Casting George Clooney or Brad Pitt for your next television commercial? What a dilemma!

Of course, as a marketer it would be very rare that you would ever have to make this decision. The agency or the director makes most of the casting decisions for a television commercial.

You, the marketer will have to sign off on the talent as a matter of process. But the director of the TVC usually primarily makes the actual selection of the acting talent, after all they are supposed to be the expert. In many cases if the agency creative team has experience and enough self-confidence they will also have a lot to say when it comes to casting.

Just to make sure everybody understands the casting process let me give you a short introduction to the main players and the process.

The casting director

Usually the director or creative team brief a casting director, this is a person whose role it is to find suitable actors as required by the script. If the role requires the talent to speak, then an actor will usually be cast to present a believable character for the particular role.

The casting director in most cases is paid directly by the agency. The casting director’s fee will cover the time it takes to cast the roles along with a studio fee and a materials fee (stills and videos of the proposed actors). The casting director will often give a quote on how much fee each of the proposed actors will require to participate in the project.

The actor’s agent

The casting director will often negotiate the actors fee on the clients / agencies behalf with the actor’s agent before the final selection is made, as the ball is at this stage well and truly in the casting directors court. The actor’s agent represents the business interests of the actor.

If the actor wins the role and the agent starts re-negotiating their fee, this is considered very bad form as the power of leverage has shifted from the casting director to the actor’s agent. I know of cases where the cast actor has been dropped because of the agent’s behavior. I have been confronted by agents in Asia waiting until the day of the shoot to try and re-negotiate their actor’s fee.

Actors without agents

If the actor does not have an agent, the casting agent will offer the actor a lower rate than an actor with an agent. Why is this? Often an actor without an agent is just starting out on their career or they have been “street cast”, which means they have been approached by a casting agent in a public place and offered a role in the commercial.

Casting agents will resort to street casting when the person briefing them has asked for “real people” This is not because the person briefing the casting director wants cheap talent but because this person does not want what they call a cast of advertising clichés.

The importance of casting

The casting process is a very tricky one indeed, as every one from the producer to the tea-lady has an opinion and this is usually why the advertiser stays out of the casting process until asked to sign off on some one else’s choice based upon the belief that that someone else knows what they are doing.

But here is a little known fact buried deep within the fine print of the Production Contract (the contract between the production house and the agency / client), which is a clause that states that in case an actor does not perform or does not show up or shows up drunk or drugged or both, then it is somehow the client’s responsibility.

But as the client is usually taking the recommendation of the agency, the director and the casting agent, I believe they should take the responsibility and that all these parties should have practiced some due-diligence before the actor was engaged.

It is a common belief that anyone who presents himself or herself as an actor can act; this is not necessarily the case, particularly among those that are transitioning from modeling to acting.

The need for screen testing

There is one piece of due-diligence that the advertiser can do before signing off on an actor and that is to ask for a video of the actor delivering their lines at the call back or screen testing session. There is a fair chance that if an actor can deliver a convincing performance and get their lines right then there is a good chance that they will deliver on the day of the shoot.

As an advertiser remember if you are not satisfied with the talent ask for the non-performance clause to be withdrawn from the SPAA contract. This will remind the person that made the casting decision that you know your contractual rights and responsibilities and that perhaps they should consider your point of view.

I would be very interested to hear from any clients that have had issues with casting and the casting process and any suggestions you may have that we can all share and learn from.

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