for each role and set up callbacks. Multiple Actors read the roles together.
“The Director runs the show while the Producers watch to see if they can work with those people because the Casting Director isn’t going to be on set. From there, it’s trying to pick up on red flags and give an overall opinion so the production can make an informed decision.”
Once the Director has made their choice, the Casting Director books the roles. Sometimes they’ll give suggestions on contracts and deal memos but that is usually on smaller projects.
The average annual salary for a Casting Director is approximately $69,400. The salary range for Casting Directors runs from $36,000 to $104,000.
Working freelance means that a Casting Director often needs to negotiate their pay and develop a network to be successful.
“For my first couple of months, I did student projects for free. If a person does freelance, then the amount of pay varies from project to project. Once I started getting a steady stream of income, I would charge five hundred to fifteen hundred for a short film. When it comes to features, it’s usually five to fifteen thousand per job,” explains Sullivan.
If a Casting Director develops a relationship with a big Director and they cast studio movies, then they can work three times a year and be fine. Also, when working freelance, sometimes there is budget to hire a Casting Assistant, which costs $100 to $125 per day. Remember to include that!
“I’m an independent freelance Casting Director so I do end up working seven days a week,” says Sullivan.
“When running your own business, things don’t stop because you want them to give you a break. The only time I take a break is if I go out of the country on vacation. Usually, I try to make it so I have at least one or two nights a week to myself. I force myself to put down the computer and try not to be on the phone. However, it can become tricky because each job is different and so are their demands.”
If a Casting Director works for a studio then it’s a Monday through Friday career, unless something goes wrong. However, in the independent sector, it’s a twenty-four-seven commitment because everyone else is operating around other commitments, on a budget.
The Casting Director works the most with the Director but they also work with every potential Actor who may work on the shoot. It’s common for Casting Directors to save headshots and build a shortlist of talented Actors so when they’re hired for a job, they already know a lot of talented performers to call.
Becoming a Casting Director happens in a couple of ways. The first is a person can intern for a Casting Director, but they won’t get paid. They’ll learn the ropes by helping to run the auditions. Tasks include being a reader, do the computer logs and bringing Actors in the room.
Sullivan elaborates, “It’s just to become a Casting Director, which can be done even while someone is going down the first path. [The best way] is to just start doing it.”
Assistant roles are paid but can be hard to get unless a relationship has been created with the Casting Director first. The Casting Assistant works side by side with the Casting Director in the room, usually running the camera. If the relationship continues to go well, and the business grows, a Casting Assistant can grow to become a partner.
“It’s a freelance business, so as soon as someone is hired to become a Casting Director they become one,” Sullivan adds. This starts with small jobs, moving up to larger ones. Doing both approaches or a combination of the two is how to become a Casting Director.
How can someone get into casting? “I signed up for a temp agency that was entertainment-oriented,” Sullivan says. “They are good if you tell them what you want to do, particularly if you’re looking to work in a casting office. Another way in is to go to Samuel French and get a directory of Casting Directors. There are also some online databases, too.
Reach out to people and ask them if they’d like an Intern. Start out as an Intern for two days a week. That can lead to a job.”
Some other employment routes to investigate are the UTA job list, Casting Director Facebook groups, and the Casting Society of America website. Also, if an individual gets the word out that they’re looking for a job in casting, sometimes opportunities turn up. In Hollywood, it’s surprising who ends up knowing whom.
- Intern for a Casting Director.
- Get involved in casting school plays or films.
- Watch documentaries on casting.
- Talk to Casting Directors. Everyone started out at one point in their lives and many will be willing to give advice.
Experience & Skills
Sullivan explains, “I was someone who sat and watched the Oscars every weekend. A person must have the willingness and backbone to do this career. They must have tenacity but also good people skills. Not every Actor is going to be pleasant to audition. Not every Director is going to be a dream.
“Knowing how to handle each situation professionally is key. These skills can be developed in day to day life by becoming conscious of how a person interacts with others, developing instincts about people and with whom to associate. This career isn’t like directing or producing. That can be studied at school.”
Casting is something that’s learned through direct experience. A person needs to get their hands dirty to develop the skill set. There’s no academic training ground.
A Casting Director needs to have a few different qualities. “They are patient, confident and able to keep a cool head no matter what the situation. Many people are going to call casting with crises, especially when working on small independent films. Directors will freak out. It’s the Casting Director’s job to be the voice of reason. They must also have a strong will because freelance can be very hard and sporadic.”
Due to the large egos involved in the film industry, the Casting Director needs to be a foundation for pre-production to rest on. There is a lot at stake when a film is getting ready for principal photography and that can cause others to go haywire — but not a seasoned Casting Director.
Education & Training
There are no Casting Director career tracks in school. The way to train to become one is to work with a Casting Director or pick it up on the job.
