We get a lot of the same questions from aspiring actors, and we’ve tried to collect them here, along with our answers. Read through the FAQ; chances are, if you have a question for us, it’s been answered before.


We’re sorry, but as much as we’d like to, we are simply unable to answer individual questions or review your materials, due to our work load (especially if your request has to do with a project we are not casting). We appreciate your understanding.

Casting directors are really impressed, however, when actors show some gumption and do the research themselves (hint, hint!), instead of lazily asking “what should I include on my acting resume?” or “can you give me the break I’m looking for?”

So, please, hop online, ask other actors in your community, and visit your library or bookstore. There are lots of great books on the subject of acting and auditioning. Show the CDs what you’ve got! Initiative goes a long way.

Break a leg, everyone.

Are you auditioning for “Breaking Dawn”?

How do I break in to the business?

What do I do at an open casting call?

How do I find out about castings? How do I submit myself?

How can I tell if a casting announcement is a scam?

What are your thoughts on aspiring actors paying for memberships on sites like “The Casting Workbook”? Is this a professional and reputable way to put yourself out there or more of a lost cause?

Do you offer career phone consultations for a fee outside of any contests you might run?

Is it possible to get hired on a film shooting in the U.S. or Canada if I live overseas?

I don’t have any experience. Do I need to be a member of a union in order to get hired as one of the main characters in a film?

I don’t have any experience, but I know I’d be perfect for the main role in this film. Won’t I be given a chance? Shouldn’t an unknown be cast?

Are lead roles REALLY reserved for just the famous people?

I don’t want to be the star of the film, I just want a small part. I have a little bit of experience. Do I have a shot?

I just want to be an extra! How do I do that?

I was scouted by an agent at my local mall. They want to sign me, but say I have to take some classes at their acting school first, because I don’t have a lot of experience. What should I do?

I don’t live anywhere near Los Angeles or New York and I’m trying to get my 14-year-old daughter some work in acting. How should I go about getting started? Do we need headshots and an agent before we even try? Can I get a good agent locally or should we go to L.A.?

So where would I find a list of suitable agents, who are not frauds, of course?

I live in Canada and it is extremely hard to get American auditions, especially without an agent. Do you know any good Canadian agencies? Also, can they get me on an American gig?

I’m a professional actor in the Northwest. What are your submission instructions?

I’m a non-professional living in the Northwest. How do I get listed in your extras database?

I’m interested in attending a Tools 4 Actors workshop. How can I sign up?

Do you offer Tools 4 Actors workshops online?

I don’t live in the Northwest. Will you bring a Tools 4 Actors workshop to my city?

Can I job shadow or intern with you?

I don’t live in the Portland area, but I’d like to find an internship with a casting director near me. How do you suggest I start?

Can you pass something on to a celebrity for me?

Q: Are you auditioning for “Breaking Dawn”?
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A: The long and short of it is, we know nothing yet about the casting of “Breaking Dawn”. If we do hear any news, we’ll be sure to post it here. We highly recommend checking out the blog archives. Scroll down to the labels section in the right sidebar and check out the “Tips” label, for starters.

We are continually inundated with emails, phone calls, and messages over Twitter, MySpace and Facebook asking who is casting “Breaking Dawn” and when auditions are taking place. There is no need to inundate our mailboxes with materials (or goodness forbid, swamp our phone lines or email inboxes). Our small staff and limited resources make it impossible to consider ANY submissions or inquiries at this time. Please save your money and spare us from the onslaught!

There simply isn’t enough time in the day for us to run a casting company and answer these types of inquiries individually, especially about a project we aren’t casting.

For the time being, we have nothing to do with “Breaking Dawn” and there’s no guarantee we ever will. It all depends on factors that are out of our hands, and we cannot reply to everyone who asks one by one.

Here’s the best way to keep informed about anything we do learn regarding the Twilight Saga. Anything we find out will be reported in these five places first:

1. Twihard Mailing List: Join by sending a blank email to
2. Twitter: Follow us at
3. The Casting Scoop: Check the blog regularly or subscribe to the RSS feed in the right sidebar.
4. Facebook: Find us at
5. MySpace: Find us at

We will only ever share information about casting calls we know are 100% legitimate. When we post about a casting call, the post will contain every last bit of information we have and are able to share with you. If we get new information to share, we’ll update the casting call posting. If the information you’re looking for isn’t in the blog post, it means we don’t have the answer. (That goes for casting calls for specific characters and casting calls in various locations.)

Finally, if you’re trying to break into the acting business, sign up for our Tools 4 Actors newsletter, also in the right sidebar of The Casting Scoop, or simply send a blank email to The newsletter is full of tips and tools from Casting Director Lana Veenker, and it’s helpful for both beginners and seasoned actors.

Q: How do I break in to the business?
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A: This is probably the question we’re asked most often, in every way imaginable.

You need to start with building blocks. You can’t go from never having flown an airplane to being the pilot without first going through some rigorous training and logging a lot of flight hours.

It’s the same with playing the main characters in a major feature film. The producers are looking for someone to fly their very large, expensive airplane (i.e., the movie). They don’t want someone who has never flown before! It’s too risky.

What would you do if your dream were to be a pilot? Would you start applying for jobs right away? Or learn how to fly a plane first?

Step One: Get training

Step Two: Get experience on smaller projects and work your way up

When you were little, you probably learned how to ride a tricycle before you learned to ride a bike. And you probably had training wheels at first, when you graduated to bicycling, because you were a little wobbly.

