It may come as a surprise to most people as to what a casting director actually does, even if you’ve considered yourself a professional talent for a number of years. For instance, it may interest you to know a casting director does not ‘rep’ you; a talent agent represents talent, not a casting director. Casting is generally hired by producers and paid by the production company, advertising agency or production studio to manage the various elements of the production that involves securing actors, as opposed to talent agents who only get paid when the talent they represent are hired.

A casting director (or casting agency, respectfully) posts a specific project and invites a number of talent agencies and managers to supply them with suitable talent. Most often this is achieved through one or more of the following most reliable, professional online casting platforms they subscribe to: or both of which primarily, but not exclusively, are best known for hosting commercial and corporate/industrial (aka ‘Co-Ed’, or corporate-educational) auditions which concentrates mostly, but not exclusively, on casting Theatrical (TV and film)  

– And, the casting platform that focuses exclusively on voiceover 

Unlike the various ‘Pay-to-Play’ (P2P) voiceover websites that require individual voice talent to pay monthly fees, there are no voice actor subscriptions offered on SelectVO. Instead, reps (agents or managers) invite voice actors on their roster to submit select voiceover auditions from this platform. All of the leading casting platforms, with the exception of SelectVO, offer individual talent subscriptions to access on- and off-camera auditions independently prior to having representation of talent agents or managers. However, the advantage of securing proper representation first is that reps understand what jobs are worth before you do and they act as your advocate by determining the specifics of each project in advance of auditioning. They don’t get paid until you do so it’s in their best interest. Besides if you hope to book quality auditions (and ultimately quality jobs) through casting directors, you’re commonly expected to first have experienced representation established to do so.

Talent agents and managers submit or are invited to submit on these casting platforms, it varies from one production to the next. Casting agencies select talent they feel are most suitable for the specific job at hand based on the individual talent’s professional promotional materials. Talent are defined professionally by their headshots, voiceover demos, resumes and on-camera reels. Producers and directors tend to develop relationships with a number of casting agents, especially after they’ve had success in hiring talent through them in the past. Casting directors are uniquely experienced in production demands as well as effectively vetting, communicating and assessing actors’ skills necessary to professionally elevate the job. Considering casting directors are often hired by the producer, they’re considered to be more objective than talent agents and managers who are only paid once talent from their roster book work. 

Casting directors represent the production and they initially speak for the director through the casting process. However, final casting decisions are ultimately made by the client: namely, producers, directors, and sometimes commercial or corporate clients, as the case may be. 

Casting initially focuses the production and often allows the director, producer and commercial client to flesh out production goals, potential obstacles, and ideally the chemistry in advance of production. The choice of talent is guided by the aesthetic insights that shape the pre-production of just about any project, because, by design, it inevitably articulates the trajectory of what the project is attempting to communicate. Casting directors generally advise pre-production and liaison between the director, the producer and the talent’s reps. They problem solve through their working knowledge of union and labor demands on occasion, navigate performance expectations, especially when producers and directors are mired in various other production demands. 

The ability to articulate what’s needed and wanted from talent is consistently a challenge, regardless of the client looking to hire you as an actor, and regardless of the genre, class of work, or degree of difficulty that may be posed. As counter intuitive as it may seem, many directors might offer you little if any direction at all. In many cases, the bigger, more elaborate the production, it’s quite possible the less “direction” you may be offered. In fact, what we commonly hear from many seasoned, experienced directors’ is, “I’ll know it when I see it.” Implying the talent is expected to create something production can work with prior to the actor being offered much guidance beyond the basic specs. Nevertheless, casting directors help determine what the director is after prior to the audition for just this reason. However, telling talent precisely how to do their job does not fall under their job description. 

As the talent, you’re always expected to bring your creative point-of-view and imagination to the table without much coaxing or prodding. Otherwise, if you find this fact too challenging or a road too far, and require a great deal of handholding by expecting to be told, step by step, exactly what to do—you may prove too time-consuming a talent, as this element can become a blaring reminder of your inexperience. Acting is not paint by number. Avoid inviting others to micromanage you. Inexperienced production clients will happily oblige. 

