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More accurately known as a talent agent, the casting agent is an entertainment industry professional who seeks to identify potential candidates for work on stage, in television, or in the movies. The term "casting agent" is not used in the entertainment industry generally; a talent agent represents performers, while a casting director helps cast performers in a project. The agent may function as an independent agent or work for a talent agency. These agents may also function as model agents, assisting various clients in locating and hiring models for clothing lines or for advertising campaigns.
The casting agent often works closely with casting directors. It is these directors that initiate what is known as a casting call. A casting call is simply an announcement of a new production vehicle that is about to audition entertainers for roles within the production. When an agent receives notification of this call for auditions, he or she will begin to search for performers who are right for the new production and attempt to secure an audition for those performers.
It is important to note that a casting agent is different from a talent scout. Talent scouts normally work for production companies. By contrast, the agent is more likely to be connected with talent agencies that represent a wide range of performing clients.
While the casting agent does identify potential talent for a production and arranges for the performers to attend the casting call, the agent very rarely accompanies performers to the casting calls themselves. Instead, the performer goes through an entry-level audition with a casting director, who in turn calls back performers who show real promise for a second audition with the production director and producer. Thus, the casting agent helps to clear the way for the performer, but it is the responsibility of the performer to secure the interest and support of the team producing the entertainment feature and be hired for the project.
While the roles of various entertainment agents used to be well-defined, it is not unusual for agents who focus on getting casting calls for clients and general talent agents who may choose to represent actors, singers and other performers to be referred to as simply agents. In all situations, the agent normally receives a commission on any performing assignments that are secured as a result of the agent’s efforts to bring the performer and the production company together.
@Iluviaporos - My favorite talent agent on screen is the one in Flight of the Conchords. He's hilarious.
He is portrayed negatively I suppose, although he loves the band, he's just not very good at his job.
The only one who comes to mind as a positive is Jerry Maguire, although he's a sports talent agent rather than an acting talent agent.
I'd imagine getting a decent agent is really important in acting though, as it is in other professions.
I know in fiction writing if you manage to snag a high profile agent your work in getting published is half done (assuming you've already written something decent!).
They probably came about in the same way as well. Agents are necessary because otherwise casting directors would be swamped with the number of people knocking at their door.
This way they have an additional filter to make sure they only see people who are at least provisionally suitable for the role.
Casting agents almost always seem to be portrayed negatively on screen, which is particularly surprising since presumably the people playing the casting agents had to go through one in order to get the gig!
I think a show which explored the realities of the job would be really interesting. Like Extras, but from a slightly different perspective.
You'd get to see all the entitled stars, and the "nobodies", the divas and the nervous wrecks and so forth. It would also tap into the American Idol ethos, where you could root for particular actors and so on.
I'm thinking about a fictional show though, not a reality show. I think a reality show with people just acting the same line over and over would actually be kind of dull!