TV Pilot Casting Directors See More Diversity, New Challenges This Season

Pilot Season Casting Directors

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to several of Hollywood’s top casting directors — including Grace Wu, Tess Shanchez, Sharon Kelin, and Dawn Steinberg — about casting the 87 pilots that are in development and the challenges and changes they have seen this pilot season. Here are some of the highlights:

According to Klein, one major change is that she is seeing less actors having to audition. “Rather than the normal casting and testing process, a lot of actors are getting test offers converted to straight offers. So we’re skipping the audition process altogether.”

Sanchez has noticed that actors with clout are using their pull to reduce their commitments to a series and to select where the series would be shot. She says, “Actors asking for [shorter deals] and specific locations. They’ll call and say, ‘I won’t work in Vancouver,’ so we’ll shoot the pilot there but the series in L.A. People also ask for shorter episode orders and fewer years than a standard seven-year contract. We’ve been trying to hold strong.”

On the positive side, Steinberg has noticed that casting has been more diverse than ever. She says, “There used to be a time when it had to be written that way to look for an actor with a specific ethnicity. Now it’s just who is the best actor for the role.”

Some challenges never change for casting directors though. There are only so many hot actors to go around per season, and Steinberg laments, “Everybody vying for the same actors at the same time.” The casting directors name Idris Elba, Alison Brie, Rose Byrne, Craig Robinson, Andre Holland, and O’Shea Jackson Jr. as in-demand actors this season.

When it comes to the most difficult roles to cast, Klein and Steinberg agree that it’s a leading man. Klein says “A comedic, diverse leading man,” while Steinberg says, “That 30- to 35- year-old leading man. For a lot of those guys, we started to go to London and England. And a lot of actors don’t want to do 22 [episodes] anymore; they want to do cable shows. That’s a problem. We need good actors; it’s not going to be the models who didn’t train.” In contrast, Wu says she has the most difficulty casting 30-something comedic leads regardless of gender, explaining, “The funny, leading lady or leading man in his 30s. All those people are working; and if they’re not in TV, they’re in features.”

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