Sullivan suggests, “If someone is in school and they are interested in casting, then they should approach either their school’s drama department or the local theater company and help them cast plays. However, an internship in a Casting Director’s office is the best training a person can get. It helps them hone their instincts and intuition.”
Since there isn’t a formal educational path for becoming a Casting Director, people should take it upon themselves to look at the possible opportunities in their world and figure out a way of professionally enriching themselves.
For people who want to become Casting Directors, there are a variety of resources to learn about the business. Sullivan recommends, “The best online resources and professional organizations to check out are The Casting Society of America (CSA), Casting Director Facebook groups, Linkedin and Media Match.
It can also be good to get familiar with the local colleges that have film programs. They are constantly making short films and have paid or unpaid work for Casting Directors. This can be a good place to start freelancing or find a mentor to learn from.”
Casting isn’t just limited to movies. It is required for commercials, industrials, and plays. Remember to check out professional networks associated with those projects as well.
What qualifications do you need to be a Casting Director?
To become a Casting Director you need the following qualifications:
- A network of Actors to bring in for auditions
- Experience working as a Casting Assistant and/or Associate
- The ability to recognize and work with talent
- Must be a people person
- The ability to work with Directors and Producers
- Comfortability with long hours and unpredictable work schedules
Does the Director chose the cast?
Yes, Directors and Producers choose the cast for their projects. Often, green Actors mistakenly think Casting Directors make the final casting decisions. This is inaccurate. Casting Directors present Producers and Directors with options but when it comes down to it, the choice to cast each role belongs to the filmmakers.
How do Casting Directors get work?
Casting Directors get work through experience and connections. By experience, we mean that they work their way up from Casting Assistant and Associate positions, putting in time casting film or TV for several years.
By connections, we mean that Casting Directors are hired by those they’ve worked with previously or through the recommendations of other industry professionals. For example, a CD might get a job when a Director inquires about help casting their new project or another CD they’ve worked with in the past asks them to help cast a new pilot project.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“I do this career because I love it and don’t want to do anything else. This is a job you do because you love it, not because you want to become a millionaire or walk the red carpet. It’s a lot of hard work and you must love Actors. I don’t think I could do anything else.
“If you’re going to do it, be sure, because it requires a lot of personal sacrifices. There isn’t a lot of glitz but it requires individuals to work through hundreds of auditions to find the diamond in the ruff, the perfect person to play a role.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“If I could go back and give myself advice when starting out, it would be to spend as much time as possible interning at a casting office. Really get in there and run a casting session. Learn from professionals.
“There are also other opportunities that aren’t directly associated with choosing Actors but which can be a good step. Work for the actual facility where casting takes place. It’s a good way to network and form a relationship by stepping up to help out when a Casting Director is in a pinch.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
What is the casting process?
“Most people, including Directors and Producers, think finding Actors magically happens. They don’t understand what it takes to get Actors into a movie: dealing with their representatives, getting them into an audition, managing all possibilities and ultimately helping the Director decide. It’s not as black and white as it seems where every job leads to red carpets.”
Every casting job is different so it is important that if someone wants to make a career out of being a Casting Director, they learn from other people’s experiences and pay attention as a Casting Assistant. Therefore, it’s so important to start off as an Intern and learn from a veteran Casting Director. It can save everyone lots of headaches down the road.
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Kara Sullivan entered the world of casting in 2003. She started Kara Sullivan Casting, a casting company located in Los Angeles, in 2004. Current and recent films include Underdogs Rising, starring Chris Pang, To Pimp A Butterfly starring Bai Ling, and Immigrant, starring Harry Hamlin.
KSC’s web series credits include multiple shorts for CryptTV, The Rich and the Ruthless, starring Richard Brooks and Victoria Rowell, Love Work and Other Demons, The Vampyr Resistance Corps, and Romancing the Joan, starring the legendary Joan Rivers. Commercial and industrial clients include Lowe’s, Little Tikes, Tasty Bites, MC2, Kellogg’s, and Hallmark. She also cast That’s Revolting, an industrial web series for Millipore, starring Florence Henderson.
In addition to her work as a professional Casting Director, Kara is privileged to work with the University of Southern California’s prestigious School of Cinematic Arts as a casting advisor. This past summer, she returned as casting Professor for the USC/ShanghaiTech Directing Master Class, an exclusive professional program for a group of elite Directors from China.
Recent award-winning films include The Thing in The Apartment (2017 Tribeca Film Festival), Farah Goes Bang (Tribeca Film Festival: Nora Ephron Award Winner), and Pop Rox (NBCU Shortsfest Finalist). Her work has been written up by She Knows and Voyage LA.
You can hear Kara speak about casting in her own words through her appearance on the podcast Breaking It Down with Brandy, Camille and Katie.