With the Casting Directors Association set to host its inaugural awards on 17 March, casting directors Andrea Clark and Amanda Tabak discuss the art of finding the perfect talent for a commercial and why it's time to recognise the importance of the casting director.  

What makes a great cast? From Lynda Bellingham as the Oxo 'mum' and the Lilt ladies, to the 118 duo [below] and the Nescafé couple, the most enduring ads feature strong characters who are intrinsically and instantly linked in the national psyche to their brand. Great actors created these iconic roles but the true skill was in their casting.



Time and time again in directors’ treatments we see that one of the most paramount elements is the casting. Good casting can make or break a commercial, and a good casting director will deliver you an unforgettable cast, who will enhance and promote the brand as the client intended. 

When it comes to commercial casting, there are many elements to be considered by the casting director. What will work for the product that is being advertised and the audience it is being made for will be a very different story in the case of a TVC for Waitrose versus one for the Co-op.  

Take the casting of the Co-op’s recent commercial Ask, directed by Ada Blagaard Soby through Sonny London. The brief was, quite simply, to street-cast a wide variety of families, couples and individuals eating in their homes.  It was left to the casting director to interpret the brief while working within the budget.  The casting team contacted family forums and groups within the demographic areas that seemed to make the most sense for the spot, and generated a huge amount of interest and enthusiasm from families with small children, pensioners’ groups and the LGBT community. 



Finding the perfect talent for each role, however obscure the brief, is what good casting directors know how to do.  Much of the job is down to instinct, from street-casting a Chinese pensioner who plays the drums, to finding an amazing Zumba teacher for a Specsavers spot [below] or searching for the on-trend actor who has the face, demeanour and physical presence which embodies 2017 for a beer brand’s latest campaign. 

Strong organizational abilities are just as important as a creative ‘instinct’; castings frequently have to be put together at the last minute and arranging thirty options to attend a session the next day is no mean feat!  A good casting director will also be able to pull out the best possible performances from the talent at the casting session, should the director not be able to attend.



Casting directors need to have an elephantine memory for artists and pull the right ones up when required, as well a gut instinct for what is going to work. We know which boundaries can be pushed. We have built relationships that can open otherwise closed doors with agents. Our remit is to work with the producer and the director to juggle the often conflicting demands of creativity and budget and deliver the best possible cast. 

In a way, successful casting should mean the talent should be a totally natural fit for the role. The viewer should never question the character. This is true with casting of all genres – theatre, film, TV etc. – but it is even more significant in advertising. There is no time to let the character evolve as the audience needs to be able to relate and feel empathy with the characters immediately.

This is a role which brings with it real responsibility and scope for change: as casting directors we have the ability to challenge the norm and champion diversity – and we are not scared to think outside the box.

The inaugural CDA Casting Awards take place in London on 17 March 2017. For more information, visit