Producers don’t want wobbly. They want solid. They want to reduce risk as much as possible.

Pilots learn to fly smaller planes before they’re allowed to fly commercial aircraft. They need to earn their wings before taking on such a large responsibility. You do, too.

Read up as much as you can on acting, on the business and on anything else you can get your hands on. Feel free to browse through older posts on The Casting Scoop for info or sign up for the Tools 4 Actors mailing list by sending a blank email to

Take classes with only the very best acting teachers. Learn how to recognize scams and avoid them. Get some theatre experience. Audition for some independent films.

Eventually, you’ll be ready to approach talent agents and casting directors, but not until you’ve logged enough flight time.

We do our part to help you; now do yours!

Q: What do I do at an open casting call?
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A: If you truly want a shot at being considered at an open casting call, follow these guidelines to stay in the Casting Director’s good graces:

1. Be professional

The casting company's job is to find the best and most professional actors for the parts. They don't want a foaming-at-the-mouth fan who is going to cause a disturbance on the set when people are trying to work. Nor do they want to be stalked incessantly with multiple emails and phone calls. Please, be professional.

2. Fit the specs

If the breakdown says they want Native Americans within a certain age bracket, they mean it: They want Native Americans in that age range, first and foremost. The most experienced, professional, trained, legal-to-work actors who fit the specs will be given first priority.

In our experience, only after exhausting all possibilities among experienced talent who meet the requirements of the roles will casting directors begin to consider actors who don't completely meet them (i.e. great actors who are not Nat Am, but look it), or people who fit the specs but who are not actors.

3. Follow instructions precisely

• If the instructions are to send an email with specific information, be sure to include ALL the requested info. Please don't email every other person on the company roster or send multiple emails. Stalkers are quickly eliminated (if you don't know how to behave and follow instructions in something as simple as an email, how can they trust you to behave on set?).

• If the instructions are to attend an open casting call, please show up at the CORRECT date, time and location and bring anything you were asked to bring. Certainly don't show up a day early, when the office is not prepared to see you.

• If it says "no phone calls," they really, really, really mean it. Best not to get on the CDs bad side. They're working 14-hour days as it is.

All of this seems obvious, but the hundreds of people who do not follow instructions prevent the casting company from being able to focus their attention on the people who DO follow instructions.

Wasted time = Fewer people seen for each role = Less chance of you being considered.

Q: How do I find out about castings? How do I submit myself?
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A: I can't speak for other casting directors or other websites, but most of the castings we do are not open to the general public, unless we specifically advertise them as such. It won't hurt you to self-submit; you never know when your headshot will land on someone's desk at the right time. But for major roles, we usually start with actors who are tried-and-true or who come highly recommended from agents we respect.

For smaller parts, we might dig through the piles of mail to see if there's someone new we want to bring in, so if you're unknown to us, you'll have better chances there. But generally you need to live in the area where the casting is taking place.

If we advertise a role publicly, then by all means, send in your submission. In our case, we typically put out a press release, post the information on our website, on our MySpace page and possibly even on Craigslist in the city where the casting is taking place. Back Stage is also known as one of the top resources for casting calls, but it requires a subscription.

We know that the Ross Reports maintains a pretty comprehensive list of casting directors and their submission instructions, but we think it also requires a subscription to Back Stage.

Rather than hash out a bunch of information that is widely available in acting books and on the Internet, we think the best solution for new actors is to see how others have done it.


Here’s a link to over 7000 acting resumes. Pick a template you like, copy or recreate it in a word processing document and insert your information.

If you don’t have experience in a certain category (for example, in television), write “New to Industry,” and focus on your training, skills and other areas where you have strengths (i.e., theatre) and that are relevant for the role for which you’re submitting.

Notice how the majority of the resumes are crisp, clean and easy to read; yours should be, too. They are only one page long and they only focus on experience relevant to acting. They do not include Social Security numbers!!


Here’s a link to 76,000 headshots. If you’re serious about an acting career, you’ll eventually need a professional headshot, but for the purposes of an open casting call, a simple digital photo will suffice.

Notice, though, how the actors are framed in their photos, how their faces are easily visible (no hats, sunglasses, etc.) and how the best photos are in sharp focus and draw your attention to their eyes. Notice that the actors are in front of a neutral background and there are no friends or pets in the frame. Take this into consideration when taking your own photo.

Clearly, this is a crash course and you’ll want to make sure your marketing materials are as sharp as your acting skills, if you intend to pursue acting as a profession. But this should help those who are just starting out.

Q: How can I tell if a casting announcement is a scam?
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A: Let’s break down the anatomy of a scam, so you can see the red flags for yourself. TAKE HEED.

1. Aspiring Actor/Model Sees Craigslist Post

This in itself is not necessarily indicative of a scam. Many of the job offers on Craigslist are legitimate, but because of the nature of sites like these, it pays to be vigilant.

Here’s the post:

Nationwide branding campaign requires 20 models

We are looking for male and female models, we will be shooting sunglasses and spec’s. There will be 10 different brands, it will be shot over a five day period starting 6 April 2009. You do not need any experience and we need 20 models in total. Please submit a photo and a short description.

* Location: Portland
* Compensation: $500 per shot

Even though there are some punctuation errors, nothing here is necessarily indicative of a scam as of yet, but when we read this, we ask ourselves:

-- If it’s a nationwide campaign, why is the rate so low? Models command much higher rates for national exposure.
-- If it’s a national campaign, why is it open to models with no experience? Usually big national campaigns use established, agency-represented models.
-- Of course, it’s possible that they are looking for more of a “real” look, but since they’ve given no indication as to the exact types they are looking for, they are going to get swamped with submissions.

