A studio or production company hires a casting director to find and audition actors for every role in a television or film production—from extras to leading characters. To handle the massive task of casting dozens and even hundreds of roles, the casting director will employ one or more assistants, or associates. Casting directors and casting associates may work as union members or non-union freelancers, and may be members of the Casting Society of America (CSA), a professional organization.
The specific duties of a casting associate vary based on the size and budget of the production, as well as the amount of responsibility the casting director is willing to delegate to the associate. The first task may be to read through the script with the casting director to identify the principal and supporting roles, compile a list of possible actors for each character, and contact the talent’s agent to check availability. When a very specific type is required—say, a leggy “Angelina type” who can surf and knows Brazilian jiu-jitsu—the associate will have to get creative and pound the pavement to find potential candidates. During the audition process, the casting associate will operate the video camera, collect and catalog résumés, and ensure that the process runs smoothly. At times this may mean wrangling large crowds at cattle calls for extras. After auditions the associate will edit each actor’s video, working with the casting director to select the best takes and create a short list of names for each character. These tapes must be labeled and packaged with pertinent materials (résumé, availability calendar, etc.) and delivered to the director for his or her final approval.
Casting associates also serve the role of secretary and personal assistant. Getting coffee, answering phones, and managing the casting director’s schedule and correspondence are all part of the job. Between projects (when working full-time at the casting director’s firm) the associate will also constantly be adding to a mental roster of familiar faces by watching new shows, movies, plays, and commercials for new talent. A fat database of actors coupled with a near-photographic memory for faces is a casting professional’s best friend.
Skills & Education
There are no specific educational requirements to work in this field, but experience in film, television, or theater is necessary. It is possible to land a gig as an associate with a rich résumé of amateur theater experience and student films. Classes in acting and directing and workshops given by accomplished casting directors are a good way to learn the specific skills of this position. A two- or four-year degree in entertainment business can give you a firm understanding of the pre-production process, working with SAG (the Screen Actors Guild), and entertainment contract law. Most of all, you must be a master networker. Casting directors love an associate who learns quickly, stays organized, and anticipates needs.
What to Expect
Your primary responsibility is to support the casting director. There will be opportunities to schmooze with the stars, but don’t make the mistake of getting overly chummy with the talent. The worst mistake an associate can make is to step on the boss’s toes. Casting associates who can be a shoulder to lean on and go-to crisis manager will earn the respect of the casting director and see doors open with a glowing endorsement from their mentor.
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