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The Casting Director Empathy Exercise

We’re professionals, right? What does a professional do? He/She helps make the project/task/goal at hand work most efficiently. They put themselves second and the needs of those around them first. They satisfy the needs of others.

OK, so in order to do that, we should really understand the needs of those around us, right?

Over my many many sessions in casting workshops and Q&A’s with casting over the years, I’ve formed an idea of what it must be like to do their job. I’m sure it’s challenging and rewarding to say the least.

But, I’ve been thinking about what the actual specific need is so both as an actor and as a teacher I can focus on helping them meet it.

So… in class this past week I posed the question: “What does a Casting Director hope to achieve when he/she puts a session together? What’s the goal for that session?”

“To cast the role.” Nope.

“To weed out bad performances.” Nope.

Casting’s goal with that session is to have some great options for the client. If the client’s got a tough choice, everyone is doing their job.

The Casting DIRECTOR will DIRECT us as they feel appropriate to meet the client’s needs. Our job is to collaborate with casting to help them do their job. Give them options for the (OUR) client. Work with them and their direction as needed.

The better prepared we are to do this, the further we go with our collaboration.

If we are overrun with nerves, not grounded, or way off the mark in terms of style, we actually impose on the casting director that they do my job. We make them our acting coach. Now they have to spend precious session time coaching us to where we need to be. If we don’t get there, their session is less than it could have been. Their relationship with their client is less than it could have been, and it’s hard for them to think of us as a go-to person to bring in.

If we DO get there, ‘there’ didn’t happen as efficiently as it could have, and that session was not all it could have been. Again, hard to think of us as a go-to person to bring in.

Want to be a go-to person that gets brought in? Put your personal/career needs behind you and show up more prepared than you ever have. If you’re a ‘wild-card’ spot (someone casting doesn’t know all that well yet), you have a shot to move into ‘regular’ spot by working smoothly and professionally. By letting casting do their job, and your acting coach do his or hers.

That’s the goal, isn’t it? To be specifically known and called in whenever we should be a good option. That happens when you help things work. If it’s not happening, you’re not helping things work as well as you could be.

Before you look to cast blame in any of the usual places, ask yourself, how many printable takes did you deliver in your last audition? If it was only one, how many takes/redirects did you do to get there? What can you do to make your FIRST take that printable take, and then use extra time (if casting wants) to play/explore and collaborate?

If you’re seeing this as depressing you need to reframe your perception. The sooner the better. All we’ve done is point out what needs to be achieved. It is achievable. Earn it. “You have found her, now go and get her.”

In order to get in the room most often, we need to earn a reputation with casting that they always come away with interesting options for their client as a result of bringing us in. If you’re not getting in regularly, then every audition you have is really an audition for the regulars list. And that competition is huge.

OK…Now… here’s the exercise:

Imagine you’re a Casting Director, and you have a session to put together. What do you need for your client? Options. What happens if you fail at your objective? Best case: that client will be unpleased. Worst case: your professional reputation and ability to do your job will be seriously damaged. Significant stakes, right?

Now do this:

  1. Find a list of 10 character breakdowns.

  2. Randomly find a Facebook profile or profiles that have 2,000 (you read that right) people you don’t know on them. The key here as that you DON’T KNOW THESE PEOPLE. You just have their profile pix to choose from. Why 2,000? 10 roles – say 100 agents on average pitching two clients per role. That adds up fast.

  3. Choose 20 people from the 2,000 to bring in and know that your professional reputation and your career growth is tied to your choice.

  4. Get it done in 60 minutes.

OK. Those are the wildcard spots. The new (to you) actors that get brought in.

Now, go to your own Facebook profile and pick say four people for each role. How much easier is that? You know this person, you know what they’re like, and which people you would/wouldn’t introduce them to. You know how reliable/professional/capable they are.

Casting needs to constantly be ‘adding to their friends list’. Bringing interesting and legitimate options to the client is the name of the game. They need new faces. They need old faces who have changed or developed. If you’re a ‘wild card’ auditioner, every time you go in you have a shot at moving into the ‘familiar and dependable’ list.


By bringing options on the day and time you were invited to do so.

“What if I don’t bring options?” There’s not a lot of time to hold a spot open for you to make that shift, because there’s SO. MANY. OTHER. ACTORS. lining up for their shot. In blunt fairness – you’ve shown to not be ready. How would you justify sticking with the same 20 knowing that 1,980 other actors knocking at the door? It’s only professional that Casting makes way to see if someone else is ready.

It’s not personal. It’s practical and professional.

Focus on the opportunity. On the Booking Equity. If you are lucky enough to be one of the wild card peeps, your job is to deliver a printable take in take one, take direction and deliver another printable take. As often as asked. Now it’s easier to take the risk of relying on you. You are more likely to be top of mind. You are helping casting to solve their problems EVEN IF YOU DON’T BOOK THE ROLE. You help the CD have interesting options for their client.

It’s so simple and obvious: promote the success of those around you and they will want to be around you. Hinder the success of those around you and it’s hard to have you back.

I often hear actors say something like: “I think I need a new agent. Six months ago I was getting in the room tons and now it’s all dried up. I usually get a few redirects and we get there. Every audition” Hmmmm……

To those actors, I ask you (perhaps brutally) honestly: Is it possible that you are underestimating what success in the audition room really is? Are you operating with a diminished sense of ‘how high the bar is’? Is it possible that you need to work on something and that someone else is more consistent than you?

How many takes did you do in your last audition? How many of those were ‘printable’. If that ratio is less than 100% there’s opportunity to grow.

Do it.

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