When we post casting calls (unless it’s for extras), we only want to get swamped with the RIGHT submissions, otherwise it makes our job impossible. So we are very specific in our casting breakdowns. For example:

“We are looking for Asian men in their 20s who are based in Oregon or Washington.”

“We want two boys, one age six and one age nine, to play Brendan Fraser’s sons.”

Why would they want to be swamped with submissions if it’s not extras casting…? Just asking.

2. Aspiring Model/Actor Responds to Post

So, the aspiring model responds to the Craigslist ad, with a photo attached:

My name is Jane Doe and I am 20 years old. I don’t have any modeling experience, but many people have told me I should try it out. I am putting myself through school and could use any extra money, and who knows, I could end up liking this! I think it would be fun to try out and meet new people.

Had we responded to this ad, we would have also asked for more detailed information, such as:

* Name of production company and/or photographer?
* Name of casting company, casting director or person in charge of hiring?
* Which brands of glasses/sunglasses are being modeled?
* How long are the shoot days?
* How many of the shoot days would be worked, if cast?
* Is any nudity required?
* Are there any charges or fees in order to be considered?

Here’s why:

Who are these people?

Sometimes our clients want to remain confidential in terms of which brand(s) they are creating ads for, but you should be able to at least find out who the production company and casting director are, before taking the next steps.

When we post casting calls, we put our casting company name clearly in the ad, with a link to our website, so that people can check us out and see that we are the real deal.

We often don’t post the name of the project or production company publicly, because we don’t want them to be swamped with phone calls that should be coming to us. But once we’ve decided to audition someone, we give them all the information we’ve been authorized to release.

Professional models and actors sometimes have conflicts with certain brands (for example, if they appeared in a Ford commercial, they are not allowed to appear in a Honda or a Mercedes commercial until the term of the Ford commercial runs out). So at some point, you should be able to find out which company you would be advertising for.

What’s in it for me?

Models and actors should also be able to find out how many days they’d be needed, how long they’d be working each day, how the photos will be used (magazines, billboards, point-of-purchase displays, brochures, websites, internal company use only, etc.) and for how long (13 weeks, six months, one year, buyout in perpetuity, etc.).

This may not be in the initial post, but if you’re invited to audition, you should be able to obtain this information beforehand, so you can decide whether or not the money is worth it to you. Working 16 hours and getting paid $500 for a buyout in perpetuity for all uses in a Gucci or Armani campaign is not a good deal!


Nudity, if required, should be clearly stated up front in the ad. If they are evasive about this kind of information, or only tell you upon arrival at the audition, get the heck out of there! And never go to an audition alone if you’re not absolutely sure that it’s an established, well-reputed company.

What’s it going to cost?

Actors and models should never, ever, ever have to pay a fee to audition. Period. End of story.

3. Company in Question Responds

This is where the red flags make our heads explode: the company’s email response to the aspiring model. We’ll break it down line by line and comment throughout, so you’ll see all the red flags we saw.

My name is Hayley Smith, Casting Manager for Talent Panorama.

First of all, maybe it’s just us, but this name sounds a bit generic.

Secondly, what the heck is a “Casting Manager”? We’ve never heard of such a job title. There are casting directors and talent managers, but those are two separate jobs with different functions (similar to the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent in real estate transactions). Combining the two job titles seems fishy.

Do a Google search on “casting manager” + models and “casting manager” + actors, and most of the hits that come up are followed by 1-800 numbers and have lots of CAPS and exclamation points!!! CASTING MOVIE EXTRAS WANTED!!!!! Hmmm.

Next, try a search for “Talent Panorama.” Nada. Zip. No such company, as far as we can tell. So…they’re casting a big national campaign for brand-name sunglasses and they have NO web presence? Hmmm. Curious.

The email continues:

The good news is I received a positive feedback, and I am waiting responses from the others. Yes, they are interested to know more about you.

This is not necessarily a deal breaker, but the English in the first sentence isn’t grammatically correct. Just noticing.

What’s starting to sound strange, however, is that in these first few sentences, they sound like they’re trying to pump up the aspiring model.

When WE reply to someone who has responded to a casting call listing, we might write something like this:

“Thanks for your interest in our project. Audition are taking place on Thursday, May 1 at the following location:

1234 Main Street
Anywhere, CA 12345

“Please show up anytime between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, wearing normal street clothes. We will take a digital photo and have you fill out a contact sheet. If you have any scheduling conflicts during the last two weeks of May, please be sure to include them on the contact sheet when you sign in. Thank you.”

Or this:

“Thanks for your interest in our project. We are forwarding your information to our clients. If they would like to book you for this job, we will be in contact with you with further instructions.”

No flattery. Just information. See the difference?

The “Casting Manager” continues:

I also have some other roles in my mind for you. I will work on them and let you know how it goes.

Umm, this is not something we’d likely ever tell an actor or model. If we think they’re right for something, we’ll just call them in for an audition or submit their photo to our client and contact them, if there’s any interest. There’s no need for us to get their hopes up about nothing. Plus, it all just seems really vague.

Again, it’s starting to sound like hype to us.

Moving on:

I should try to arrange your appointment sometime soon since video production will be starting within the next two weeks. I would like to make the arrangements right now.

Umm, no. If you’re shooting a video in two weeks, you should have a casting date already set. Why doesn’t the “Casting Manager” just tell her when and where the audition is? Why is it so vague?

