How to Read a Casting Call
Casting notices come in all shapes and sizes. There’s no set pattern and you’ll see everything from a detailed character breakdown with exact specifications to a very general idea of what the director is after.
And this means that a lot of time actors waste their own time, and the time of the casting agent, by applying to the wrong casting. And when they waste a casting agent’s time, they annoy the casting agent and that is definitely something you don’t want to do! So… here’s how to read a casting call and make sure you only apply to those which are worth applying to.
first check: the casting notice
First off, read over the casting notice and check:
Closing Date: is it out of date? Anything older than about 2 weeks will most likely already be cast and closed so don’t bother if you come across something posted several weeks ago.
Age: are you the right age? Don’t try to be clever and pretend you are 20 when you have wrinkles and bags under your eyes. Be honest. The casting agent needs someone of a specific age so if you lie about how old you look and turn up for an audition you are likely to really, really, annoy them. Normally your playing age should span about 10-15 years. Anything more than that and you are either very unusual or you are lying to yourself.
Sex: if they are after a female actor and you are male, or vice versa, don’t even think about it!
to apply or not to apply?
So the notice is still valid and you’re the right age & gender. Now what? Let’s suppose the notice looks like this:
Male, 35-38, must be over 1.80 tall. Athletic build; long black hair; blue eyes; no facial hair. Must have a motorcycle licence and be able to scuba dive. Ability to speak Italian with a Calabrese accent a must. Should be the kind of man who inspires women to love him; smouldering, sexy and good looking, he is the leading love interest of the female lead. Some scenes will require nudity.
Or maybe it could just say:
Male, 30-40 years old.
So do you apply or not?
Well the first thing to know is that it’s rare to find a character breakdown which is set in stone. Or let us rephrase that. It’s rare to find a character breakdown where every single aspect is set in stone.
This means that casting directors can sometimes be a little bit flexible. If the casting notice says 30-40 and you are 28 then it’s probably worth applying. (But not if you look 22!)
On the other hand, if a casting director has bothered to write something down it could mean that it is non-negotiable. If they write the actor must be black and you are white, then don’t even think about it. If they say the actor must be bald and you are not, then don’t think about it (unless you’re willing to shave your head). If they say the actor must be over 18 because there’s nudity and you’re not, then don’t even think about.
But take the example of the leading man above. Suppose you fit the bill except you happen to have brown hair instead of black hair. The cd might be willing to make an exception so it might be worth applying.
So, the first thing to do when you find a job you like the sound of, and which you think is worth going for, is to go through each of the requirements and make sure you match them exactly or, if you don’t, you think they could be flexible.
On this point, it’s useful to ask other people what they think of you. We recently had a casting looking for a ‘Miss Universe’ type of girl. The number of applications we got from girls who, quite frankly, were definitely not Miss Universe types was astounding and we wasted a lot of time deleting them.
It’s all right having self-confidence but you need to be realistic!
So if you are sure you fit those non-negotiable aspects of a casting, then apply for it. If you don’t fit one or two aspects, then think seriously before you apply and possibly waste your time and the casting director’s time as well.
Remember, every casting director has tales of completely the wrong kind of actor applying for the wrong role. It’s funny in retrospect, but at the time of casting when you are desperately looking for the right actor for the role and the director is on the phone because the shoot is tomorrow, getting an irrelevant casting application is an annoying waste of time and the cd will not thank the actor for it!
But what about when the casting notice leaves out a few pertinent requirements. What then?
Some time ago we had a black actor write to us asking whether they could apply for a casting because we hadn’t specified whether the role was for any ethnicity or not. We immediately wrote back and told him to apply: if the ethnicity of the character was important we would have included it; since it wasn’t important, we didn’t.
But on the other hand, you should think about the role and whether you are really suitable and this is why:
Films need actors of all shapes and sizes. Sure, if a casting director is looking for a lead they will go for someone like Orlando Bloom or Eva Green, but for every sexy leading man or woman there are a going to be a lot more average looking people in the film – luckily for the rest of us who aren’t so attractive!
For these other roles, casting directors use shortcuts because the audience use shortcuts. By this we mean that when the cd is looking for a tough guy they will ignore the pretty actors and the small, thin, delicate, actors and instead they will choose someone who looks tough. They know that if a small and weedy looking actor appears on screen the audience will not believe they are a tough guy. However, if a big, nasty looking brute appears on screen the audience will accept it happily.
All this means you need to know what you look like and you need to accept this. What type are you? Are you the tough guy type? The housewife? The judge? The rebellious teenager? The nerd?
What this means is that if you are a strong man with a big personality and you see a casting for a tough businessman you should go for it, but if you see a casting for a weak, nerdy character then it’s probably not worth bothering.
You must adopt this philosophy. Although you can change your look in small ways (different clothes, hair, diet, exercise and so on) you will find it pretty hard to move far from what you are now.
So f ind your type and accept it gracefully. If you are overweight and the role is for a marathon runner then it’s not for you. If you are petite and the role is for a bodyguard then you probably won’t get the part.
We’re not saying that if you fit the written requirements but not the unwritten ones of a role you shouldn’t apply, but use your common sense!
Finally remember this: you cannot fool a casting director. If the casting notice says they are looking for one type of person then in 99% of cases they will choose that type of person.
So, to sum up, before you apply for a casting do please make sure that you match the physical characteristics of the role.
A quick word on location while we’re talking about the casting notice. Suppose you live in one town and the casting is in another.
Remember that castings or auditions are unpaid which means that if you are called for an audition you will need to buy your own ticket. Are you willing to do that?
For some it depends on the film in question. If it’s a major production which will likely pay well then you might be prepared to jump on a train for a few hours to the other end of the country if there’s a chance you could get the role. If it’s a low-budget production then, no, it’s probably not worth it for you.
Only you can decide this.
Of course these days more and more productions are acceptingself-taped auditions (at least in the early stages) so this might be an option. If you fit the bill for the character but live the other side of the country it’s perfectly legitimate for you to say in your cover letter that you’d be willing to do a video audition for the role. Maybe they will accept it, maybe they won’t but it’s worth a try.
(For more on this, see here.)
but I want to apply anyway!
Some actors think to themselves that it’s worth applying anyway. Even if they don’t match any of the roles, they decide to send in their details in the hope the cd will find a role for them. Or remember them for the future.
Don’t do this.
The cd will simply ignore your application because it’s not what they are looking for. They won’t keep you on file for the future so don’t bother.