Jennifer Bender
Central Casting, Los Angeles; background casting credits include Live Free or Die Hard, Norbit, Mission: Impossible III

We have a daily registration that keeps our database full of people, and that’s pretty much open to anyone who’s legal to work in the country. We keep them active for two years, and every two years we ask them to come in and update their photo and any information they have. It’s always a fresh pool of people.

In every film there’s always something unique the filmmakers want, so we have to go outside of our database. You start putting the word out. You call people, or you go into the community and you find the part of the city that has that specific demographic, or maybe you can find someone who’s part of a particular club. To find someone with a forked tongue, for example, we might call some of the larger tattoo parlors or piercing parlors. If the [characters are supposed to be] blind, you go to a blind institute. And we’ll also hit Craigslist and MySpace and Facebook and all those areas as well.

Everyone wants to be an actor, right? But sometimes the director just wants the real deal. They want real gang members, or they want real manicurists. For something as basic as a manicurist, sometimes they don’t want an actor. They just want someone to look natural, doing what they normally do.

You have to choose your words carefully. You don’t want to offend people, but you still have to fulfill the needs of a director. I think providing information is the key – and being respectful. Everyone wants to know how they’re going to be portrayed, and it’s their choice whether they want to be involved with the film or not.

Winsome Sinclair
Winsome Sinclair & Associates, New York; background casting credits include Black Snake Moan, Inside Man, 2 Fast 2 Furious

There is political correctness involved, because there are things you just can’t say. You have to use some sort of censorship. When we have a delicate description, it has become common practice to work with the producers and the Screen Actors Guild, and we come together to a collective agreement. How do we get across what we need so our needs are met?

Everything has to go through the producers, because you can’t even really send the script out without a producer’s permission. Ultimately, it’s not your project; it’s theirs. And if there’s delicate language in the script, I go back to the director or the producer and I say, “Okay, how do I word this so I can send this information out?” It’s a PR situation. So I don’t send anything without it being signed off on by myriad people.

But people are people. I’m looking for human beings to do the things I need. And the fact that you’re SAG or non-SAG just becomes part of the logistics. I’m still looking for a type. I’m not going to talk to, treat, or describe nonunion actors in a different way than I would treat SAG actors. Every situation and every individual and every human being should be handled with dignity.

Elizabeth Gabel
Elizabeth Gabel Casting, Albuquerque, N.M.; background casting credits include Sunshine Cleaning, 3:10 to Yuma, No Country for Old Men, North Country

You have to do more “guerrilla” casting, and you don’t advertise, necessarily. You have to be very careful what you say to the press, especially as an extras casting director, because we sometimes are the liaison to the community with a production. We are the ones out in the community, talking to the mayor, talking to the hospitals, talking to the places we need to get the people for the look we’re going for. It can be a sensitive thing. If I don’t want people with shaved heads, I don’t say, “No shaved heads.” I just say that I’m looking for people with longer hair.

We don’t sit in our office and have people come to us. We go out into the community to recruit people. When I do have a casting call, some of the people may not work for that specific movie, but then I have them in my files for the next movie. I would never turn anybody away. They’re an asset; they’re my resource. I have probably 7,000 people in my database right now that I’ve gotten in casting calls over the last eight years. So there are movies for which I don’t even have to do a casting call, because I already have that population in my files.

Nancy Mosser
Nancy Mosser Casting, Pittsburgh; background casting credits include The Road, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, Dogma

Since I’ve been casting extras for 18 years, we have a pretty large database of people that’s always changing. When I first got started, we would do open casting calls. Now we have an online database, and it’s changed everything. But when we do shoot on location outside the main area of Pittsburgh, we still go into those communities and do open calls, and we advertise in those areas.

I really enjoy painting the picture, like the art director or set designer would do. We do that with people. It’s really important to me that it looks right. And what’s good about casting around Pittsburgh is that if I’m looking for a police officer, I can cast a real police officer. They’re used to wearing the uniform, they’re used to handling the equipment, and it looks very real.

I never turn down anyone, because I never know what I’m going to need. Tomorrow I might need a newborn baby, and then I might need a 100-year-old person. You just never know. There have been times when we didn’t find what we were looking for, so the director might have to compromise, or they use special-effects makeup or wigs. But it’s pretty amazing how often filmmakers want us to supply people [with the exact traits of the characters].

This “Ask a Casting Director” column was published in the July 31-Aug. 6, 2008 issue of Back Stage and online at BackStage.com.

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