Because we need to make sure you are committed to us and you do not change your mind during the casting process, we want you to be in an official database.

Whoa. They need to make sure our aspiring model is committed to them?? The aspiring model is not allowed to change their mind during the casting process??? RED FLAG.

And why do they qualify the database as having to be “official”? Sounds like hype.

That is nothing unusual, that is a standard in the industry.

So, now they’re trying to justify why our aspiring model has to join a database in order to be considered. We’re starting to think that this is more about getting people to sigh up for the database than it is about hiring people for a job.

If they are selling subscriptions to a database, they need to have said this up front; not post a phony casting call to try to lure people to respond. This is called BAIT and SWITCH.

We work with Talent Watchers and we trust them because they are a well known name in the industry.

Aha! Finally we get the name of the database company. But wait, the “Casting Manager” of (the non-existent) Talent Panorama says they work with Talent Watchers.

That’s interesting, because she (with her generic-sounding name) emailing our aspiring model from So does she work for Talent Panorama…or does she work for Talent Watchers? And if she works for Talent Watchers, why does she have to say she trusts them? Why doesn’t she just say she works for them?

4. Company Lures Aspiring Model/Actor to Sign Up for Paid Website

For the record, we’ve never heard of This is not a website any casting director we know uses to find talent. There are some legitimate ones out there; they don’t use hype or bait-and-switch tactics, though. And they don’t have any of the red flags this one does.

Read on: is also a part of extras and models limited company.

Again, English is not great, neither in the email or on the website. Although they claim to be based in Canada on the Terms and Conditions page, the spelling and grammatical errors all over the place seem indicative of a non-native speaker of English. So either the site was created by a non-native speaker based in Canada who wasn’t professional enough to run his/her copy by a proofreader prior to publishing…or perhaps the site is based somewhere else. We don’t know.

Later in the Terms and Conditions, it says the materials contained on the website are protected under the laws of New Zealand. Which one is it?

And, by the way, NZ is also an English speaking country, which still doesn’t explain the weird grammar. Curiouser and curiouser (that’s not proper English, either).

Moreover, all the blog posts and articles are very generic and utterly useless:

TV has been around for a very long time, but it continues to evolve and to intrigue us. Reality TV shows have definitely found their niche in the homes of people. The desire to become one of these TV contestants is common as well for those watching.

There are plenty of different types of acting out there, and many of them depend on where in the world you happen to be. An acting audition US is very different than the audition technique UK style. An acting career Canada is going to offer you different opportunities than what you will find in other…

These do not seem to be written by anyone who has a clue about the industry or a command of the English language.

Also, most of the acting gigs look like freebies; there are some “adult” jobs listed throughout and a disproportionate amount of models dressed very scantily in their photos. Creepy.

The “Casting Manager’s” email continues:

The client wants to be able to contact you directly and I cannot disclose your email address because you are not our official client.

OK, wait a minute. Now the “Casting Manager” is not casting a job, but recruiting our aspiring model to be a client of Talent Watchers?

Casting directors don’t represent actors or models; their clients are producers. Agents and managers represent actors and models.

Oh, and by the way, we never pass on an actor or model’s contact information to our clients until AFTER he or she has been chosen for the job and booked. We only show photos, audition clips and/or acting resumes, depending on what kind of project it is. Once clients decide whom they want to use, they let us know and we inform the agents (or the actors/models directly, if unrepped) that our client would like to book them. When an actor or model accepts the terms of the job, he or she is booked and THEN the client gets the contact info.

So are we dealing with a casting director, a modeling agent, a talent manager, what? It’s murky (and a conflict of interest to do both, by the way).

Please upgrade your membership at and upload any updated photos of yourself right away so I can get your information off to the producer ASAP.

Upgrade your membership? But our aspiring model already sent their photo. Now they have to pay money to be considered for the part? Bait and switch.


We checked out the Talent Watchers Terms and Conditions and it says that it is owned by Symur Group. Later, it says it is owned and operated by TalentWatchers talent agency. Which one is it?

When we Googled Symur Group, we found a URL, but try clicking on it:

A non-existent website.

There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as TalentWatchers Talent Agency, either. Just the website.

We also noticed that there is no Customer Service telephone number or address. So if you want to cancel your subscription and no one responds to your email, you have no other way to reach them.

Please let me know if you have questions at this time.

Hayley Smith
Casting Manager

Umm, yes. We have a lot of questions.

We Googled “Hayley Smith” + “Casting Manager” and found no results.

Is this even a woman...?

Is it a photo-collecting troll? Or worse?


This is a classic example of bait and switch. Luckily, our aspiring model was not taken in by it, because someone was smart enough to seek advice before moving forward.

Please read this important article on the US Federal Trade Commission website, before responding to any open casting calls (especially ones with lots of WORDS IN CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!):

If You’ve Got the Look, Look Out! Avoiding Modeling Scams

And check out companies that seem dubious with the Better Business Bureau before digging into your pocketbook.

Q: What are your thoughts on aspiring actors paying for memberships on sites like “The Casting Workbook”? Is this a professional and reputable way to put yourself out there or more of a lost cause?
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A: Those sites can be useful, if they're actually used by the local casting directors. Casting Workbook is used pretty widely in Canada, so if you're based there, it could be helpful. We've used CastingNetworks in LA and San Francisco for commercials and non-broadcast projects, and we've used NowCasting in LA for films. And of course, the Players Directory has been around for over 70 years and is considered an authoritative resource for casting directors (it's also now being run by NowCasting).

