'It’s such a cliché to say 'be yourself'' Casting director Carl Proctor reveals auditioning secrets

Carl Proctor is a multi-talented casting director who originally trained as an actor at RADA and worked in theatre, film and television for a number of years before becoming a casting director.

25th October 2017
/ By Andrew Wooding and Tom McCormack

Casting director Carl Proctor advice CARL PROCTOR

He has also produced and directed film and theatre as well as working as an actor’s headshot photographer. 

Carl's work as a film casting director includes "Shadow of the Vampire" with Willem Dafoe and John Malkovich, "Wedding Date" with Debra Messing, Dermot Mulroney and Amy Adams and "Blood Creek" with Michael Fassbender and his theatre work includes Trevor Nunn’s all-star Twelfth Night.

So, Carl how did you first become a casting director?
Well, I was an actor but I was always interested in other things. Producing, being one of them. So I went to a producer’s seminar, a two-day thing run by an American guy called Dov Simens. It was fascinating and one of the things he said was "now, go and have lunch and talk to each other. You Brits don’t network." 

So I sat with two guys, Paul Brooks and Alan Martin, who are property people, and they’d just put money into "Leon the Pig Farmer" and set up Metrodome Films. They’d never done anything, they didn’t know any actors, and I did, and they said "Well why don’t you come and get involved? Come and cast our film." 

So I did and we cast very low budget films together. Everybody got paid something and they weren’t great films, all of them, but the great thing about Paul and Alan was that they actually made films. They made about three a year, for a number of years. Some of them were released, some of them weren’t but they were actually creating products.

Somebody else coincidentally, at the same time, approached me in a similar kind of way, and so suddenly.

What do you think makes a good audition, and what are you looking for from an actor in an audition?
It’s such a cliché to say "be yourself" but it’s so true. You’re auditioning for everything that casting director or director ever does, in a sense. So if you make a good impression and they like you, hopefully they’ll remember you. I get directors quite often, saying "He’s not quite right for this, put him on the list for the next one."

What do you think are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed in the industry since you started?
I think the online tools. I started by faxing breakdowns to agents; typing them, printing them out, faxing them, and they would fax suggestions back. We had just pages and pages of this stuff. As soon as there were things like Mandy and Spotlight, and as soon as there were online web tools to cast and to communicate with agents and get suggestions back, it just transformed everything. 

In certain circumstances, it sort of replaced the need for an assistant. It meant that things were done so much more quickly as a result of this, and obviously over the years that just continues to develop, as a tool. I think that’s probably the biggest and the most useful change.

What are you working on now?
A few things. A pilot for a sitcom. Some things are speculative. As you can imagine with casting directors, people sometimes like us on board at an earlier stage, when they’re trying to attach people to complete the finance. I’m doing some work on a comedy for TV which looks like it might happen. Then a few films. 

One of them is a French-German-Belgian co-production about Van Gogh. It's not so much about his art, which a lot of the other films we’ve seen before are, but what led to his state of mind. He died at 37, so we’re looking for a fairly young actor.

What advice would you give to somebody wanting to become a casting director or headshot photographer?
For casting directors I'd say try and work, even on a voluntary basis if need be, for an agent or a casting director. Learn how it all works. But I suppose, again with there being so much online now, you can do an awful lot of research in terms of building up a knowledge of actors. There are a billion lists of who’s who, so I think you can do a lot more than we used to be able to do in order to start with some knowledge instead of just making tea.

As a photographer, it’s a difficult one, really. I think headshot photography is photography but I think, if you’ve got suitable high-end equipment, it’s not necessarily something that you need to have trained to do for many years. I think just to start doing it. Research the equipment, make sure you’ve got the right lens and a decent camera, and just take photos of some mates for free. Get some feedback, practice, and don’t charge anyone until you feel confident that you can deliver.

On the other side of that, what are your tips for an actor wanting to take a good headshot?
I could talk for hours on this and I frequently do. I think one important thing is range. There was a time when it was just one photo and that had to do it all, and whilst we can still describe something as our main shot, an agent can choose which photo to attach to a submission. So, I think just a genuine range of organic looking photos. So, warm, confident and capable, but pleasant to work with as a main shot, something a little bit edgier. 

I do quite a lot of off camera looks as they seem very popular with most agents because, with something like an edgy photo or a smiley photo, if it looks like you’re doing it to somebody it can be a bit more interesting. And they look a bit more like a still from something, in that sense. 

I don’t think you should be dressing up for anything, but you can put a shirt and a jacket on, if you’ve got a business-type look. I also think a mid-shot is always good, regardless of what anybody’s physique is. 

What about self taping, what are your top tips for self taping?
I think it should be clear, and reasonably well lit. I know that there are people in America who like to see that people have made an effort, so we’ve got some actors setting up lighting and a proper microphone. But I’m completely happy, at all times, with somebody sticking their mobile phone on a mantelpiece. As long as we can hear you and see you. 

It’s just purely about seeing you and hearing you do that scene and seeing whether you’re right enough to be brought in for a recall. A very good tip, actually, is make sure that the person reading in is not too close to the recording equipment, because they will be much more audible than you are. That’s quite often an issue with self tapes.

Finally, who do you talk to most about working on a project, the director, the producer or the agent?
With agents, I always choose to send an email rather than make a phone call, if I can. So it’s mainly producers or directors I talk to and it depends. Producers can be creative people and they can be very hands-on. Certainly, in those stages where it’s about offering to a name in order to secure the rest of the finance, the producer’s very involved in that. 

Sometimes a director’s not around and sometimes I’m dealing with them remotely. Sometimes they want to be involved at castings and some don't. Sometimes, when I make lists of people, I say ‘do you want to look at the people I’m thinking of bringing in?’ And I’m always happy to do it because it can mean that we maybe bring six people in, instead of 16 for a part if time's an issue. 

More often than not, I’ll have a conversation with a director about each character, so in addition to what I can glean from reading the script and character descriptions, I can get more information. Then I just get on with it really and deal with people as and when I need to.