4 Ways to Think Like a Casting Director

Disney, famously, calls their employees “cast members,” recognising the role that they play in creating the experiences in their theme parks, in their movies, and in their stores.  The job of “casting director” has been long considered a key one in the movie and entertainment industry, where these experienced professionals have the tough job of finding people who fit the director’s artistic vision.  This could be finding someone with the right look, the right voice, the right celebrity, at the right price, with availability, to bring the vision to life.

Avoiding unethical or illegal discrimination of protected classes or physical characteristics, of course, all of us who hire would do well to think about our own vision for our team and consider some of the things that casting directors might when they fill their cast list.  Beyond the experience that might be on the resume or the work samples or portfolio that the candidate might represent, there are other aspects that can be key to the hiring decisions that borrow from the casting director’s playbook.  I call these the Four P’s of thinking like a casting director.

Personality: The energy that people bring to situations can help them succeed or fail in certain roles.  Sometimes described as “presence,” casting directors look for people who can successfully play the characters they are seeking to fill.  Does the person command respect?  Can the person play the quiet, supporting role?  The same is true of hires in industries outside entertainment. Too much energy and restlessness, can spell disaster for more detail-oriented roles.  An introvert might be exhausted by a position that requires constant interaction with team mates or customers.  Even the amount of team work required in a role might differ.  A cameo part might not require the actor to be that “coachable” or “easy to work with” when a role on an ensemble cast might require a lot of those characteristics.  Judging for this in an interview can be incredibly difficult, but is immensely more so if the hiring manager has not identified the ideal profile for the candidate.  “What are you looking for?” and “How can you test for that?” are great questions to ask.  There is a host of resources available on behavioral hiring, like Effective Interviewing! (which is an elearning, book, and classroom style training program in competency-based interviewing) which may be of use.

Purpose: The “job objective” has long fell off the professional resume, but it is good to understand the career objectives of the individual before hiring them.  The casting director might inquire as to why the actor famous for stand-up comedy is looking to read for a serious role.  Or why a Hollywood blockbuster actress, might choose to do an independent film.  Knowing the individual’s career goals and aspirations can allow their career path to align with the companies goals for many years.  When Anne Hathaway was cast in the movie Les Miserables, she was tapped not only for her acting skills, but also because of her personal passion for the cause of disenfranchised women, something that she spoke of regularly in her press interviews for the film.  The more candidates can relate and be excited by the purpose of the company, the mission of the firm, the content of the job, and the promise of the career path, the better for all parties.

Platform: Some actors are cast for roles because adding their name to the marquee or to the project, brings along a fan base and connections that would be unavailable for an unknown actor.  The same is true for hires outside entertainment.  Companies are often looking to bolster their reputation or brand by hiring a recognized expert well-known in the field.  Even new college grads might bring with them networks within their university, club affiliations, or community service connections with value to their new employer.  Experience sales people, certainly, are valued for the long-standing customer relationships that they can bring with them to their new employer.  Candidates looking for new roles in any discipline are well-served by thinking about their own reputation and network in their industry, their city, or the like and how that might benefit their company.    Hiring managers, or casting directors, are well-advised to think about the platform that their new hires represent and how to best leverage those for the good of the individual and the company.

Price: Of course, there is an economic element to hiring as well.  Can the budget of the film afford the actor with the biggest fan base?  Can the more senior, experienced candidate be afforded?  Can the organization afford the onboarding and training investment required in a more junior, early-career candidate?  There are trade-offs on both sides.  Casting directors are working within a budget.  So are hiring managers.  And that budget not only includes the expense of the employee, but the value of the work product to the organization. A casting director could come in under-budget and help produce a failing film by not having the right caliber of talent.  Likewise, any hiring manager can overpay for candidates as they try to find the right fit.  I recently saw a Leonardo DaVinci exhibit at the San Diego Air and Space Museum which recounted a letter he sent in 1482, at the age of 30, to Ludovico il Moro, Duke of Milan, where he indicated his knowledge of bridges and weaponry.  An early resume or cover letter, it has been called.  I think it does a great job of creating value for the kind of thing DaVinci brought to his future patron.  It is good for hiring managers and candidates to keep in mind the economic value of the role and to make sure they are finding the right fit on that front as well.

There are many other things that casting directors must consider when making their determinations.  It is a hard job that is fraught with controversy at times and I imagine the ones who are good at it make it look easy.  Those of us tasked with building high-performance teams, can learn from the examples of great ensembles who work together to deliver great performances and the professionals that work behind the scenes to ensure the right people are in the cast.

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