There may be others out there, but we're not familiar with them. Just be wary of subscription websites that promise to submit you for castings all around the country. There are sites that steal our press releases, post them on their own websites as if they were theirs and swamp us with mail from all over the country, when all we really want are local actors.

Typically, casting directors only want to see people who are based in the region where they are casting, even if you say "you're willing to travel." There are too many fantastic actors in our own backyard; why would we want to deal with the hassle (and potential catastrophe for the production) of an actor who has to travel back and forth across the country for multiple auditions, wardrobe calls, rehearsal and shoot dates, all which could change at a moment's notice? No thank you! Find the casting director(s) in the cities closest to you and start there.

Q: Do you offer career phone consultations for a fee outside of any contests you might run?
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A: It's not our intention, but since we keep getting asked, we may consider a limited number of requests on a case-by-case basis. Shoot an email to to discuss.

Be patient; we've got a lot on our plates and are not fully set up to accommodate these requests. Thanks.

Q: Is it possible to get hired on a film shooting in the US or Canada if I live overseas?
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A: The answer is that it's extremely unlikely. Here's why:


The production company needs to hire someone who can legally work in the country where the film is shooting. This means you need to be a citizen or have a work permit already.

The production company will procure work visas for the stars, if needed, but NOT for anyone else. The reason is that working papers are hard to get! Just look at all the qualifications an actor needs to obtain an O-1 working visa for the US:

* You need to have received or been nominated for a major national or international award (Emmy, Oscar, etc.) OR

* Have documented proof (such as film reviews, publications, contracts or playbills) of at least THREE of the following:

a. You already have national or international recognition;

b. You have already performed or have been hired to perform a lead or starring role in a major production;

c. You have already performed a lead, starring or major role for organizations with distinguished reputations;

d. You have already achieved major commercial or critical success;

e. You have commanded, or currently command, substantial remuneration (i.e. salary) for your services compared to others in your field; or

f. You have already received significant recognition for achievements from recognized critics, organizations, government agencies or other experts in your field.

In other words, if you're not a star, the production company is not going to bother with the risk and hassle of all this paperwork. There are plenty of experienced, legal actors available in the cities where the film is shooting.

Q: I don’t have any experience. Do I need to be a member of a union in order to get hired as one of the main characters in a film?
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A: You usually need to be a member of one of the actors' unions, such as SAG, AFTRA or ACTRA in order to be hired.

Producers are required to consider all available and appropriate union actors for a role, before looking at non-union actors, otherwise they risk getting fined. If you're not already an established actor, it's unlikely you've got your union card (particularly if you reside overseas).

Q: I don’t have any experience, but I know I’d be perfect for the main role in this film. Won’t I be given a chance? Shouldn’t an unknown be cast?
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A: Stars or established actors will likely be hired to play the main characters, not unknown entities.

Remember that producers have to guarantee ticket sales, so that they can repay their investors. It's a BUSINESS; their job is to reduce financial risk. Actors are therefore considered in more or less the following order, when it comes to hiring the main characters on a major film:

a. Stars

b. Established union actors who are about to become stars (i.e. they have another movie coming out soon that will make them famous by the time this film is released)

c. Established union actors with solid reputations, known to the casting directors

d. Lesser known, but highly qualified professional union actors who are represented by talent agents known to the casting directors

If appropriate actors are still not found, then casting directors proceed to search among:

e. Experienced, professional, represented union-eligible actors

f. Experienced, professional, unrepped union and union-eligible actors

g. Experienced, professional, repped or unrepped non-union actors

h. Students or recent graduates of reputable acting schools or conservatories

It is extremely rare after conducting such an exhaustive search, that an appropriate actor would not be located, but as a last resort, the casting directors can search among the following:

i. Inexperienced actors or "real people" who fit the demographic requirements of the role and who live near where the shoot is taking place (cattle call)

j. Inexperienced actors or "real people" who fit the demographic requirements of the role and who live anywhere in the country (national search)

k. Inexperienced actors or "real people" who fit the demographic requirements of the role, who live anywhere around the world (international search), and who have work papers in the country where the production is based

l. Inexperienced actors or "real people" who fit the demographic requirements of the role, who live anywhere around the world (international search) and who do not have work papers

As you can see on The Casting Scoop or our MySpace page, most of the emails and comments we've been getting on this subject have been from members of the last two or three categories. Their odds are slim.

Q: Are lead roles REALLY reserved for just the famous people?
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A: 1. Lead roles are typically destined for name actors

In every major film, there are a certain number of roles that are "above-the-line" (i.e. the stars) and the remaining roles are considered "below-the-line" (the rest of the cast).

The budget for the below-the-line roles is fixed. For example, the producer knows he or she needs to hire 12 supporting actors and intends to pay them all SAG scale (the minimum day or weekly rate allowed under union rules), plus their agency fees.

The budget for each of the above-the-line roles needs to be negotiated. The producer knows he or she has four leads to cast and has reserved, for instance, $10 million dollars for this. If a big, very famous actress is hired and her agent negotiates $8 million for her alone, that leaves $2 million for the remaining three leads, if the producer doesn't want to go over budget. So he or she may decide to cast two slightly less famous actors at $4 million apiece, and spend a million each on the remaining two leads. Or whatever.

For these above-the-line roles, the production company and its investors want to get the most bang for their buck. Which actors will put most seats in the movie theatres, to ensure the investors earn their money back and make a profit for themselves and the production company? It is a business, first and foremost.

