'Be relaxed and prepared' CDA award-winning casting director Anna Stark on casting commercials

Anna Stark is a CDA award-winning casting director who has worked for a string of international brands including Dove, Levi's, Sainsbury's, Guinness, YouTube, Heineken, McDonald's as well as global pop superstar Beyoncé. Here she tells Mandy News about her day-to-day process and reveals what it was like working on the Levi's Circle campaign that bagged her her award.

21st May 2018
/ By Andrew Wooding

Anna Stark – casting director ANNASTARK

Congratulations on your award. Tell us a little bit about when you decided to launch your amazing casting career and how you went about it.
I started off in production but my daughter was two and the hours were too long and a production company I was working with wanted some kids for a Greenpeace commercial. They gave me a polaroid camera and I went to loads of parks and found lots of great kids. I really enjoyed the process as I love people and faces and really understand the diversity within our culture. The production company then gave me more work and then I worked at Tony Kayes who loved street casting.

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What is the key to being a great casting director?
The key to being a good casting director is understanding people, history, cultures and social diversity as then you understand the nuances that directors describe in their treatments. Our job is to understand the client, ad agency or director's vision.

Who do you interact with on a daily/weekly/annual basis? What are the challenges and rewards?
Whatever brand you're working on, they all have a production schedule that you have to work to so the casting is all done in time. I will work with the production company at the beginning to come up with a realistic time frame. If we are street casting, researching or finding specific skills, the process takes so much longer. 

If we are casting actors, we have to give the agents enough time to suggest their artists or sometimes I'll search through Spotlight with specific searches if I am not getting the suggestions that I think are right.

You’ve worked with huge clients such as Levi’s, Sainsbury’s, McDonald’s, Beyoncé and Dove. What kind of changes when working with such huge brands? Is there more time?
The big street cast jobs like Levi's or Sainsbury's are always the hardest and most rewarding, but I did a job for Sony Walkman which was all musicians who all play one musical note on their instruments to make up the whole song and we had over 160 musicians, filmed in the theatre in Alexander Palace in one take. We cast by the instruments they played but the cross sections of ages and characters was amazing. I still love the ad, years later.

Tell us a bit about Rudy Russell Real – how and why it came about and what it offers.
Rudy Russell Real is a subdivision which offers more youth-based casting. My daughter Rudy is now working with me full time and has such a great eye. She's keen to work on her own projects, videos and online ads and also youth-based projects where she really has so many of her own connections and really has a great understanding of modern culture which you really need to understand to be good at casting.

You won a CDA award for Levi's Circle? Did it feel particularly special, challenging or interesting to work on?
Yes, winning for Levi's Circle was amazing. I have worked a lot over the years with the director Jake Nava, who always makes exciting, edgy commercials. It was very hard as the casting had to be totally authentic, from finding real Dapka dancers for the Palestinian wedding scene to amazing Japanese dancers who are part of the Chicago footstep scene in Tokyo to Jamaican dance hall girls. 

We go straight to the real people who genuinely have this as part of their life, which made the commercial so real and authentic. Even though seven of the scenes were filmed in the UK, they really felt they were filmed around the world.

What advice can you give to actors in terms of being great in a casting or self-tape scenario?
Be relaxed and prepared.

And general advice to creatives wanting to get into – and stay in – the industry?
There are so many jobs within the film/commercial industry. Start in an area you feel is of interest and you never know where it may lead. Once you're working you will be able to get a look at all the other areas within the industry and you may see another job that is a better fit for you.