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The Industry

Highlights from Q&A session with casting director Emma Stafford

At our recent Open House Liverpool, casting director Emma Stafford on was on hand to answer your questions! Here are some of the highlights.

The role goes where it is meant to go.
Emma Stafford
Casting Director

How do you find and ultimately choose performers you want to cast?

A lot of this process is about instinct – looking for something that pulls you towards a person. “They could look nothing like the brief,” she says. “It could just be that I like their CV, shows they’ve been in, directors they’ve worked with… I don’t have a list, it could be anyone from anywhere. We’re out looking all the time.” Her process, she says, includes a first look through very quickly, before a second look more thoroughly.

What’s your view on self-taping? Is this good for the casting process? What do you like to see?

Emma says self-taping is a good trend, as it allows her to see more people perform when she is casting. She recommends having a nice clean background, and avoiding having too many distracting background objects – “No kitchen objects! A white clean background in a loose mid-shot is best.” Avoid including shots of yourself in profile/front on; just do the performance instead, as these are not required. She also recommends keeping anyone who might be reading lines with you to a sensible volume and tone so they are not distracting from your performance, and in particular, does not want to see a music overlay for the first 30 seconds of your tape. Her decisions are often based on the first 10 seconds of the video, so don’t lose any precious time on fancy extras.

What do you like to see in a showreel?

Emma advises keeping a showreel to a few scenes of your best work – whatever shows you and your personality in the best light. If you’re having a showreel professionally created, follow their advice. Again, Emma strongly advises against a musical introduction or overlay. Have different clips for different sorts of parts, so you can point them out as appropriate. “Whatever you’re proudest of, use footage of that.” Other practical points from Emma are that it isn’t too important if you have titles on your showreel, and she really doesn’t want to see any montages. She advises that it is preferred to see something in the genre she’s casting for, if you have it, but if not, don’t worry – even a single clip of something to look at is better than none. “If the casting director likes you, they like you,” she says.

Is it okay for me to reach out to you without an agent? How can I stand out from the crowd when I email you?

Emma says it is always preferable to have an agent, as those relationships are already established. Unless you know a casting director already, the advice and introduction via an agent is preferred. However, she advises that if you do wish to reach out via email, you certainly can but it is far more dependent on timing and luck. She believes that the role, “goes where it is meant to go,” so you might time things right, but you also might not.

If you do email directly, she says it is important to include quality headshots (either black and white or colour is fine), but don’t include any with costumes or an abundance of very similar poses. Have a link to your up to date Spotlight profile and ensure all the relevant information is in one place.

Do you have any advice for standing out on screen?

Emma says that stillness is the best quality you can have for a good screen performance. Being still and emotionally engaged is powerful, and compelling.

Should I use my own accent then go into a character, or should I arrive to an audition already in character?

Emma says it is nice to get a sense of the personality of the individual, however she understands that many performers prefer to come in character, and talk more freely once the audition is finished. She says either is fine, as long as you perform well, but encourages performers not to suppress their personality too much.

What are the Dos and Don’ts of auditioning?

Emma encourages you to be able to go off-book. She also encourages performers to record themselves and watch it back before coming to an audition, particularly for screen roles. No swearing, and no flirting! Arrive as fresh as you can, with good personal hygiene. Don’t get dressed in the audition room, arrive prepared to go. If you have dyslexia, accessibility requirements or another need, Emma encourages you to make it known so it can be accommodated.


Thanks again to Emma for giving her time to answer our questions! Look out for more opportunities to ask questions of casting directors in the near future.