2. If not name actors, then established actors will most often be cast in the lead roles.

The reader is correct in saying that up-and-coming actors have a great opportunity in teenage movies. No one expects young actors to have a resume as long as George Clooney's. In most cases, however, when casting the major roles, producers choose to bank on the most experienced young actors, in order to reduce their risk. It’s very rare for a completely inexperienced person to land a role of any significance in a large film, unless the casting specs rule out absolutely everyone else.

Keep in mind that thousands of actors who are unknown to the general public are NOT unknown to casting directors. :) The leads in "Twilight" had already been doing the rounds in LA or New York for some time, going out on multiple auditions for various projects. Sometimes, they may have been cast in small roles or they may not have even been cast at all, but they made a positive impression on the casting directors, so that when the right roles presented themselves, the CDs knew whom to call.

Example: Anna Kendrick, who plays Jessica in "Twilight," may not have been known by your average moviegoer a year ago, but casting directors knew that she had been nominated for a Tony Award on Broadway when she was just 13; they likely had seen her demo reel of other film and TV performances; they knew which other projects she had recently booked AND they surely had auditioned her dozens of times before. That's how they roll!

In fact, I don't think any of the actors hired to play the Cullen kids or Bella's friends had fewer than eight or ten IMDb credits prior to "Twilight" (not counting the many other credits that haven't been posted to IMDb; trust me, there are many).

So, while it may SEEM that many of the actors were unknowns, to industry people they weren't. :) They were proven entities that casting directors could feel confident recommending to the director and producers. Does that make sense?

3. The really great talent agents and casting directors are constantly looking for new and exciting actors, for people who have presence, skill and charisma and are yet to be discovered.

Yes, absolutely! This is one of the favorite parts of our job.

The entire teen cast of Gus Van Sant's "Paranoid Park" (which we cast) were complete unknowns, with the exception of Taylor Momsen. In that project, however, Gus specifically wanted untrained actors, so that was an unusual circumstance.

We placed Solomon Trimble in "Twilight," Alex Mentzel in "Feast of Love" (opposite Greg Kinnear) and many other young actors in their first Hollywood films. It's hugely gratifying when this happens.

Solomon was not unknown to us, though: He had previously auditioned and been cast by our office in other smaller projects, so we were aware of his skills and professionalism.

Young Alex had been doing theatre for quite a while and also demonstrated his work ethics through several rounds of auditions.

Note that neither were cast in above-the-line roles. In most cases, actors need to first demonstrate their ability to carry a lead role in a smaller project or a smaller role in a big project, THEN reach for the next rung, if they want a producer to take a big risk on them.

So get to work and start getting those first credits on your resume. You never know where it might lead!

Q: I don’t want to be the star of the film, I just want a small part. I have a little bit of experience. Do I have a shot?
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A: The minor speaking parts will be cast on location, using local actors. Location casting directors like Lana Veenker Casting will start from category C above and work our way downwards.

You may have a shot at one of these smaller parts, but the higher you are on the list, the better your chances.

Q: I just want to be an extra! How do I do that?
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A: Extras will be hired in the region where the production is based. You do not need experience to work as an extra, but you do need to live locally and be able to work legally.

Extra work does not require experience, but it does typically require that you be based in the city where the shoot is taking place. If you are not based there, it is highly unlikely you will be chosen; there are too many risks involved.

Do you have friends or relatives you can go stay with on location for a few weeks? At least then you'd be on hand to attend any open casting calls that may be publicized, register with the local extras casting company (once it's been announced) and cross your fingers that you might get a phone call. This may help your chances somewhat, but will not guarantee in any way that you will be needed.

You must also be able to legally work in the country where the shoot takes place. No one will provide work permits for the background actors.

As for the age requirement, the needs differ with each shoot. When it comes to minors, producers generally prefer to hire older people to play younger, due to child labor restrictions (the younger an actor or extra is, the fewer hours he or she is allowed to work; producers want the flexibility to shoot longer hours, if needed).

So if you look young for your age, you have an advantage. If the script calls for extras age 10-12, for example, producers may choose to hire 12- to 14-year-olds who LOOK younger instead.

If the script doesn't specify age ranges and producers have the choice, in the US they will generally try to hire actors who are at least 16. Eighteen and older is even better, because they can legally work the longest hours in a day. The laws may differ in other countries.

Q: I was scouted by an agent at my local mall. They want to sign me, but say I have to take some classes at their acting school first, because I don’t have a lot of experience. What should I do?
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A: Here are a few red flags to look out for when vetting talent agencies:

1. Bona fide talent agencies are not schools; bona fide acting schools are not agencies.

Scammy acting/modeling schools sell their prospective students on the dream that they can submit them for paid acting or modeling jobs...IF they sign up for their (very expensive) classes.

News flash: They usually can't. Most industry professionals don't work with these kinds of establishments.

Now, it's rare, but we have known excellent acting teachers in smaller markets who manage a select roster of actors. The ones who do sell their acting courses for a reasonable price, do not engage prospects in hard sales pitches and only agree to represent the very best of their students. No guarantees, no hype.

This is a tricky area, though. Larger markets typically frown on the practice of representing and teaching at the same time, because of the potential conflict of interest. Some smaller markets have to be slightly more flexible, due to economic factors. The key will be to find out if the teacher is respected in the local community (I'll talk more about teachers in a bit).

2. Bona fide talent agencies don't have offices in shopping malls.

Scammy acting/modeling schools often open up shop where there are a high number of young, gullible prospects: At the mall.