The truth is you’re expected to initially self-direct and create with the information you gathered from the script and from the initial specs you were given. The ability to stealthily modify your approach when offered a departure from your initial performance defines your skill to create in the moment. You’re paid to have a pulse. Do your best to not undermine one of your greatest assets as an actor; your humanity is what makes you valuable. Embrace it! Besides, demanding or expecting the copywriter, director or client tell you how to utter every syllable doesn’t classify as direction, ever. So, be careful what you wish for.

Suffice it to say, casting agents don’t solely conduct auditions to cast talent; they offer industry insights to both the production as well as assess the talent’s skills and how well those skills benefit the production equation that they’ve been hired on to creatively collaborate.

Certainly casting agents, like some, but not all, talent agents, determine what the work will entail for each role to be cast, and also quality control the auditions submitted in advance of submitting them to the potential client. Casting directors and talent agents both may work with producers and directors to determine the actors rate of pay based on the budget and degree of difficulty. They both have a working knowledge of the standards that apply to the specific production they’re casting. However, talent agents can only be compensated by the actors they represent once the talent is hired through them.

In recent years, talent agents who primarily represent voice actors took on much of the casting responsibilities without the benefit of compensation for their efforts, beyond their standard 10-20% commission. And, until the pandemic, most talent agencies who repped some of the most seasoned, sought-after voiceovers in the country, also recorded, edited and submitted auditions for their local voice talent as well, even though these duties traditionally fell to experienced casting agencies and production houses. This could account for a good deal of the confusion throughout the industry as to who does what. 

Talent agents took on these responsibilities in an effort to benefit you, the actor, as well as the producers they service most. Adapting to these rather steep professional demands was always well beyond their job description. And, for many, quite likely well outside their initial skill set. It may go without saying, but today pretty much all auditions, on- and off-camera, are ‘self-tape’, which falls to the actor. Talent agents have enough to deal with, frankly, maintaining talent scheduling for bookings and conflicts, as well as delivering quality submissions on consistently tight timelines, while navigating talent availability beyond ensuring their talent are appropriately compensated and in a timely fashion. The varying degrees of professional behavior actors and potential clients bring to the table would be reason enough to drive even the most even-keeled personality away from the profession. Dedicated professionals are a rare and valuable resource. 

Again, to be clear, casting directors are hired by the production company, ad agency, corporate client, director, and/or producers. They do not ‘rep’ talent; talent agents and managers do. And talent agents are only paid with the commissions earned after you’ve landed work as an actor. Additionally, like most talent agents and managers, casting directors typically specialize in a specific area of the industry just as actors do, such as commercial voiceover and/or on-camera, Theatrical (film and television), Industrial (corporate narration), kids and young adults, animation and games, Spanish language, and so on. 

In order to draw from a wider pool of talent, casting directors wade through a small army of actors for every role, drawing from the best, most-suitable actors from multiple talent agencies. They generally have a more objective take since they represent the production rather than the individual talent. This allows them to concentrate on elevating the overall aesthetic of the project, above all else. 

One of the least known responsibilities of casting involves background checks. “Oh, sure she’s a wonderful actress, but she’s a kleptomaniac and robbed the set blind on the last project we booked her on.” That could have been avoided with proper casting. Or “He’s got great grit for the role, but legally can’t be left alone with anyone under 17 years old on the shoot. In fact, he’s got a court-order against him.” It’s doubtful many talent would openly divulge that information in advance, which can undermine the entire production.  Proper casting loosely serves as Human Resources (HR) on a most productions, but every casting agency has its own attributes, assets and interests. 

Certainly what might be considered the most imperative component an experienced casting director brings to a production equation is you, the talent. If your presence doesn’t improve the production, that directly reflects back on your talent agent, and inevitably on the casting director who presented you with the opportunity in the first place. Ensuring you’re fit for the task remains on your very capable shoulders.

Copyright © 2024 by Kate McClanaghan. All rights reserved.

Sign up to our email list and receive our 1/2 Hour Vocal Warm Up for FREE!
Receive our exclusive 1/2 hour long Vocal Warm-Up recording as our gift for signing up to our email list! The easiest way to keep up with the VO Industry!
We respect your privacy.