Inside the World of a Casting Director – 3 Part Series

By Marci Liroff

People always ask me, “What does a Casting Director actually do?” Well, I’m here to tell you all about it! Joy Wingard wrote to me from college saying she’s interested in being a casting director and wanted to know what really goes on in the world of casting.  Since I was crazy busy, I asked her to jot down a few questions and I’d answer them over the ensuing weeks.  She asked quite a few insightful questions that I wanted to share with you all.

Q: I’ve heard that casting for films is a lot of budgets, negotiating, and handling contracts.  Do you feel the position is mostly business or is there an equally creative side to it?  How about for a Casting Associate?

A: It is the CDs job to (sometimes) put together the casting budget.  It is sometimes done by the line producer, but they want our input (i.e. how much do you think it’ll cost to get a good actor in this part).  The CD negotiates all the actor deals (not the extras).  It differs from studio to studio, but some studios have the CD negotiate everything up to a Schedule F deal ($65,000 and under) and Business Affairs does the deals higher than Sched. F, and Warner Bros has the CD negotiate everything up to $250k.  The CD (and associate) need to know how to read a Day out of Days (the shooting schedule) and formulate a deal.  In television the deals are standard.  Business affairs negotiates the test deals for pilots and series deals, thank the good lord. There’s so much to do on a pilot, at least we don’t have the added pressure and time-suck of having to negotiate and paper (do the contracts) for all the test deals and series regular deals. The CD does the weekly/daily deals on the series, but like I said it’s a standard “top-of-show” formula for guest stars and SAG-AFTRA scale for co-stars.

The creative side comes in when you are assembling the cast and coming up with ideas in terms of putting together the perfect ensemble.  I try to think of creative ideas that are unexpected and outside the box.  There is a LOT of psychology involved in handling the large groups of the creative team (producers/writer/director/executives at the studio).  You want them to hire “your guy” and you have to get them to feel that it was their idea in the first place! The CD is part of the team that makes the final decision on who gets cast.  It is ultimately up to the head of the studio/network to approve our choices.  The CD is an invaluable part of this decision making process.

Some jobs are more creative than others.  Some jobs you feel like you are just a glorified taping facility. I try and stay away from those situations! Depends on what you’re working on and who you’re working with!

Q: This pertains a bit to the prior question, but what is a typical day like for you – and for a Casting Associate?

A: ME when casting a pilot:
Up at 6am. Read and answer as many emails as I can that came in throughout the night and early morning. Remember, we’re a global casting community now. Submissions are coming in from everywhere around the world via the internet. Check submissions on Breakdown. View TONS of demo reels and self-taped auditions. Return calls. Exercise (very important) and walk the dogs.
9am-10am – get to the office and continue the above.  Check-in w/producers/director/network execs and answer questions and get answers to questions! Pre-reads and general meetings for upcoming auditions.
Sessions w/producers for several hours. Return calls/emails throughout. View MORE demos and auditions. Negotiate deals. Go over the budget. Meet with producers. Talk to studio execs and network execs.  Keep everybody informed and on the same page.  Go over more submissions. Try to be creative and come up with people to flesh out the cast.  LUNCH – usually in the office – working lunch trying to catch up.  Afternoon – more of the above.  Leave work around 7or 7:30.  Come home, walk the dogs, make dinner, return calls/view submissions/demos/return email while eating dinner until 11pm go to bed.  6am…wake up, rinse/wash/repeat.

Associate: get into office 9am, check messages, return calls/emails.  View demos and auditions.  Upload anything that wasn’t uploaded last night to our website so the team can weigh in. Go thru submissions.  Schedule auditions.  Check avails. Check $$ quotes to give to biz affairs so they can negotiate series test deals. Fill out test deal forms for biz affairs. Maintain and update master lists on ALL roles (meaning who we’ve seen, who we’re thinking of, who we’re getting tape on, who’s pre-read….and ALL their avails. This is an incredibly tedious process and must be kept up-to-date for the studio/network.).  Field calls all day long.  Take agent/mgr pitches.  Schedule Marci’s pre-reads and general meetings.  Negotiate co-star & guest star deals.  Videotape auditions, edit, and upload them.  Working lunch and catch-up. Clearing actors w/front gate to get drive-ons. Go over submissions w/Marci and pick who’s coming in to our next session.  Brainstorm new ideas.  Leave around 8-9 pm.

As you can imagine, trying to be creative during this process – not easy! I think it’s nothing short of a miracle to get a brilliant cast during pilot season. Imagine that there are probably 60 other pilots all trying to get the best actors for their show simultaneously. It’s like a giant race trying to get the actor you want into your office before the other guy gets him!

Do you have any questions for me? Feel free to ask them here!

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