The Difference Between a Casting Director and a Talent Agent


This article was written  by Kate McClanaghan of I thought you guys might find it beneficial.

I once asked a former commercial talent agent of mine, “what would you say is the difference between a talent agent and a casting director?” And she replied, without hesitation, “about $3000 dollars.”

It sounds like a punch line to a joke, but what makes it funny is that there’s a fair amount of truth to it.

To be clear, a casting director gets paid by the advertising agency or the production company that hired them to hold auditions and deliver talent that are best suited to the demands of the production. They don’t ‘rep’ talent because technically they work for the ad agency or production company that hired them for the project.

A talent agent is paid by the actor after they land a job.

A talent agent does represent talent, negotiates their rate and supplies (potential) clients, such as casting directors, producers and their associates, with talent that best suit the demands of their production or project.

According to SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), a talent agent “solicits employment, submits talent for employment, and/or negotiates compensation and terms of conditions of employment for the performers.”

Simply put, the talent agent is the primary liaison between the talent and the work.

Both professions require an understanding of the industry as a whole, a great familiarity and confidence in the pool of talent they have to draw from, an understanding of what the job is worth—to the talent as well as the producers, and, to a great extent, the obstacles talent and production alike may encounter.

It’s also required that both professions are very familiar with the demands of the talent during production, and what the job is worth in time and money. Casting directors must have a good working knowledge and direct access (through the talent agents) to the wealth of talent in the region. The casting director is expected to have the ability to convey the needs of the production to the talent. In other words, a casting director is expected to direct.

A casting director for the most part, calls a number of talent agencies in their area to send appropriate talent for a given production and then holds an audition. It may or may not be recorded. The final casting decisions, of course, are made by the producer(s) or director who hired the casting director in the first place.

So, you need to make yourself known to the casting directors through mailing your materials to them directly, three to four times a year. Once you have a talent agent to represent you, the casting directors will call you in for auditions through these agents, rather than calling you directly.

When going to see a talent agent (by appointment), it is expected that you arrive on the talent agent’s doorstep a fully realized professional, regardless of whether they are union or not. Being a fully realized talent has less to do with experience and more to do with preparedness; this means your promotional materials must meet or surpass professional standards, be up-to-date, and you must be readily available and easy to reach via cell phone and email within an hour or less (of being contacted by the talent agent).

Talent are strongly discouraged to contact casting directors directly by either cold calling or simply “stopping by.” If you do, you will have crossed a professional line and will likely be met by very irritated individuals who are likely to have little interest in you in the future, let alone in the present. The reason being: you will have probably interrupted production and you clearly don’t know the chain of command at play here. You will have bypassed the proper channels of operation.

Many casting directors, especially in major markets, offer training to impart their knowledge and personal preferences, based on the aspect of the industry they service most. (In other words their input may not apply to the industry as a whole, as casting directors typically specialize in one or two areas such as voiceover, commercial work, film or television. So be sure their advice applies to you and the work you’re attempting to land more of.) Taking a class from a casting director offers talent a grand opportunity to learn what’s needed and wanted while scoring some productive face-time in front of the people most likely to have a call for your skills. Further, you’ll certainly develop professional relationships with prominent casting sources while you’re at it.

Union-franchised talent agents, on the other hand, per their license, are not in the position to career coach or legally receive compensation from talent above and beyond the 10% commission they receive for negotiating your rate of pay from a booking (job). That would be a conflict of interest as talent agents, technically, earn their income from the actor securing work.

So, in a nutshell that should clarify a few things for you, if you didn’t already know.


  1. Good article, and very beneficial. Knowing the difference between these key players in your Voiceover career is vital when designing your marketing plan!

  2. Thorough article!
    I’d like a career in the film industry as a casting director or talent agent so understanding the different is essential!
    I definitely learned a few things!
    Thank you.

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