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Backstage Experts

The 6 (Often Thankless) Jobs in Commercial Casting

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The 6 (Often Thankless) Jobs in Commercial Casting

OK, I know you’re all amped to try to “network” with commercial casting directors so that you can get more commercial auditions, but you should know that there are up to five other people playing important roles in a commercial casting office. Knowing that they exist, who they are, and giving them some love too can often be a much more effective strategy than just pelting the casting directors with your headshots and postcards—because that’s what everyone else is doing.

So, to help you with that, here are the six people in commercial casting with whom you should get friendly.

1. Casting directors. Enough said. But in case you’re clueless, they are the one whose name is usually on the door. They bring in the jobs, schedule the casting sessions, search for the right talent, and choose whom to call in for auditions. They deal with the agents, managers, producers, directors, creative directors, and, unfortunately, actors. Just kidding. You need to know that most CDs really love actors and care about you and your success. 

2. Casting associates. The Hand of the King or Queen. They are senior level assistants or even junior partners to the casting director, doing some or almost all of the same work. It’s just that you probably haven’t taken the time to get to know their name or wooed them with the same vigor with which you have heretofore pursued the casting director.

3. Casting assistants. These junior-level assistants are often part-timers and help the CD or associates with their more menial workload: talent searching, job prep, research, communication with agents and managers, etc. The great thing about getting to know the assistants is that many of them work for multiple offices, so they can introduce you to more CDs from the inside. And they almost never get any love.

4. Lobby assistants. These are the brave men and women who are sent to the front lines—dealing with you people in the lobby. They check you in, tell you what’s going on, make sure you have the appropriate sides, any necessary paperwork signed, and put you in groups. Their job is to make sure that when the studio door opens, the next actor or group is ready to go. They also call agents trying to locate actors that have confirmed but haven’t shown up or try to confirm actors that haven’t yet confirmed. If the turnout is low, they let the higher ups know so they can take evasive action, if necessary. They also try to do crowd control so that the lobby isn’t a loud, chaotic mess.

5. Camera operators. In all likelihood, this poor guy or girl has seen you and put you on tape a hundred times and you still don’t know who they are. Just because they’re hidden in the dark back of the room and stuck behind the camera doesn’t mean they aren’t people, too, or have feelings. It’s their job to run the camera and hardware, record your auditions, operate the computer software, and edit or adjust your audition takes.

6.  Session directors. If the casting director isn’t going to direct the audition session himself or herself, they’ll hire someone like me, a session director, to direct the actors in the room to get the performances we need for our clients. And most session directors are also camera operators, so we get to do both jobs at the same time. So, when you come to audition for the busier offices, you will very rarely interact with the casting director. Most of the time you’ll be dealing with one of my brethren or me. Our job is to run the casting sessions well and efficiently so the CD can focus on all the other stuff they have to do.

There you have it. That’s a simple breakdown of the people that work behind the scenes to get your mug on a TV commercial. If you’re only targeting the CD, you’re only targeting 16.67 percent of the team. Might that explain why you haven’t been as effective at networking in the commercial world as you had hoped?

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Shaan Sharma is a session director, teacher, and author of “A Session Director’s Guide to Commercial Acting in L.A.” For more information, check out Sharma’s full bio!

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