Diversity in Casting: The Challenge

The casting landscape has changed. Authenticity and diversity have taken center stage to the near-monochromatic casting sessions of the past. Personally, I think casting with authenticity and diversity in mind is just way more fun! …But it’s not necessarily as simple as scheduling more audition times for diverse talent. Finding a cast that’s authentic to a project can have its challenges. 

One hurdle to diverse casting is the limitations of agents’ rosters. Some communities of people are well represented by talent agencies while others are not represented at all. For hard-to-find roles of any ethnicity, skill or trait, sometimes we need to go beyond standard casting methods. It can take out-of-the-box thinking to reach a deeper talent pool.

One example is an interesting commercial for a major credit card company we recently cast. The script called for several talent who were blind or visually impaired and were good with dialogue. They each had to be from a different ethnic background, and they all had to be local hires in New York City. That was a fun challenge! The local agents and SAG database had very limited options, so we started looking under proverbial rocks. From the New York Council for the Blind to arts organizations for the visually impaired, we scoured every avenue. We soon realized we also needed to find ways to support the talent who was visually impaired through the audition process. Some needed a sighted friend’s help, so we offered flexible methods and time frames to audition at their convenience, when their friend could also be available. Others were concerned about traveling safely to and from the set. We were able to coordinate with the client to provide the booked talent with a ride service. By being flexible and thinking outside the box, we found exactly the cast that our clients were hoping for (and the talent had a great experience, too).    

Of course, not all diverse casting requires that much forethought but if you have an upcoming role that’s a bit unusual, this kind of digging for ‘talent treasures’ can be very fruitful… and it can sometimes take a bit longer. A producer’s brain will immediately equate that with more money, but that’s not necessarily the case. This type of outreach may benefit from down days (either unpaid or at a reduced rate) in between paid prep days, to let the casting outreach ‘percolate’. Your casting director might be open to working with you at a flat or reduced rate. Some casting directors would rather be thought of as part of your production team rather than just a subcontractor who bills you at a standard day rate.

So when you have unusual roles, talk to your casting team early in your pre-production process to assess any additional scheduling or budgetary needs. You’re final cast may end up being your most interesting and compelling yet!

For more information about O’Haver + Company Casting, email jenny.ohaver@gmail.com or call 413-528-6728. 

O’Haver + Company… Casting the Human Story.


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