The Casting Process Explained

by Arthur Blume

Man selecting candidate

Performers are hardly ever hired by the production company directly, but are instead hired by a casting director.


Whether you are working on stage, in film or on television, the next time you audition for a part you will likely meet with the production's casting team. Casting is a key element in running any successful performing arts production and it is surprising how many actors, models, singers and other talent who don't actually know how the casting process works.

Performers are hardly ever hired by the production company directly, but are instead hired by a casting company or by a casting director working for the production. A casting company or individual casting director is hired to fill all of the roles in the production with the necessary talent. Typically there are two types of casting on every project, a principal casting director and a background casting director.

The principal casting director is responsible for filling all of the speaking roles for the production, while the background casting director is responsible for filling all of the non-speaking and 'movie extra' roles.

The principle casting process is fairly standard across television, film and commercial productions and always begins with the producer and casting director generating a 'Breakdown'. A breakdown is a complete list of the required talent that is distributed to all of the local talent agencies.

Agents then compare the needs of the casting director with their current roster of performers and select the best candidates for auditions. Once a talent agent has selected a performer for a role it is customary to send a performer portfolio. A portfolio can contain a resume of prior work, photographs or even reels or video tapes of past performances.

Once the principal casting director has filtered through all of the submissions and selected their desired talent, the agent will receive a callback with the audition information. Some casting directors will also send agents 'sides'. Sides are small portions of the script that the director wants read at the audition.

Background casting, while not as complex as principal casting still requires attention to detail. The background casting director will typically provide talent agents with a list of necessary criteria and the required numbers of performers. Auditions are not usually required for background performers.

An audition is a sample performance by an actor, singer, musician, dancer or other performing artist. It is used in the casting process to demonstrate the level and range of a performer's talent. Auditions are essentially a job interview for the performing arts and are performed for a casting panel. Casting panels are often comprised of a casting director, producer, director and/or choreographer.

Most actors will have a repertoire of audition pieces to demonstrate different aspects to their talent set. However, some casting directors prefer to have the talent do 'cold readings'. Cold readings are performances based on non-memorized scripts. Most dance and music auditions also involve variations of cold reading. Musicians are often asked to 'sight read' music as opposed to playing rehearsed works. With dancing, the focus is always on learning and showcasing new choreography instead of showcasing prepared performances.

Regardless of the role you are auditioning to fill, you need to be prepared when you arrive to perform. Always bring two complete resumes which outline your prior work experience. It is also wise to bring two portfolios in case any member of the casting panel didn't receive one in advance.
Arthur Blume is an actor and short subject director and producer.
Copyright © Arthur Blume. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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Reader Comments

My question is:Are the principal actors contacted,when the entire cast is choosen for a movie?.

Posted by ELBERT HILL (2015-04-26) 7168

WoW! Being a newcomer it would seem that this process is a little overwhelming and I guess it could be.The only steps that I've taken as far as being an actor, is reading about the ins and outs, because of my situation$$$.Well I understand it won't just come to me.Can't stop Won't stop! Tone-Tone

Posted by Anthony Taylor (2010-02-09) 2339

This information and all the other acting information on this site has been very helpful to me. Keep it coming!

Posted by Nealey (2008-08-12) 210

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