What Makes A Great Casting Director?
When students join MediaU’s inaugural course, Directors & Actors: Casting!, they’re not merely registering for a class about filmmaking. No, this is something a touch more meta: a course about filmmaking that is, in part, a film itself. To create the course about casting, a full-scale shoot was required, complete with its own pre-production process and — yes — casting requirements. When it came time to cast the actors who’d help teach budding creatives about the casting process, MediaU turned to casting director Walter Ware, CSA. Working alongside director and instructor Peter Marshall, Walter helped find the actors who would bring these casting lessons to life.
Originally from Jacksonville, FL, Walter has been working in casting since 2010. In college, he set his sights on a career in musical theater directing, but as with so many media careers, fate stepped in and opened an unexpected but welcome detour. After taking a position at Signature Theater in Alexandria, VA, the Tony Award-winning theater began casting larger and more elaborate shows and needed someone to focus on casting full time. Walter was promoted to casting director, and would line produce the theater’s cabaret shows and special events. Necessity set the stage for a newfound passion: “I have fallen in love with casting,” Walter told me.
I asked Walter how the job of a casting director differs from what people might assume.
“I think the first thing to clarify is the notion that the casting director makes all the decisions regarding who is cast,” he told me. “The casting director is the gatekeeper. We are the actors’ access to the producers/studio/writers/directors. We see countless auditions and present to the creative/producing team the best choices.” But a savvy casting director doesn’t attempt to make the director or producer’s decisions for them.
“A Casting Director needs to be very attuned to how much opinion/involvement the director wants.” But no matter what, “the Casting Director presents options and insight and does not make the final decision.” Keeping an open mind about a “perfect” casting choice helps the process run more smoothly for everyone involved. “Honestly, I come to think multiple actors are really right for one role.”
While this soft-touch approach often ends up bringing Walter’s dream casting choice to a role, the path to that decision is not always a straight line. “I was casting a new musical and knew that this one actress was perfect for the role and also had the skills and temperament to be able to make changes on the fly and learn fast. The writer and director fell in love with an actress who had only one musical under her belt but personality-wise was perfect for the part. It’s their show, so they ended up casting that actor even though it was noted that she was going to be out of her comfort zone. Two weeks into rehearsal, we ended up replacing the actress with my top choice that had more musical experience. Thankfully, my top choice was still willing/available to do the role.”
The job of a casting director is all about connecting actors to directors, producers, and studio execs, Walter finds that his biggest challenge is managing expectations. “There are some actors who won’t work for a certain amount of money, won’t tape for a project (consider themselves offer only), or will not work on certain project because of the associated network etc.” And actors’ agents, Walter adds, often call asking for an explanation about why their client didn’t get the gig. “Sometimes the answer is just…they aren’t it.”
MediaU is breaking new ground in film education, and casting for a filmmaking course was rare new ground for Walter, who has casted for stage, film, and television. Students hoping to follow in Walter’s career footsteps will find invaluable information in the course. “CDs become surrogate directors in initial auditions, and the language and tactics provided by Peter are really helpful,” Walter observed, adding “I think it’s a terrific ‘behind the curtain’ reveal for actors to get into a director’s head and directors to gain a vernacular to garner the best possible performances from their actors.”