Talent agents, casting directors, etc. Who does what?
Nov 17 2016
What’s the difference between a talent agent and a casting director? Once you know the difference, it becomes very clear. But many people new to the acting business, and even more of those outside of it don’t know the difference. So, in a few words: Essentially, a talent agent is hired by the actor to represent the actor. The actor’s agent looks out for talent’s interests, working on their behalf (the very definition of “agent”). A casting director is the agent of a producer (or an ad agency, etc.). They are hired by the producer or the end-client, and their allegiance is to that side of the production chain. But is the distinction really so simple?
No. We’ll need a few more words …
First, let’s clarify the word “agent.” In the business of product marketing and marketing communications, there are all kinds of agents. There are casting agencies, advertising agencies, media agencies, marketing agencies, sales agents, and so on. Some agents have virtually nothing to do with voice-over. For example, although a sales agent (also known as a sales representative) might state the need for a commercial to help their selling efforts, they are unlikely to be involved in casting.
So who does decide what voice talent to hire? The answer to that is “it depends.”
Talent Agent: As noted above, the talent agent’s client is the talent, and they generally handle more than casting. They also negotiate for you, oversee contracts, handle invoicing and payments, etc. And yet, although the talent agent is paid by talent (generally via commission), they must also satisfy the producer to do their job successfully.
Casting Agent: Rarely in major markets, but sometimes in smaller markets, some talent agents play both roles, at least functionally. They represent the talent (usually being paid by commission), but they may also conduct auditions themselves. (Also see “Recording Studios,” below, because a studio might also serve this function, except they are paid by the studio’s client, not talent.)
Casting Director: To state the obvious, the casting director directs the casting of a production. They contact talent and/or their agents, issue briefs as to what they’re seeking, and put together a collection of finalists for their client to choose from. Although the casting director makes decisions in this process, the final decision is usually made by their client.
Producer: This is the person or company who (as you might have guessed) produces the production, whatever sort of production it might be (e.g., a film, commercial, game, tour, etc.). They’re on this list because a producer might do casting themselves, using an in-house casting director, or someone who wears multiple hats.
Advertising Agency: This agency represents the “advertiser,” which is the company that creates or markets the product or service being sold. With the blooming of media types over recent decades, an ad agency might create any sort of marketing communication or audio product, ranging from a radio commercial to a viral web video.
Marketing Agency, Public Relations Agency, Media Agency, etc. These, and agents by other names are analogous to the advertising agency, in that they serve the marketer, in various ways. Their service might be broader (e.g., a marketing agency might do anything that is marketing-related), or might be more specific (e.g., a media agency recommends and/or buys media time and space). If they are involved in an audio production, the distinction probably makes little difference as far as voice talent is concerned.
Talent Scout. This is not so much a title as an approach to finding and selecting new talent. It refers to seeking out interesting (and hopefully capable) talent, rather than going out through the traditional casting chain and having selected options come back. The scouting process might include the full universe of trained, established talent, but is not necessarily limited to them. A scout might pick non-union talent off the sidewalk, or from the websites or online collections of voice talent, or out of an acting class, and see how they do. From a client/producer’s point of view, scouting for talent is a legitimate approach, but probably not their only approach. It’s inherently inefficient and unpredictable; the talent might have some distinctive quality, but be untrained, undirectable and/or unreliable, and obviously, the outset of a tight production schedule is not the time to start hunting for diamonds in the rough.
From the talent’s point of view, being found by a talent scout can be either a gift from heaven or an encounter in h**l. Beware of supposed scouts who are not interested in your talent, but rather in your money. Anyway, almost by definition, it’s not a job title you can market to. Or rather, by marketing yourself to these other job descriptions, you would be marketing to talent scouts already.
Production Studio. Hey, that’s us! We include the recording studio in this list, because, as with Edge Studio, its services might include more than recording. Edge Studio is a full-fledged audio Producer, including the provision of casting services. The choice of services is up to our client, as is the choice of talent, usually. But as a trainer of talent, we also have ready access and insight into fresh, professionally ready voices, as well as a deep, wide pool of established voice talent. We take an active role when called upon to be part of the casting team.
Yes, the casting team.
The chain of agents might be long, or might be not a chain at all. For example, between the talent and whoever ultimately pays the talent’s paycheck, there might be the talent’s agent who forwards to a casting director, who reports to a production company, who reports to an advertising agency, who reports to the company paying the bills. Collectively, everyone except the talent’s own agent might be referred to as the “client.”
Or, the client might be a single company, the one that makes or sells the product, producing the audio project themselves — doing the casting and other production planning, perhaps even the actual production — in-house.
Whether the casting is conducted by one player or many, it is likely not a decision made by one person (although the ultimate decision might be). The team may include the producer, the director, the writer, etc., each evaluating from their point of view.
The process itself also often involves multiple decision-makers. First, there may be a screener, someone who listens to at least a bit of every candidate (be it an audition or a demo), and forwards the short list of candidates from among them. Then the casting director, or the production company or the ad agency, etc., adds their insight or further shortens the list and the process proceeds further back along the line … till somebody ultimately says, “That’s the voice!”
Before the casting director can choose you, your agent has to choose you.
Now, let’s focus on the difference between the talent agent and the casting director. While they represent opposite poles in the casting chain (talent, as opposed to producer), they nevertheless have many of the same concerns.
Many voice actors do not have agents and don’t need them. They do just fine by marketing themselves. But to have an agent, first, you have to market yourself to them. Why should they want to you on as a client? A powerful answer is that you have proven yourself saleable, with a strong record of your appeal to potential clients. So, at least when starting out, you’ll want to self-promote. And your eventual agent will want you to continue self-promoting even as they represent you.
That almost goes without saying, so we won’t say more about that right now.
Once you have an agent, you still have to market yourself to them, in a sense. A good agent will work hard to get your demos and auditions heard, and will work with you to find your most saleable markets. But you’re not their only client. Hopefully, you are front in their mind and they know your capabilities well, especially your distinctive strong points. But be sure to remind them of your particular capabilities, inform them as you add to your capabilities and repertoire, work out a game plan, and do your own marketing in coordination with them. (For more on that, see “An Agent Is Not a Magic Wand.”)
On the other side of that coin, your talent agent has to satisfy the casting directives they receive, or they won’t keep getting the calls and emails they need to get you auditions. So if you’re not right for the part as specified in the directive, don’t expect them to shoehorn you in. Presumably, they have other talent who is more what the producer is looking for.
On the other hand, if you’ve already established a relationship with casting directors, through your previous efforts or ongoing self-promotion, that can make it easier for your agent to present you. “Oh, yeah, I know him or her. Good choice.” It may tip the balance, opening that golden gate between your talent agent and the casting director.
We have a coach for that.
As a voice-over professional, not all your work is at the mic. Understanding the fine points of this business is also essential to maximizing your career potential.
And as working VO professionals themselves, All Edge Studio talent coaches are familiar with the business’s various casting process. Some of our coaches specialize in it. You can approach the subject from the performance standpoint, or the marketing standpoint, or both. To learn more, check the following coaches’ bios, and call us. We’ll be happy to guide you to the answers for any question you have.
Casting and Audition: Nazia “Naz” Chaudhry, David Goldberg, Anne Hartung, Marjorie Kouns, Carol Monda, and Kristen Thorne
Marketing, Business and Money: Tom Dheere, Joe Loesch, and Graeme Spicer