Talking to the Casting Directors' Association

The Casting Directors’ Association’s Shakyra Dowling, Tree Petts and Andrea Clark share their thoughts on current casting practice and Equity’s Manifesto for Casting

What’s the ethos behind the CDA?

Tree: It’s about professionalism within the industry and pushing a few boundaries – specifically regarding diversity.
Shakyra: As a group, we don’t just look at Spotlight actors. We want to find new people coming into the industry - kids who want to be actors, but they’re not going to a stage school, they’re not from a background where mum would be able to pay for ballet lessons.
Andrea: We’re also there to help each other, to share information with each other, whether it’s about “I’ve got a problem with a contract”, or “Hey, I found this really great girl, you ought to meet her, I hear you’re casting this”.

What advice would you give to actors starting off in the industry?

T: They need to understand the business side. Because currently we’re finding a lot of actors aren’t turning up to their castings. Every actor who doesn’t turn up takes a place from an actor who will turn up, and it’s losing someone else a job.
A: Make sure you’ve got up-to-date photographs, CVs and showreels.

How can an actor stand out at an audition and get noticed?

 

T: They need to understand the business side. Because currently we’re finding a lot of actors aren’t turning up to their castings. Every actor who doesn’t turn up takes a place from an actor who will turn up, and it’s losing someone else a job.
A:
Make sure you’ve got up-to-date photographs, CVs and showreels.

What specific skills are needed to perform in commercials?

T: To deliver immediately. Usually you’re not playing someone that far away from you, so personality is key. I don’t want loads of questions asking about the character: with commercials you’re selling a product.
S: The questions should be “What’s my shot?” or “What eye-line do you want me to have” and nothing more, there is very little space for character development.

Do you have any tips for actors on how to deal with rejection?

T: I say this to actors a lot – because I used to be an actress and understand – when you walk out the room, let it go.
S: And know that casting directors brought you in because we think you are the one who’s going to get a job, we don’t bring anyone in as a random, because it reflects badly on us.

Why did the CDA launch the UK’s first ever award to honour the casting director?

T: It’s about raising awareness of casting directors in the industry. I have said for years: “Why don’t casting directors get an Oscar? Why don’t they get a BAFTA?” The wardrobe gets it, the art department gets it, so why not casting directors?
A: We are celebrating the art of casting, the skill and the creativity that’s involved in it - and the business side as well.

What was the motivation behind the CDA Diversity Award?

S: It was Casting Networks that wanted to sponsor the award, and they came up with a few ideas for awards, and diversity stood out for all of us. That awareness needs to be raised within the industry, from the level of the writers right through to the top creators.
T: We often get a script through and we ask the producer “Can we broaden this out? Can we have a female play this character? Can we have a BAME family?” But I believe commercials are being broader now, whether it’s a disability or greater racial diversity.

What are the challenges facing a diverse workforce in the commercial sector?

S: A lot of the casting suites do not have disability access. I remember casting a wheelchair user in a film and I had to use the courtyard of the casting suite!
A: It can be a problem for commercial casting, because the client expects it to be in a casting suite.
S: Plus, there is often the need for lights and a backdrop – which is what casting suites are suited for. It’s those physical changes to a building that’s going to make a huge difference to the amount of people we can bring through the door.

How do you get people away from using stereotypes?

S: You may be surprised about how many times clients agree to our suggestions. I worked on a film and there were 36 characters and only two of these were women. I had a quiet word with the director, saying: “That social worker, the judge, can we think about them being female?” And he agreed. There was also one character which was described as an ‘Irish underground street-fighting boxing manager’, and I said “What would be great is if we could give this role to a real character actress” and they ran with it because the female producer made that happen. My job isn’t just about bringing the right people to the table; it is part of the creative process.

How can the Manifesto for Casting help improve equality and diversity?

T: Major organisations are aware of, and support, the Manifesto. What we really need is the advertising agencies to write inclusive casting. We can influence so much from our end, but we need the people who are writing the spots to be very inclusive. However, I think the more of us that are asking for it, the more they’re going to be including everybody. I think the Manifesto helps with this awareness. I know that commercials are so powerful – they get into everybody’s living room and the more inclusive casting we can have, the more society will accept diversity as a whole, and that is so important.
A: So many people do casting now, the industry has exploded in the last 20 years. So it’s great that Equity’s Manifesto sets out your blueprint for ideal practice. It comes back to why the CDA is important – we’re here to help new casting directors and to uphold professional values. 

Photography by Phil Adams