Casting Director

What Is a Casting Director?

Often confused with casting agents, a casting director, or CD, is the individual responsible for finding talent specified by a project’s director, client, or producer. In this process, casting agents or casting agencies are made aware of casting opportunities and given ideas on the types of characters a director or producer is looking for. Casting directors pre-screen actors, and contrary to their title, typically offer hopefuls very little “direction.” 

Casting directors will often contract with a number of talent agencies and also use online services such as Breakdownexpress, Castingnetworks or Voicebank for finding talent.  In some cases, talent agents and managers will submit individuals for an audition based on the needs of a specific production.  The casting director or casting agency then selects the talent felt to be most suitable for the job and schedules an audition with directors and producers. 

Professional casting directors must have a vast knowledge of the industry, and an extensive inventory of actors and actresses, and an understanding of their talent and abilities.  Obviously, part of the job is instinctive, but even more so, choosing the correct talent for any production takes familiarity with all aspects of a production, observation, insight, and tenacity. But, the casting director’s responsibilities extend far beyond communicating with agents or actors or holding auditions with producers and directors.  They also assemble casts, which may total in the hundreds for one audition, negotiate deals with actor’s agents, and manage the signing of contracts once an actor or actress has been chosen for a role.  The may work for a studio, own a casting agency or work for one, or be self-employed. 

Besides meeting with directors and producers, and possibly even writers in pre-production, the casting director will also meet with the production accountant and discuss the budget for the film or play and what part of the budget will be used to pay the actors.  They will read the script and make notes regarding all the various speaking parts, then create a list of actors for the most important roles, first.  They contact actor’s agents to determine availability and provide a final list to the producer and director of a film or production.  They also list available roles on online services, conduct auditions, make recommendations, issues casting calls for minor roles, act as a liaison between directors and actors, and find replacements for any part an actor can’t fulfill. 

Keep in mind that all of this doesn’t happen overnight, and usually takes months or even years to complete.  For instance, casting for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With The Wind took three years and hundreds of auditions by dozens of actresses before choosing Vivien Leigh.  Imagine filling all the various guest spots on TV shows like Chicago Med or Empire (to-date, casting directors have cast nearly 80 actors in guest spots for the show, Empire, alone).

Casting Director Important Skills & Qualifications

Sometimes a casting director will be referred to as a casting agent, which is incorrect. An agent is authorized to act on another’s behalf, in this case, actors and actresses, whereas a casting director is hired by a network, studio, or production company and presents actors for consideration for a specific role in a production.  They negotiate deals on behalf of these companies (or themselves if self-employed) to hire the actors they select. They receive no fees, nor do they represent actors they present for hire. 

In their job, casting directors conduct interviews and organize auditions for roles in productions, like TV shows, movies, and plays. They also negotiate contracts and fees, once casting is complete.  To be successful, casting directors must have a strong instinct for talent, commitment to a film’s or other production’s success, a deep understanding and appreciation for the craft of acting, and dedication to the industry. Excellent interpersonal and communication skills are imperative in order to communicate with a wide range of people, including casting associates, actors and actresses, directors, producers, writers, agents, and any other people involved in pre-production. 

Casting directors must be great negotiators and have good organization skills. They must sometimes make difficult selections, so they must also be diplomatic.  It is a demanding field, so casting directors must be patient and hard-working, as well as enthusiastic and personable to a fault.  They should have a complete knowledge of cinema and the acting trade, unions, and the laws and ordinances governing actor’s performances, as well as insight into the fields of advertising and theater.  

Most often, casting directors will have a number of year’s experience (which is crucial to doing well in this field) as an assistant casting director, through an internship, or by earning a degree in film and theater arts or business.

Casting Director Education & Career Development Options

Although a formal education is not necessary, to fully understand the industry, a casting director will want to earn a degree in fine art, film and theater, or business.  It’s also recommended that aspiring casting directors take acting classes or become involved in local theater to learn the ins and outs of recognizing talent and gain a better understanding of actors and actresses and the acting process.  As casting directors spend a great deal of their time negotiating contracts and working with union employees, it is also wise to take a number of business management courses. Casting directors should also have a strong foundation in the use of computer software used in filmmaking, such as CGI and animation, and camera operation, as well as any other technical aspects of cinematic creation. 

Many casting directors start their careers as assistants to casting directors, through an internship or by apprenticing for casting agents at a talent agency or production company.

An apprenticeship or internship provides invaluable relevant experience under the tutelage of professions in the field.  Plus, completing an internship or apprenticeship allows aspiring casting directors to acquire practical knowledge and skills which are attractive to future employers. An apprenticeship also exposes individuals to the world of acting, therefore providing a network of professional contacts which can also greatly benefit an individual in the future.  Many college and university programs and many private schools provide opportunities to intern as a part of the program. 

More than many other jobs in the entertainment industry, a successful career as a casting director has everything to do with the people you know.  Networking and making connections is the first step in moving up the ladder in your career.  The job requires you to quickly and effectively find the right actors and actresses for a role, which means knowing actors, their strengths and weaknesses, and keeping strong relationships with talent agents, producers, directors, writers, and anyone else in the industry who can benefit you in your role as casting director.

Casting Director Work Environment & Job Description

As will many careers, becoming a casting director usually mean starting at the bottom of the industry as an intern or assistant.  After a number of years’ experience, most assistants become associate casting directors.  As most directors and producers prefer individuals with experience, putting in the time early in your career and building a reputation for a job well done is imperative to becoming a casting director.   Most casting directors work from an office or studio space.  If employed by a casting agency or advertising firm, they will often have their own office. 

As casting directors are responsible for meeting with producers, writers, and directors, they often travel for meetings, casting calls, auditions, etc.  Sometimes this means traveling out of the country for long periods of time.  Work is usually full-time, but can also involve weekends and holidays when a production calls for it or a deadline must be met. Sometimes casting directors will travel to an actor’s home to meet about a role in an upcoming film, show, or theater production, or carry-out auditions at a local or national theater. 

The job can be stressful and demanding. There may be times when you are overwhelmed and times when you are searching for work.  This is especially true if you own your own company.

Casting Director Salary & Job Outlook

There is very little information regarding salary or job outlook for casting directors. Salary often depends on the size of a production and the production’s budget, but fees are usually negotiable.  It is a job of feast and famine.  In 2017, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wages report stated the median annual salary for casting directors was $71,620, or $34 an hour.  The top 10 percent of all casting directors made over $164,000, while the bottom 10 percent made no less than $34,000.  As expected, the two highest-paying states are California and New York. New York casting directors earn about $56 per hour, whereas California casting directors earn on average $57 per hour. 

According to a professional in the field, some casting directors take a percentage of an actor’s salary or a straight weekly salary. This can mean anywhere from $100 per day up to $800 – $1000 per day.  Casting directors do not make as much when casting extras as they do when casting lead roles, principals, or speaking parts. 

Glassdoor posts a number of jobs for casting directors with salary ranges from $19 per hour to $127,000 per year, so needless to say, wages vary greatly.  Experience is probably the biggest factor in determining salary, as well as education, geographic location, and company size.  Self-employed casting directors’ salaries are intermittent and also depend on size of production and budget. 

The job outlook for casting directors is good, as more and more production companies, studios, and theater companies understand the need for someone in this role. According to the US Department of Labor, between 2010 and 2022, careers in this field are projected to grow 10 percent, which is faster than average for all occupations.

Helpful Resources

Casting Director Jobs