The Casting Process in Action

by Joshua Siegel

Selecting candidate on tablet

Many new actors have misconceptions about how the casting process works and how to get acting jobs. Here's an example of how actors are cast.

Many new actors have misconceptions about how the casting process works. More often than not, beginning actors are not sure who's involved, who finds the actors to audition, who makes the big decisions, and what are the steps throughout this process. To alleviate some of this confusion, here is a hypothetical example of how a guest-starring role on an imaginary daytime drama may be cast.

The producers of the soap opera "Secret Lovers" have just gotten the script for one of next month's episodes. In this particular episode is a new character named "Lisa", a scheming young woman who will seduce the series leading star.

The producers call the Casting Director that they have used for years and describe the character of Lisa. The CD already has in mind a few actors she has seen before for the role, but submits a "Breakdown" which is a written description of the character.

The next morning, every agent reads the "Breakdowns", a publication that lists every role that is currently being cast. The agent goes through his files, searching for clients who would be right for "Lisa". He selects several photos and sends them to the Casting Director.

The Casting Director receives envelopes from all these agents and must go through hundreds of photos looking for the right "Lisa". Even if a photo looks great, the CD will still turn it over to look at the resume on the back and see what other work the actor has done. Finally, she narrows it down to about thirty attractive female actors and calls their agents to arrange an audition.

The agent calls his client and tells her about the audition. He may either send her the "sides" (a sample script to be read at the audition) or have her come to his office to pick them up.

The actor goes to the audition (probably quite nervous) dressed as she thinks "Lisa" would dress. She has prepared for the audition scene for several hours, getting the character just right. Now all she has to do is sit quietly with several other "Lisa" wannabes until it's her turn to audition. She doesn't waste time gossiping with the other actors, but instead uses the time to go over the lines and get into character.

The actor is called into the audition room and sits across a table from the Casting Director and her assistant. The actor has read for this CD before, so they talk and catch up for a moment before beginning the scene. Then the Casting Director's assistant does the scene with the actor, reading the other character's lines.

The actor performs brilliantly, bringing a touch of vulnerability to Lisa's scheming nature. The Casting Director watches her performance closely, noticing everything. Most of the actors she has see so far today were rather bland and predictable, so she's quite pleased with the performance.

After the reading, the Casting Director thanks the actor and asks for another copy of her headshot and resume. The actor gives them to her, smiles, then walks out past all the other actors still waiting for their chance to read.

The actor goes home, not too hopeful. She has done several other auditions this week, with no response. But the next day, her agent calls and says that they want to see her again. A "callback" is the industry term for another audition for a role. For a major role or a national commercial, you may have to do several callbacks before you know if you've gotten the part.

The Casting Director has narrowed down the hopefuls to about ten, and she sees each of them again. The actor returns in the same outfit she wore the the first audition and does her performance the exact same way. The CD is pleased with the performance, but asks the actor to do the scene differently, maybe "a little lighter". She doesn't do this because she didn't like the first way, but because she wants to see if the actor can take direction well.

The second performance is even better than the first, and the Casting Director shakes the actor's hand when she's done. She's pretty sure she has found her "Lisa". That night, she shows the producers of the show a videotape of the performance. "No," they say, "We've decided that Lisa should be a blonde."

Yup, sometimes that's the way it goes. You can lose a part because you're the wrong height, hair color, or because the producer's niece wanted the job. But Casting Directors will remember a good actor...

A month later, the actor gets a call from her agent. The people from "Secret Lovers" are producing a new show called "Lovers Lane" and they want the actor to come in to read for the starring role of the new series.

This is the way careers are made. You may not get every role you try out for, but if you do your best and behave like a professional, people will remember you and want to work with you. So work hard and be the best actor you can be. You'll get your big break soon enough.
Joshua Siegel is an actor and short subject director.
Copyright © Joshua Siegel. All rights reserved. Used with permission of the author. Not to be reproduced or distributed.
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