Casting directors Lauren Evans, Anna Dawson and Emma Stafford share their best advice for both parents and young performers on self-taping, the casting process, and how to be found through Spotlight.
Spotlight’s latest Summer Session saw casting directors from across the UK answering your burning questions about film and TV casting, including Lauren Evans (London), Anna Dawson (Scotland) and Emma Stafford (Manchester). Here are the highlights of what was discussed:
Q: What is the casting process for film & TV? Do you hold open auditions, reach out on social media, contact local schools, etc? What is the starting point, and how do you search?
Lauren: We look everywhere. The majority of our job is research, and everyone has access to all the agencies, so it’s up to us to look beyond those means. For Game of Thrones, we had to look for someone who was 7ft 5, so we looked at Strongest Man contests, etc. We’ve been up and down motorways going to schools, and not just performing arts schools. We look anywhere and everywhere.
Emma: Agreed. Each project comes with its own parameters, and it’s up to us to push them wide and leave no stone unturned to find the right cast for the right project.
Anna: I contact agencies linked to schools in Scotland. When I send out breakdowns, I have my lists of agents already CCed in. It’s a smaller pool up here, so it’s easier to contact people directly.
Lauren: Parents can also keep an eye on social media, as we look there for niche briefs. Keep an eye on credits at the end of programmes that will be casting again soon to see who the one doing the casting is.
Q: Does where you’re based have an impact on casting? Is London still the ideal base for an actor?
Emma: It’s about finding the right talent, not where they’re based. For me, it isn’t an issue where you’re based. What’s happened (in the last 18 months) has made the process easier, because now we can see people on self-tapes and Zoom, and people don’t need to travel. So it’s cost effective from a production point of view.
Lauren: Generally, if you’re right for the part then it doesn’t matter where you’re based. Sometimes when budgets are tighter, or they need to satisfy funding, they may need to look at people who are local to the production. But generally we don’t care – we just want to see you and what you can do. When you self-tape we don’t know where you’re based, which is great!
Anna: It’s a project-by-project basis. For the majority, you can consider everyone. But sometimes people have to be based in a certain area because there isn’t the budget for travel and to accommodate them. But it doesn’t mean it’s London-centric. Lots of Scottish kids are getting more parts in the rest of the UK because of self-tapes.
Q: Do you have parents and actors contacting you directly? Would you encourage that?
Emma: I don’t mind it. Being a parent myself, I get the need and desire to support your child. I just feel that the best point of contact is always the agent, because you don’t know what other projects the agent is submitting your child for. The agent will know what we’re doing. We would all love to reply back to every email actors send us, but it’s physically impossible.
Anna: The agents are doing their job. I would actively encourage people based in Scotland who are not represented to write to me, because I need kids in Scotland. You will go straight into a file because that’s my niche. If someone is based in London, you’re less likely to get a response from me.
Emma: It’s good to hear from people who aren’t represented, especially if they have particular skillsets alongside acting. Some skilled people don’t realise they can act until they try it.
Q: How many submissions are you likely to receive for a single role?
Lauren: Over a thousand, especially if it’s a general role.
Emma: We don’t have enough time to see everyone, so if parents know there’s a thousand, and the child gets an audition, that’s an amazing thing! Being invited to do a self-tape is a fantastic achievement. Each step you take is a learning process. You’re taking a step closer to what you want. It’s about providing a supportive place for children, so they know that even if they’re not right for that project, they’re on a database for next time. We always remember somehow.
Q: What should appear on a young performer’s Spotlight profile? What do you look for?
Emma: I like to see a nice clean headshot that’s been taken professionally. If they have a showreel, that’s great. It’s not as important for young performers as adults to see credits and other projects they’ve been in. If they’ve worked with a director or producer I know, I’ve phoned and spoken to them about them to get a feel, but it’s more about photos and location. Any special skills are important, but that’s project dependent. Too many photos is not a good thing. Two or three is fine – too many is confusing.
Anna: I don’t love it when there’s too much stuff. I would never expect an under 16 year old to have a showreel unless they’re working all the time. I’ve seen people with lots of different clips and it’s a bit too much and has put me off seeing someone. I’d rather have a clean slate and want to bring you in to see you than be put off by seeing something.
Lauren: If you do have a specialist skill, it’s handy to have some footage of that. Your agent can have it on file and ready to send.
Emma: But make sure you can definitely do that skill!
Q: Do you find the About Me and Training sections useful for young performers?
Anna: I quite like it if it’s relevant. I advised a little girl I worked with to put in her About Me that she’s an award-winning ice-skater, just in case, because you never know. The agent would send me a clip of this if I needed it.
Lauren: I think it’s interesting if they’ve done a summer school somewhere. It doesn’t harm them by putting it in there.
Emma: But if you haven’t done them, please don’t feel like you need to go off and start buying courses at places.
Q: Do self-tapes always have to be off book?
Emma: It’s just easier to see the performance and what their level is capable of hitting, rather than it being a script read. I think it’s more helpful for the actor as well. They’re not hampered by the page. It allows the actor to drop down into the emotion fully to engage with the scene if they’re off book. I feel you don’t have that chance if you’re reading off a script.
Q: Do you have any tips for self-taping?
Lauren: When it comes to younger children reading, less is more. It should probably come from the parent as well, because of course you should have them in the space so they can say, ‘That was lovely. Let’s try it again. Let’s try a different version where it’s quieter, or strip it back a little bit so it’s more appropriate for TV,’ which can be hard to verbalise, especially when the child is younger. So it’s just the parent recognising that when it comes to a screen performance, we don’t want a child who seems really confident and loud in volume. It still needs to feel quite naturalistic.
Q: Is an ident required for a self-tape?
Anna: America loves them. If I wanted an ident, I would say in the email.
Lauren: They should let you know either way, but we ask for an ident so at least we have it and it’s there on file if we need it. We usually do name, agent, height and then full length shot. We send it separately because we can always add them on, which is easier than separating them. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions if you don’t understand the brief, if you need more time, etc. We’re there to arm you to do the best self-tape possible. We’re not there to trip you up.
Thank you everyone for your useful insights! You can find more useful information about self-tapes and casting on our website. As always, feel free to contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any further questions.