How to know what to expect at a casting call

What is a casting like?

If you have yet to experience a professional casting, the following advice may be of some reassurance and, hopefully, some guidance.

First of all, it's important to appreciate the difference between castings and auditions.

Auditions tend to be prefaced with a request for you to familiarise yourself with a section of script (for theatre or for film/TV) and involve a reading/working of that script with the director and (often) producer. Auditions can last for 10 - 15 minutes and you might be asked to read the piece again with a bit of direction. Auditions are more personally tailored and more individual. Sometimes, one can be 'recalled' for further auditioning if the director wishes to re-view his/her options. In that recall, an actor may be asked to 'workshop' sections of dialogue with other actors under consideration to see if 'the whole picture' works visually and aesthetically. An audition may involve a song, if the work on offer is for a musical, for example.

Castings tend to be for commercial work, are filmed and have a more scatter-gun approach to selection. For example, a casting director will be employed by the production company behind the work to find a range of actors who fit the physical characteristics requested for the role on offer.

Upon arriving at a casting (let's use a casting for a TV commercial in this instance), you will usually check-in with whoever is manning the Reception desk. This means that you are friendly and open, announce your name and the time you are to be seen. It's a bit like arriving at your local surgery waiting room. The person on the Reception desk will check your name against a list and probably hand you a form to fill out whilst showing you where to go and sit, before it is your specific time to be seen. You may also be handed sides of script or action which will allow you to see exactly what your casting will entail. Be friendly and polite at all times; you never know if the person on the Reception desk has influence and is on his/her way 'up' in the business or is related to the director/production company.

Sometimes, the waiting area is a spacious room with plenty of seating; on occasions, it is a cramped area with several actors sitting about, if there are enough chairs! When you look at the form you have been given, it will usually be a case of filling in your name/agent/contact details etc and then completing a section asking for your personal measurements and whether you have previously featured in a commercial that might be advertising a similar product. This is all absolutely standard procedure. Ensure you are equipped with your personal measurements in advance (bust/chest/waist/hip/shoe/inside leg measurements etc.) These are important should you be given the job and costume has to be organised for you. Be accurate.

When you have completed the form, you may be asked to stand against an available plain wall to have a Polaroid photo taken of you. This will be stapled to your completed form so that the casting director/commercial director has an instant memory aid after the casting day is over. Hand back your completed form to the person who gave it to you.

Most casting waiting rooms are friendly environments, with other actors behaving exactly as anyone would in any type of waiting-room. Sometimes they chat; sometimes they are quiet, using the time to read and re-read the script provided. I have rarely come across anything other than outgoing friendlinesss and cameraderie in a casting waiting area. You will probably be struck by how different all the actors are! No worries: they may well be there to be seen for different roles within the same production. You might see a few people who have slightly similar physical characteristics to your own. You know the role for which you are being considered so that will be no surprise. Don't feel threatened by that, or intimidated. You have your own unique qualities.

If you have arrived early enough, you might see actors coming out of the actual casting room. This can be helpful as, often, they will let you know what's involved. I almost always chat to other actors and part of the cameraderie is letting each other have an idea what to expect on the other side of the casting room doors. When each actor emerges, the casting director will, too, so you can probably say a quick hello then, without engaging him/her in a protracted conversation. He/she has a job to do in an allocated period of time and is busy.

When you are called in, the casting director will accompany you so, if you haven't already said hello, now is the time. 'Good to meet you' is probably all you will have time to say as you both go through to the actual casting room. Don't underestimate the memory of a casting director. You will be remembered.

The casting room is normally a small studio-type space with some chairs and a coffee table at one end and a well-lit space at the other. This well-lit space is for you to stand in and there is usually a taped cross on the floor, upon which you will be asked to stand. At the coffee table end will be one or several people who are present in their professional capacities as director/production team/camera operator. You don't need to greet them all individually but it's good to say a cheery hello as you enter whilst making sure you look each of them, briefly, in the eye. Then make your way to stand on the taped cross in the lit area.

Usually, the casting director stands beside a video camera which is set up, facing the lit area, and asks you to look into the lens as you say your name and your agent's name. If you are not represented, no matter. Just state that and no more. You may be asked what you've been working in lately. Be HONEST. Lying is not only morally reprehensible but you may well come unstuckif you are questioned about something you have just stated. If you haven't worked for a while, or it is your very first casting, then say so. The reason for the conversation is usually just to hear you speak, see how your face moves etc. You are a commodity. You will probably be asked to turn, bodily, to the left and the right so that your profile can be recorded. It's all about the look and what your face 'says' to the director. Feel free to ask whether you need to look into the camera for the whole (short) conversation.

You will then be asked, probably by the director, to read/action the script you've been given. Feel absolutely free to ask questions before you do your piece. It's a good idea to do so. Maybe ask what sort of style is being looked for. Subtle? Full-blown comedy? Naturalistic? Looking directly into the camera or not? etc etc. It's fine to ask such things.

Then it's up to you.

Castings are very swift affairs. You will no sooner be in than out of the room, wondering how the time passed so quickly or how anyone could possibly assess your suitability in such a short time. Believe me, often the decision is made as soon as you set foot through the door. Those on the other side of the camera have an idea what they are looking for and you'll either fit the bill, or you won't. That is not in your control. Strange but very true.

Bid everyone a cheery goodbye as you leave, with a thank you, and that's the casting completed. The casting director will accompany you out and now it is your time to thank him/her for calling you in. You don't have to do anything remarkable (or potentially embarrassing) to 'stand out': just a friendly and warm goodbye, probably with a hand-shake. Again, ensure that you look the casting director full in the face as you say cheerio, just to register with them, and that's it. Be remembered for the right reasons and not bizarre ones. Your casting session is over. And it is amazingly quick. You can be in and out of the building in less than ten minutes. Once it is over, there is nothing more you can do.

I have been to many, many such castings and having been called in fitting the required description of 'tall, slim, mid-length dark hair, aged xx', I have often been amazed to spot the finished commercial airing on TV (some months later) featuring someone petite and blonde. Or even male. That's the nature of this business; a great deal of it is totally outside your own powers of control. So, when you walk out of the casting, mentally put it to one side and move on. If you've played this one right, you may well be called by the same casting director for a different casting in the future. Good luck!