Casting calls are notices made to the public or to casting agencies that actors are required for an upcoming production. The term can be applied widely, since anyone from a student filmmaker to a major motion picture studio can issue such a call. The notification can take place in many forms, including industry trades, online bulletin boards, word-of-mouth, agent notification and production lists, to name just a few.
Struggling actors usually find out about casting calls by diligently following the trades, getting on mailing lists or signing with casting agencies. Casting agencies that specialize in providing extras for film and television provide one possible way to break into the industry. These agencies will accept virtually anyone and an agent is not necessary. Many such agencies charge a fee to become a member, usually about US$80. Sometimes work is guaranteed, at least initially, to compensate for the membership fee.
A somewhat experienced actor with an agent will look to him or her to drum up auditions from casting calls. Established agents have well-oiled relationships with major casting agencies, production companies, directors, studios and other industry insiders that send out calls. It is the agent's job to find the best parts for the client. Sometimes the casting notices are fairly generic, but other times they are very specific as to age, gender, height, build, race and any special skills or talents needed. If nudity is required, it is usually indicated up front.
A-list actors do not attend casting calls and are generally attached to projects through inside dealings prior to the project getting funding and going into development. They are more often used to fill out the rest of the cast.
When projects call for non-actors to fill roles, these casting calls are widely publicized to the general public and referred to as "cattle calls." Often reality series television shows will announce them on the air to fill roles for an upcoming season. In this case, hundreds or even thousands of people might respond. Calls of this kind require standing in long lines, filling out applications and interviewing or auditioning. Callbacks come later and usually involve more auditions as the thinning process continues. It is not unusual to get four or five callbacks before getting a part or being turned down.
Acting is a popular pursuit of many young people, and unscrupulous persons take advantage of this fact every day by conducting bogus casting calls that require nudity or partial nudity. These fake "casting calls" are often conducted in someone's apartment or home and sadly, some end in rape or worse. A good way to safeguard yourself is to avoid responding to small, inexpensive ads that require nudity, and stick with legitimate avenues of pursuit for your goals. There are many online resources and well-established casting agencies for inexperienced and experienced actors alike. A little diligent research and patience will pay off in the long run.