Respectable talent agencies have proper offices, in the parts of town where other industry professionals work (production companies, casting offices, etc.) and they don't need to send their employees out on the streets trolling for actors or models.

3. Beware of anyone who calls himself/herself a "talent scout."

We've never met a so-called "talent scout"...except scam artists.

It's possible you might get noticed one day in passing by a talent agent, a modeling agent, a casting director or a producer (and likely all they'll do is give you a business card; no hype involved).

But a talent scout? The ones I've met were usually trying to round up starry-eyed prospects to sell them expensive classes or portfolios...or worse. Be careful.

4. Good talent agencies normally don't advertise for actors.

They don't need to. Trained, professional actors are banging at their doors for representation. Be cautious if an agency needs to run ads to lure actors in: It's usually not a good sign.

I've mentioned this in previous posts, but it bears reminding: Real agents make their money by representing strong actors and earning a commission off the work they find for them. Agency/schools make their money off selling classes and portfolios.

5. There should be no hard sales pitch at a real talent agency.

A bona fide agent is interested in finding out if your skills, experience and looks would add to his roster and help him earn more money off the jobs he helps you find.

A scammy agency/school will lure you in, purportedly to see if you "have what it takes to make it in the business," but soon, you'll find yourself in a room with dozens of other hopefuls, listening to a long sales pitch about how they can make you a star. Warning: Their smooth talk can be very seductive and you may start to believe it.

But soon, you'll be taken into a private room with a "talent scout" who will "assess your potential" (inevitably telling you that you're destined to be the next big thing) then pressure you or your parents to pay up for the classes or photo shoots immediately. RUN AWAY FAST!!

6. Agency/Schools usually don't have the best teachers.

At all. In fact, we know of only ONE dubious agency/school in the area that for a while had some good teachers, but they all ended up leaving, I think because they felt slimy about the company's recruitment tactics.

The best teachers tend to work in acting conservatories, universities or as private coaches. Not in shopping malls. Not in schools that double as acting/modeling agencies. Save your money and avoid learning bad habits that will have to be unlearned: Only work with respected acting coaches.

If you're not sure who is respected, do the rounds of all the theatres in your area (you can usually watch shows for free, if you volunteer to usher). When you see a really great show with fantastic actors, stick around afterward and ask the actors whom they study with.

Note: It's a good idea in general to start networking in the acting world; you'll learn a lot from your fellow actors.

Q: I don’t live anywhere near Los Angeles or New York and I’m trying to get my 14-year-old daughter some work in acting. How should I go about getting started? Do we need headshots and an agent before we even try? Can I get a good agent locally or should we go to L.A.?
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A. Does she have training and experience? Sometimes junior high or high school drama departments are led by qualified teachers, but I've also seen them turn out amateurish actors with very bad habits that need to be unlearned, so you might need to seek out a proper acting coach or school. Here are a few things to look out for in any acting class:


* Does the teacher talk a lot about "emoting," making facial expressions or crying on cue? Or does he/she talk about objectives, obstacles and tactics?

A good acting coach teaches actors to focus on what they are trying to DO in the scene, not on what they LOOK like. "Emoting" never looks real. When an actor is really present in a scene, using different tactics to try to achieve objectives, the emotions come naturally and they're believable. "Mugging" isn't.

* Does the teacher use a lot of adjectives or verbs in his or her direction?

Beware of a teacher whose direction consists of "Try to be more angry" or "Do it again; this time play it sad." This teacher is focused on the exterior (facial expressions), rather than the interior (motivations, desires, objectives) and this direction will result in a lot of mugging instead of real emotion.

Instead, look for an acting teacher who directs mostly using verbs that focus on what the character is trying to GET from the other person: "Make her give you the money." "Get him to apologize to you." "Grovel for them to take you back." "Seduce him." "Destroy her." This teacher understands that emotions come naturally from pursuing objectives; from dealing with and overcoming obstacles.

* Does the teacher talk about listening and responding, being in the moment, playing off what the other actors give you?

This is usually a good sign. A true actor cannot plan her reactions in advance, because if she's really in the moment, she technically doesn't know what the other character is going to say next nor how he is going to say it. She needs to be available and open and ready to respond appropriately to whatever happens, just like in real life.

A bad sign is if the teacher tries to get actors to plan their reactions in advance or constantly gives "line readings" (in other words, says to the actor "Deliver the line like this: 'I never said you STOLE the money!'").


Okay. Say your daughter has good training. Can she get some experience outside of school? Local professional theatres? Also look around for auditions for independent films; there may be an opportunity to build up an acting reel, if she gets a few well-produced, professional looking scenes.

Just be sure to research the filmmakers and the project beforehand, to make sure they're on the up-and-up. A lot of indie filmmakers choose to shoot under one of the Screen Actors Guild's low-budget agreements, which can be reassuring to actors and their parents that certain standards will be maintained (such as working hours, minor labor law protections and workers compensation insurance). You can read up on some of these contracts at

Talent Agents

Once she has some training and experience, and preferably an acting reel, she can put together an acting resume (which I won't go into today; in the meantime, there are a lot of books on acting that talk about what belongs on an acting resume and what doesn't) and a photograph and first try to contact a LOCAL talent agent in the nearest large or medium-sized city. Before moving to LA, you need to find out if she can compete in a smaller market, and also try to procure a SAG card, which is much easier to do in a regional market than in LA. So start with a local agency. A Google search should turn up a few in your area. Also read my previous post, "More of your acting questions answered" under Question #4, about finding SAG- and AFTRA-franchised agencies.

