The entertainment industry is a huge industry requiring a wide variety of talented people, from producers to actors, carpenters to sculptors. On the surface, the casting of a production sounds like a simple job, but the reality is that it often requires gruelling hours and a talent for finding the right person for the role. Small productions may only have one or two people working on casting, but large productions and studios use many, many people to get the job done.
Studio Casting Departments
For a long time, the casting of a production was completely controlled by the studios, but that has changed dramatically since the 50s and 60s, when the studio system collapsed. While the studios no longer hold the power over stars that they once did, studios still employ their own casting departments that are responsible for casting productions run by the studio. Studio casting departments run the same way as production casting departments, except that they work within stricter guidelines and draw from a more specific pool of actors and background agencies than production casting departments.
Production Casting Departments
In the modern world of entertainment, most productions are developed separately of a studio or large production house. As such, unique teams are built to develop the project. The casting department is often the first department hired, sometimes even before the writers are finished. Casting the leading roles for a production is almost always integral to a producer's ability to get financing, so the casting department is responsible for contacting and negotiating with stars during the earliest stages of development. A productions casting department works up until production is in full swing, then the majority of the department--if not all--is released to work on other projects and any additional casting is left in the hands of specialised agencies.
The casting director is the person in charge of seeing that every role in a production is filled by the best actor for the job. Casting directors begin by trying to attach big name stars to most of the lead roles. Once the principals are cast, the rest of the actors are selected from open auditions that range from a select group of individuals to searching through thousands of potential actors from all over the country. The casting director generally makes the final decision on who to hire, but because of the huge amount of effort involved she will utilise a number of assistant casting agents to complete the task.
Casting assistants do the bulk of the work involved in screening prospective actors for a productions speaking parts. They start by sorting through hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of resumes and head shots sent to the production. Once the pool is filtered to a more manageable number, initial auditions take place. On larger productions, the casting director leaves the first round of auditions to the casting assistants. When the casting assistants feel that they've narrowed the selection process down as far as they can, the casting director is brought in to complete the call-back auditions and finalise the casting process.
Background casting is typically left up to agencies that only exist to serve this function. The casting director or her assistants will contact the agency and give them basic details for what they're looking for. This includes the number of background players needed as well as criteria defining age, sex, ethnicity, social status and anything else that is specifically needed for the project. The projects casting department will coordinate with the background casting agency to discuss the extra's wages and when and where they should show up for work. There is seldom an audition process for background, so casting agents that work for agencies specialising in extra work do their hiring based on head shots, resumes and experience with the agency.
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