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Be Your Own Casting Director: Creating a “Casting Book”

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

In the previous post, I mentioned that one of the methods of character casting depends greatly on creating a “Casting Book.” This isn’t necessarily a “book,” though; for me, for many, many years, I had two four-inch-thick three-ring binders—one for men, one for women—in which I had a page/pages for each Real World Template (RWT). I subscribed to multiple entertainment magazines and made sure I got as many clothing company catalogs as possible. This, of course, was back before the days of wide Internet use and computers that could store images without filling up the hard drive.

Creating Your Casting Book

There are so many ways to keep a casting book, but there’s really only one way to start: Always be on the lookout for images of people who strike a creative nerve inside you. You can find them in:

  • Catalogs—either online or physical
  • Magazines—again, virtual or physical
  • Movies/TV shows (best place to find out who the actor playing that character is is on IMDb.com)
  • Stock Photo Sites (Unfortunately, my favorite, JupiterImages.com, no longer exists, but Getty Images will work as long as you can put up with the gray-box/label on the images). Just be aware that you cannot use any of the images from most stock-photo sites for anything other than personal usage without paying for them.
  • Pinterest (follow authors—most of us have Possible Character Template type pages)
  • Museums/libraries’ online photo collections
  • People watching (this is why God invented camera phones!)

Once you find the templates, you can keep track of as much or as little detail as possible about them—if they’re public figures (celebrities, professional athletes, etc.), there will be much more specific info on them than if it’s a model from a catalog or someone you happened to see on the street and sneaked a picture of. This is why I prefer using celebrities/public figures, because not only do I want multiple images, and preferably video, of them to study expressions, body language, and vocal intonations/dialect, I like to keep track of a lot of technical specifications as well, such as:

  • Year born
  • Height
  • Hair color
  • Eye Color
  • Ethnicity
  • Where I first noticed them

I find most of this info on IMDb.com, or sometimes from Wikipedia and/or fan websites. This info is collected in an Excel spreadsheet, which gives me the ability to sort and filter by any of these indicators.

A screen shot of the Actresses page in my Casting Book, sorted by Last Name

A screen shot of the Actresses page in my Casting Book, sorted by Last Name (click image to view full-size)


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My Casting Book currently has just over 1,240 names in it (682 men and 560 women), but that’s because I haven’t recently gone through and added everyone I’ve pinned to my Possible Character Templates board on Pinterest, which would add probably 250 names to the list if not more.

Collecting Images of RWTs

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, up until about fifteen or so years ago, I kept my casting books in three-ring binders with images cut out of magazines and catalogs. But then along came the Internet and computers with ever-increasing memory capacity (I have a 1-Terabyte external hard drive that’s smaller than my first Walkman, and even with two computers backed up to it, it isn’t half full). Once technology allowed me to forgo the physical books, this was how I kept the images that went along with the Excel spreadsheet:

Slide-sorter view of the PowerPoint document containing my "Mac-Mc" Real World Templates (click image for full-size view)

Slide-sorter view of the PowerPoint document containing my “Mac-Mc” Real World Templates (click image for full-size view)


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I still have all of these files—two PowerPoint documents for each letter of the alphabet (one for men, one for women). I haven’t added to them in a couple of years. Not since . . .

Google Image Search for Oded Fehr, using the search tools to make sure I'm getting larger/higher quality images (click for full-size image)

Google Image Search for Oded Fehr, using the search tools to make sure I’m getting larger/higher quality images (click for full-size image)


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Google Image Search is such a space saver when it comes to finding multiple images of RWTs. I’m not having to keep files with multiple images of every template that’s listed in the Casting Book spreadsheet—not when it’s so easy to find images of them online.

And now, with the addition of Pinterest, I have another place where I can “keep” my templates, though I typically don’t do more than one or two on the Possible Character Templates board until I’m ready to use that template—and then I will add them to the board dedicated to that particular story.

Casting a Character Using the Casting Book (Character “Shopping” Method)

First . . . I generally know what kind of character I’m looking for:

  • White
  • Between 30 and 40 years old

And I filter the spreadsheet appropriately:

Spreadsheet filtered by YB (year born) and Ethnicity. (click image for full-size view)

Spreadsheet filtered by YB (year born) and Ethnicity. (click image for full-size view)


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Then . . . I start to narrow it down:

  • Brown hair
  • Blue eyes

Previous results additionally filtered by hair color and eye color (click image for full-size view)

Previous results additionally filtered by hair color and eye color (click image for full-size view)


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Once I choose a template from the short list, I go over into Google Image Search and look him up:
Misha Collins - Google Image Search
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Then, my story bible and my Pinterest board for that story idea come into play.

That’s the “shopping” method. But if you’re always on the lookout for templates to add to your casting book, you’re “browsing” and you might just be struck by “lightning.”

Do you have a “casting book”? How do you find and then collect/keep track of your possible character templates?

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