Claire Toeman, from Crocodile Casting (www.crocodilecasting.com.) contacted us, and volunteered to let us know about her job as a casting director for a company that have become one of the UK's largest Commercial and Corporate Film casting companies. As a mother of a performing child herself (Holly Gibbs - Nanny Mcphee, 2005) she understands many of the feelings and frustrations that we, as parents might feel, and so has some interesting points to tell us, from those on 'the other side'....
I established my company Crocodile casting with my business partner Tracie Saban in 1990, prior to that we were both actresses so we felt we had good experience of the casting process from an actors point of view.
The mainstay of our work is in commercials and corporate films , although we do cast some drama as well.
As you can imagine we have met literally thousands of children in the ten years we have been casting .
My job as a Casting Director is to interpret the directors/advertising agency brief as well as possible. We will receive the brief stating the requirements of the children to be cast .ie, age, race etc. Our casting brief then goes out to the agents. As we have met so many kids over the years, we will also compile our own list of possible choices but children change so quickly, up to date photos are always required by us.
The child’s experience also depends on the job. Obviously if a lot of acting is required we would normally look for children with some experience, having said that however, we have sourced many fantastic children who have never worked professionally before but who have acquired experience through attending drama classes etc.
In my experience, if a child has talent and personality it really shines through, I could interview twenty or thirty children in one session and it will be completely obvious as to who the talented children are.
Commercials are a very different ball game to drama. In a lot of instances the Director is seeking a child with a certain ‘look’, or we will be looking for kids to match up as a family with brothers and sisters or mums and dads.
Commercial castings do not very often allow the luxury of time or having the scripts in advance so the Director will be looking for an instant performance of some kind, something that he will remember or set the really good kids apart from the rest.
However, children are not performing monkeys and they have their good and bad days just like us adults! Commercial castings can be very daunting. A child is taken into a studio where there can often be lots of people watching, clients, advertising agency producers etc….sometimes, for some children this is all a little too much and even the most outgoing of children will clam up.
Unless the children are very small, it is unusual for the parent to be allowed to come in to the audition, its not a good idea as often the parent will try and speak for the child or the child will become too clingy. At the end of the day the Casting Director and the Director needs to be able to see that the child is confident enough to perform alone at the audition, this is a good indication as to how they would be on the day of the shoot.
In contrast to shy kids, we often get children who are over excited and slightly unmanageable. They may have been waiting their turn for a long time outside in the waiting area, commercial castings often run very behind, its all par for the course. Once the child enters the audition, he or she may be hyper or not allow the other children to have their turn properly if they are auditioning in a group. The director really needs to be able to see that a child can listen and respond well to direction.
Commercial shoots are always limited in time and to have a child who misbehaves on set could be disastrous.
Very often, in order to allow for possible problems, two children will be chosen for a role, one as the featured child and another as ‘stand by’. The stand by child will be required to attend the shoot. Sometimes the Director will shoot with both children and a decision will be taken as to which child to use once the rushes are viewed.
For the stand by child it can be a long and tedious wait, often the parents of the stand by child are not told of the situation by their agency which can lead to a lot of frustration. It is always advisable to check this out if your child is offered a commercial.
The licence situation is often a tricky one where commercials are concerned. The advertising agencies know that they are supposed to give 21 days between applying for a license and shooting the commercial. Due to the quick turn around in commercials and the often, very late confirmation on jobs , this rarely happens.
Sometimes, when casting we are limited to using agencies who can turn licenses around very quickly. Licences vary from borough to borough. Some will issue licenses quickly, some will require 21 days. Some boroughs will issue six month licences. Paper work is always involved, children who are represented by agents are usually asked by the agent to provide them with copies of birth certificate, photographs and and up to date doctors note which the agent can keep on file. If a job is shooting in school time then a letter from the school will also be required. A lot of time can be saved by the agent holding the relevant documents on file.
Because of the licence situation it is rare that we would cast a child who is not represented by an agency unless we have sufficient time to do so.
Attending commercial castings requires a lot of dedication from the parent. Castings are usually after school and there may be a long wait. As a parent of a child who acts professionally I can sympathise! No one likes their child to be rejected and the rejection really mustn’t be taken personally, at the end of the day, the advertisers are looking for the best face to sell their project!
The standard fee for commercials for children is £180 per day plus any overtime. There will also be buy outs for the countries where the commercial is being shown. For the UK the buyout is 500% of the daily rate, chaperone fees are paid and audition fees of £18 are paid for the children to attend the casting, sometimes however, these will be reduced if the budget for the shoot is tight. These fees are for featured children, we do often cast roles for walk on kids as well, the fee for them is usually £189 and they would not receive any kind of buyout.
The agencies we tend to use are ones with which we have a long established relationship. We tend to stay away from the large databases as they do not usually have any idea of the ability of the children they represent, we prefer to use agencies who have drama clubs attached to them and who regularly see their children in a drama workshop environment. Having said that however, we also use some of the reputable child modelling agencies although this tends to be for jobs where there is little acting required.
Missing teeth can sometimes be a problem for some commercials, especially if it is for a food product although we are sometimes asked to cast for kids who have missing teeth too! Braces can also pose the same problems.
If you are given a dress brief it is good to try and stick to it, for example if the girls are asked to come in dresses to the audition this will be because the client will want the child to wear a dress in the commercial and it will give everyone a better idea of what the child would look like on the day. Some times school uniform is required or perhaps just casual clothes. Children should always come looking clean and presentable unless requested otherwise!
I hope this article is of use to you and that it provides some insight in to the strange world of casting!
Thank you very much for this Claire, I'm sure many parents will find some value in reading this. We wish you (and Holly) many successes for the coming years...