Unscripted content is a staple in modern pop culture, ranging from dating shows such as The Bachelor to game shows such as The Price is Right. The one common factor that unites these shows is their cast, made up of real people being themselves.
Finding the right cast can make or break an unscripted show. Production companies and networks work with reality TV casting directors who are experts in finding the right people for any given show.
To help understand the world of unscripted casting, Wrapbook spoke with two veteran reality TV casting directors, Alicia Good and Jacqui Pitman. In this article, we will share their insights on the casting process and how producers can best work with an unscripted casting director.
Jacqui Pitman owns Pitman Casting Inc. and PartyPit Productions Inc. It is a full-service reality TV show casting and development company. Pitman has cast shows such as The Golden Bachelor, America’s Most Wanted, The Price is Right, and Face Off, just to name a few.
Unscripted TV casting takes time and effort. According to Good, they are,
“Usually the first step [...] because we have to find the people who are going to be on the show, and that takes time.”
So, always reach out as early as possible. This will give the casting team more time to find the right people and vet them.
Some reality TV casting directors, such as Pitman, also have a background in development. Her experience in unscripted TV casting makes her a valuable asset when you are preparing to pitch your idea.
“A lot of time, when people create concepts, they don’t know if it's castable. So that's when they bring me in, and I get my brain picked.”
Depending on the concept, reality TV show casting requires a lot of time and money. As a producer, the last thing you want to do is pitch a show and then find out that you can’t find the right cast in the given time. Speaking with an unscripted casting director beforehand ensures you don’t waste time on an uncastable concept.
Usually, unscripted TV casting directors work on various shows across multiple networks and production companies. When asked about working with new producers or production companies, Good says that she’s always willing to talk to people.
Pitman echoes this sentiment, highlighting,
“People find me on the internet; people find me on LinkedIn. That happens all the time.”
So, when it comes to unscripted TV casting, don’t be afraid to reach out to skilled casting directors. Just ensure that they have a comprehensive resume and have worked on shows similar to your own. Their insights could prove to be valuable when it comes to greenlighting the show.
During your initial meetings with an unscripted casting director, you must provide all the relevant information regarding the show. Pitman explains how she needs,
“The concept, the location, how much time I have, and their budget.”
Producers will often create a pitch deck and a sizzle to convey the concept of a show. Make sure to highlight the type of personalities you wish to see, as it gives the casting directors an outline of who to look out for.
Additionally, give the reality TV casting directors a calendar as soon as possible, even if it's tentative.
Time is critical during pre-production because finding the right cast can take a long time. Good highlights,
“Different shows take different amounts of time. You are looking for a unicorn, and it’s hard. Sometimes, it can be exponentially harder because you have to put them through background checks and psychological evaluation.”
Unscripted casting directors might juggle multiple projects simultaneously, so they need to know the calendar to decide if they can commit the time required to find your ideal cast.
Another detail that is often overlooked is the target audience. Good explains that reality TV shows are often created for a specific audience.
“I ask them what the age range is and if there’s a demo.”
An MTV show will skew to a younger audience, whereas Lifetime has a much older, predominantly female audience. Knowing and communicating your target audience to the casting director allows them to narrow their search and find the best potential talent.
The more information you can provide to the casting director, the better they can do their job. The points mentioned above are the bare minimum. If you have additional details, such as the intended distribution network or the release window, share them!
Be honest and transparent when discussing the budget and timeline, as reality TV casting directors use this information to build their own budgets and calendars. If your information is misleading, you will run into issues.
Managing expectations early on ensures that casting, pre-production, and production run smoothly.
“... [A] big believer in deadlines and expectations. One of my first questions is what do you need, and when do you need it?”
When approached by a producer, casting directors must decide if they can find the type of people required for the show. Your details allow them to determine if they have the time, resources, and expertise to cast your project.
Once the project is greenlit and the production details are finalized, the reality TV show casting process begins.
The first step of unscripted TV casting is creating flyers and the application portal.
Potential talent will see the flier for the show and usually click a link that prompts them to complete an online application.
The casting flier will convey basic information such as the type of show, the personality types, age ranges, production dates, and financial compensation. Depending on the length of the show, it might also highlight NDA details.
Once the application and flyers are created, Pitman will,
“Send them to the production company before I start, and [...] it takes their legal team a few days to approve stuff.”
If the show's concept calls for a twist or celebrity appearances, keep the details under wraps. Revealing too much information might ruin the show’s announcement before release. In Good’s experience, the general mentality is that loose lips sink ships.
However, this is a fine line because you don’t want to mislead the cast. If you are deceitful in any way, the cast will lose trust in you. It could also harm their mental health, which could hinder their ability to perform.
Trust and open communication are vital when creating unscripted content!
Once the flier and application materials are approved, the reality TV casting directors will circulate fliers to their databases.
Experienced unscripted casting directors like Pitman and Good will have a reality TV show casting database they have curated over time. These databases will consist of thousands of potential candidates who will receive the flier. They might also post the flier or a casting call on a casting website.
Over the years, social media has become the primary way of finding talent.
Good explains how she will post her fliers on social media to further boost their visibility and attract prospective candidates. She even mentions how she has,
“... Been embracing TikTok lately, but it used to be all about Facebook and Instagram.”
As potential talent submit their application, the casting team will evaluate which applicants will move on to an interview with the reality TV casting director. Once the interviews are complete, the casting director will present the network with the options. The network or production company will then make their final choices.
With certain shows, there is an additional step. Selected candidates must go through a comprehensive due diligence process before being locked in.
Around five weeks during unscripted TV casting is dedicated to background checks, psychological evaluations, medical evaluations, and social media checks. Unscripted casting directors will always prepare in advance for people to drop out during this phase. Good explains,
“If you want to cast 10 people, I have to present the network with three times as much. And if I’m presenting 30 to the network, I need to audition or interview triple that, minimally.”
Having backup options ensures that you don’t need to spend additional time and money during a reality TV show's casting period. This part of the unscripted casting process might seem unnecessary, but trust your casting director. You hired them for a reason!
A common pitfall for unscripted producers is to try and craft the story before entering production, but Pitman argues,
“The best shows aren’t written! It’s a little more pricey to let the camera roll for an hour when you can just tell them what to say in 10 minutes. But, if you just let it breathe, that’s where the authenticity lives.”
Trust your cast to be themselves, and they will bring unique perspectives to the table. But if you try to script them, you will only get what you put down on paper.
On the other hand, Good highlights the importance of professionalism and having the right attitude.
“Have your ego in check, [...] show up on time, don’t complain, and you will work a lot in this business. Be a solutions person, not a complainer.”
A bad attitude can be infectious and kill the morale of a production. Being a producer is more than just putting the show together. You must be open and inviting with the cast to build trust with them. Building this relationship with the cast increases the probability of the show’s success.
Trust and collaboration are crucial when working with unscripted casting directors. Sharing all your project details and empowering the casting director enables them to source the best possible talent.
To learn more about the ins and outs of unscripted television, our interview with producer Irad Eyal is a must-read. And the next time you onboard a casting director for a project, don't forget to download our casting director contractor agreement.
At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice. You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.