NOTE: I wouldn't spend money on headshots at 14, until she's met with an agent. The agent may have recommendations or certain requirements, so it would be a waste of money, if you had to have them redone. Just use a photograph that looks like your daughter in real life (NOT a glamour shot), in which the face is clearly visible (no hands on the face, no hats). You can get professional headshots taken after the agent agrees to take her on.

A talent agent only earns a commission off the jobs that her actors book. She should not be pressuring them to purchase her acting classes or headshots, or charging exorbitant registration fees. She may be able to recommended acting coaches and photographers, but she should not be getting kickbacks from them.

Q: So where would I find a list of suitable agents, who are not frauds of course?
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A: Screen Actors Guild (SAG) maintains a list of franchised talent agencies. The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) also maintains a list of its franchised agencies. That's a good place to start.

Remember, a bona fide agency only earns money when you do (i.e. a commission off the work they find for you). They don't try to sell you classes or photographs, or charge you exorbitant registration fees. You will need training and headshots, but real talent agencies don't sell those. They may give you a list of recommended acting coaches and photographers, but they shouldn't try to coerce you to hire a specific one (that may mean they're getting kickbacks; not good).

Q: I live in Canada and it is extremely hard to get American auditions, especially without an agent. Do you know any good Canadian agencies? Also, can they get me on an American gig?
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A: The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) has branches across Canada that should be able to provide lists of recognized talent agencies.

You need to have a work permit to work in a country other than your own. Unless you're a star, the production company will not procure one for you. So it's not likely a Canadian agency can get you an audition for a job shooting in the States, unless you already have work papers or dual citizenship. And even then, most casting directors prefer to work with actors who live in the region where the job is shooting. So you'd be better off moving to the city where you want to work (as long as you are legal to work there).

Q: I’m a professional actor in the Northwest. What are your submission instructions?
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A: If you’re a professional actor living in Oregon or Washington and don’t currently have representation, you can send a hard copy headshot and resume to our offices by following the instructions on the contact page of the Lana Veenker Casting website. Keep in mind that we are not a talent agency and we don’t represent actors. But we do keep headshots on file.

If you already have representation in the Northwest, you don’t need to mail us your materials. We’ll get them from your agent when we need them.

NOTE: This option is for OR & WA RESIDENTS ONLY! If you don’t live in the area, do the research for your own ‘hood and nearby cities for casting offices. We only hire outside Oregon and Washington when we are doing national searches, which will be widely publicized on The Casting Scoop and in the media.

Q: I’m a non-professional living in the Northwest. How do I get listed in your extras database?
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A: If you’re not a professional actor, but still live in Oregon or Washington, you can head to the Rutabaga Background Casting website and follow the instructions there on how to be listed in our database as an extra. Occasionally, we send out casting calls to our extras mailing list, so you may have the opportunity to be seen if you are based locally. There is no charge to create a basic profile and be listed in the database.

NOTE: This option is for OR & WA RESIDENTS ONLY! If you don’t live in the area, do the research for your own ‘hood and nearby cities for casting offices. We only hire outside Oregon and Washington when we are doing national searches, which will be widely publicized on The Casting Scoop and in the media.

Q: I’m interested in attending a Tools 4 Actors workshop. How can I sign up?
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A: Keep an eye on The Casting Scoop for information on future workshops. We hope to be able to offer more regularly scheduled workshops in the future, but the current nature of the business means that sometimes the workshops are arranged on short notice and, at the moment, close to our home base of Portland, OR.

Q: Do you offer Tools 4 Actors workshops online?
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A: It’s definitely something we’re looking towards making available in the future.

Q: I don’t live in the Northwest. Will you bring a Tools 4 Actors workshop to my city?
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A: If you’re interested in a Tools 4 Actors workshop near you, be sure to register your interest using Eventful at – just click the yellow “Demand It!” button and enter your city.

If there’s enough demand in a particular city or region, we’ll try to work something out, so encourage your friends to join our mailing list and register their interest on Eventful as well.

Is money an issue? Are you an organized, responsible and well-connected person? Think you can round up a sizeable group of people?

Then consider hosting a workshop in your area and attend for free. Send us an email at with “Host a Workshop in [Your City’s Name]” in the subject line and we’ll send you a Tools 4 Actors hosting packet.

Q: Can I job shadow or intern with you?
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A: Most of the time, it’s not possible for us to accommodate these kinds of requests. We occasionally take on casting interns, if they can make arrangements through an accredited school program. If you’re local to Portland and interested, you can mail a hard copy resume and cover letter for our files to the address on our website, to the Office Manager’s attention.

Q: I don’t live in the Portland area, but I’d like to find an internship with a casting director near me. How do you suggest I start?
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A: Not all casting directors are going to offer internships, but sending a general inquiry via email or postal mail is a good way to start. Introduce yourself in your letter. If you’re in school and want or need to receive credit for your internship, it might be a good idea to include some information on your school’s internship program requirements. Don’t forget to include your resume and contact information!

Q: Can you pass something on to a celebrity for me?
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A: Since the release of “Twilight”, we have received many requests from fans sent to us in the hopes that we can forward letters or trinkets on to their favorite stars. Unfortunately, we simply can’t forward your information, casting/music suggestions, tokens of love, etc. to the filmmakers, crew or actors. However, doing a Google search for an actor’s fan mail address is a good place to start. Sending such items to an actual fan mail address will certainly get them closer to the star than sending anything to us will!