Working with Actors: The Casting Session - Raindance

Last article I discussed the importance of knowing a “character’s” personality traits and how you can use a “character personality chart” to help you.

(To get a copy of this quick reference personality chart, go to and print out the page. This chart will give you a clear understanding of who a character is and what their motivations are – as well as help you with the actor’s interpretation of the character.)

In this article, I will discuss the casting session and how to quickly find out if an actor is right for a part.

But first, here is a quick guide on the casting process.

When a director first gets a script, you read it through several times to get a feel for what the story is about and who the characters are. (NOTE: In future articles, we will discuss the Director’s script breakdown in more detail.)

As you read the script, you will get an impression of the characters. You then have a meeting with the Producer(s) and the Casting Director to share your ideas of the characters.

(NOTE: This is an important meeting for the Director, because it is where you find out what the Producer(s) are thinking and if you are on the right track. Remember: television is a Producers medium and they have the final say in everything – including casting!)

After the meeting, the Casting Director goes away and puts together a list of actors that fit the character traits and specific looks discussed in the meeting with the Producer(s).

The Casting Director then has her own casting session where she videos a “short list” of actors for you and the Producer(s) to view.(Sometimes you will only cast from these tapes – other times you will make a short list from the tapes and then to go to a casting session.)

Okay – you have now arrived at the casting session. You walk in with the Producer (usually late because you had to get a Starbuck’s latte) and you meet the cameraman (who puts the actors
on tape) the reader (who reads the script with the actors) and the Casting Director.

You then get a piece of paper listing all the auditioning actors and the roles they are portraying – then the actors enter and do their thing!

When the session is done, you have a headache, the Producer(s) don’t agree with anyone you like, the casting Director is already on the phone setting up another session, and there is a message from the production office informing you that there is a complete revision of the script waiting for you when you get back!


Okay, let’s back up a bit.

The Casting session (actors call it “the audition”) can be a terrifying place for any actor. It takes a lot of guts to walk into a small, windowless room and have about 5 minutes to “show your stuff” in front of complete strangers – some of whom could make or break your career!

But it is just as tough for the Director as well! How can you decide, in less than 10 minutes, who is right for a particular part? Because you never have enough time to work with the actors in a casting session, here are three qualities you should look for in an actor when they audition for you:

1) do they look the part?
2) do they have range?
3) can they take direction?

Yes…I know there are many, many more, but these three can usually give you a enough information about an actor – in under 10 minutes!

1) Do they look the part?

I call this the “50%” rule – 50% of any role is cast when an actor enters the room! He(or she) doesn’t have to say anything – they just LOOK like the character (they ARE the character) when they come in!

This is especially true of a TV series. You don’t have a lot of time to build a character in Television, so if an actor looks like the character, that is the first step in making them believable to a TV audience.

2) Do they have range?

This is basically saying, “Can they act?” and you need to find this out quickly. Can an actor give you both ends of the spectrum. Are they believable when they are in a tense, dramatic scene? Are they believable in a comedy?

3) Can they take direction?

Any good actor will make a choice when they enter the casting room. They will decide who this character is and give you their interpretation.

Many times, this is not what you had in mind, BUT…they were great! So, what you need to do is give them some “direction” – ask them to read the part again but do something totally opposite from what they just did. This gives you an idea if they have range, and if they can take direction.

Some actors have a problem getting through the audition. They are very good actors but they are nervous and tend to blow their audition. And other actors will always “give a great reading” but
hey end up a dud on the set.

Remember – casting sessions are not perfect. You will never be able to fully tell if an actor has the qualities you are looking for in just 10 minutes. But these three tricks will help you to see if an actor has range, and if they can take direction – in less than 10 minutes.

TIP: If you are seriously interested in an actor, ask for a “call-back” where you can work with this person one-on-one for a longer period of time. This will help you decide if the actor is right for the role.

A good performance happens when both the inner and outer self are portrayed. So when dealing with any actor, remember these three important words: Motive Determines Behavior!

Motive (what a character thinks-inner)
Behavior (what the character does-outer)

Copyright (c) 2000-2011 Peter D. Marshall / All Rights Reserved


About Peter D. Marshall

Peter D. Marshall is a filmmaker from Vancouver and has worked in the Film and Television Industry for over 38 years – as a Film Director, Television Producer, First Assistant Director and TV Series Creative Consultant.

Peter has directed over 30 episodes of Television Drama such as “John Woo’s Once a Thief”, “Wiseguy”, “21 Jumpstreet”, “Neon Rider”, “The Black Stallion”, “Scene of the Crime”, “Big Wolf on Campus” and “Largo Winch.” As a First Assistant Director, Peter has worked on over 12 Features (including “Dawn of the Dead”, “The Butterfly Effect”, “Happy Gilmore”, “The Fly II”); 16 Television Movies; 8 Television Series; and over 20 Commercials.

He has written, directed or produced over 50 hours of documentary and educational programs and his documentaries and dramas have won, or been nominated for, 14 International film awards. Peter has worked for directors such as John Woo, Phillip Noyce, Ed Zwick, John Badham, Roger Vadim, Dennis Dugan, Anne Wheeler and Zack Snyder.

He has also worked with actors such as Peter O’Toole, Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, John Travolta, Kathy Bates, Michelle Pfiefer, Marcia Gaye Harden, Madeleine Stowe, Mel Gibson, Ashton Kutcher, Goldie Hawn, Judy Davis, Halle Berry and Adam Sandler.

Peter is a directing instructor at the Vancouver Film School and has also taught for the Directors Guild of Canada, Victoria Motion Picture School and Capilano College. He has also developed several filmmaking workshops and seminars that he has presented over the past 15 years – from Canada to Singapore to Dubai.

You can read more about Peter D. Marshall here.



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