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What is a Casting Director?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many people associate the Casting Director (CD) with casting big name stars for film, stage, and television productions. However, a CD often defers to the main director or producer on lead roles. Instead, the casting director fills the roles of all spoken parts in a production and on overseeing the hiring of all extras. Many casting directors have a background in acting or production, and are members of a relevant professional organization.

What Casting Directors Do

In productions with lots of people, the casting director and his or her assistants may have to see thousands of people to fill hundreds of roles. The CD usually gets some instruction from the director of the film, like “I need people who are between thirty and forty,” to have some guidance on who best fits these roles. Essentially, the goal of the casting director is to find people who fit the director’s, and possibly the producer’s, artistic vision. The CD watches auditions and makes final approval of talent before actors and actresses are offered roles in a production.

The Casting Process

Assistants for a CD often oversee the earliest stages of auditioning. If the assistants decide that a performer auditioning for a role may be right for a part, then the person is given a callback; there may be several callbacks before a part is cast. Actors frequently go through numerous casting calls, for a variety of roles, prior to receiving a part.

Unlike many extras or aspiring actors, most moderately well-known or famous stars do not have to go through as many callbacks to be seen by a casting director. A film director who wants a certain person for a role may initiate this audition process, or the actor’s agent might begin it. The casting director often hears a famous person read or sing for a role immediately, though callbacks may be involved if there is an especially large pool of well-known talent in the running for a part.

Becoming a Casting Director

Many casting directors have a background in film or television production. Experience as a performer, in fact, can be quite advantageous for a CD and gives him or her the ability to more easily connect with and talk to actors and actresses. One of the best ways to get started in this career is as a production assistant or assistant to an established CD. There are also professional organizations, such as the Casting Society of America (CSA), that most casting directors are members of, which provide networking opportunities within the entertainment industry.

Negative Associations with Casting Directors

Certain actions from some casting directors in the early years of film and entertainment resulted in the term “casting couch.” This refers to CDs offering a role to a female in exchange for sexual relations. While the idea of a “casting couch” persists in stereotypical portrayals of actress casting, few casting directors still employ this approach. Modern laws on sexual harassment in the workplace make this method illegal, and can potentially open up an entire film production for very heavy lawsuits and fines.

Casting directors have also been criticized for their choices regarding casting. They have been accused of racism, ageism, and other forms of discrimination. Criticism of CDs often arises from the idea that they cast actors that do not reflect the appearance of real people. The casting director usually focuses on the artistic vision of the director, however, rather than his or her own ideas on who should play a role. Therefore, decisions about the race, gender, or body type of those cast in a film are usually out of the CD’s hands.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon224824 — On Oct 24, 2011

No such thing as a casting agent. There is a talent agent or a casting director.

By anon74640 — On Apr 03, 2010

i did the call back. The casting director e-mailed to congratulate me and to tell me to wait for instructions, call times, table read and location, then no communication. I found out the date and time and location but no e-mail confirmation. What happened? I can't get any answers. this is heart breaking.

By anon33083 — On Jun 01, 2009

can you help me out with a casting agent? i want to go for the reality show 'dance india dance.'

By mattyA — On May 03, 2009

I just wanted to know how I go about becoming a casting agent/director or an assistant and what courses I need to do so? I'm an actor and there is not much work around but I want to stay in the industry. thanks

By anon5054 — On Nov 11, 2007

How do you become a casting director or casting agent?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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