Note: This article is written by a former Production Manager, who worked in the industry for a year.

There is something very personal about experiences – they shape how you see things – they shape your choices and goals. When I say this, Mumbai is the first thing that comes to mind, because it means so many different things to different people. We see it as this place which makes dreams come true, but what about the dreams that don’t make it? We hardly get to hear about those, because in a world that functions on power, those voices are insignificant.


After getting to work in the system, and closely watching how it functions, I can tell you it’s not always dreamlike, it’s rarely dreamlike. You work hard to push past the biases and flaws, thinking that you made it, but it can all be taken away in a jiffy. Because again, the space thrives on power. That’s true for the entire world, but it’s particularly true for the film industry, because there are no rules there. And without rules, the world becomes a weirder, more scarier place.

Casting for actors

Don’t get me wrong, if you make it, it could be the best thing ever. However, it’s important to take the rosy-glasses off every once in a while to see things as they are. For instance, here are some industry truths that I discovered after getting into the system:

1. Famous people and star kids are hardly ever auditioned.

When most ad films or feature films are written, star kids and celebrities with power are not auditioned for them. Most times, scripts are written keeping specific people in mind. Casting is majorly done for secondary or tertiary characters, and not for the lead. So when people talk about nepotism and star kids being served work in a silver platter, it’s true that that happens.


2. Casting couch exists.

Casting couch is looked at as something that is a rare occurrence, when it’s not. It starts at the grassroots, and for small jobs by being told that it’s something “everyone does”. For women, this is especially tricky and unsafe, but the system abuses both men and women. If and when actors deny, or don’t act at all, the consequence is common – that you don’t end up getting the work. I’ve seen women being asked to come and audition in hotel rooms, and being black-listed, if they denied.


3. Scammers can ask you for money for an artist-card that doesn’t exist.

There is no such thing as an artist card to audition or work in films or with production houses. A number of casting co-coordinators (or people who pretend to be them), come up with false stories. The process is simple for them: they tell actors that they’ve been cast for some work, for which they need to deposit an amount. According to these scammers, you will get an artist card to work in the industry, which doesn’t really exist. Most actors make the deposit, because it all sounds so real, and they never hear back.


4. Casting coordinators take a cut that they lie about. You are supposed to get paid more than what you receive.

The process of casting talent includes a number of people. Production houses reach out to coordinators who audition actors and connect them with production houses. There is, however, lack of transparency. So, when the production team assigns a specific amount to an actor for their job, it goes through the coordinators in most cases. The coordinators take a cut which the actors don’t fully know about – even if they do, they don’t know the exact amount that was supposed to be theirs.


5. There is no guaranteed time in which you will be paid for your services.

This comes from personal experience. After working for a project, especially if you’re freelancing, you will not know when you’ll be paid for it. This happens with both actors, and crew members. There is a specific timeline which is allotted for clearance of dues, but the production can easily deny or ghost you if they want. You will be paid (in most cases), but that requires a lot of work, in asking for YOUR money.


6. When you choose to work at a production house, there may not be rules and laws that protect the staff.

The thing with production houses is that they are not corporates with rules and terms, and you choose to work for them. The ‘choice’ in question is the one thing that will always be held against you in an argument. So when you go in, you’re all by yourself. If you come out with a bad experience of being exploited or even situations that are ethically questionable, you won’t be offered protection. Even in cases of abuse, the company wouldn’t take a stand.


7. Casting for most films and ad films require women actors to tick all the beauty standards set by them.

Unsurprisingly, women are looked at as objects in most productions. So your looks and background precedes your talent. The basic requirement for most work is to be ‘fair, slim and tall’. You also need to look “upmarket” which is a professional term in the industry. This is not even hidden, because firms blatantly put these ‘requirements’ on casting calls. Most of these casting requirements can be easily racist and casteist, which is again, not very shocking.

8. Even if you send your profiles for an audition, where you fit the requirements, it’s possible that nobody saw your profile.

A common practice at most production houses and casting firms is to not consider talent at all. This stems from not making enough effort at work. So when casting calls are put our, with valid email addresses, it is highly possible that your profile wasn’t considered because it wasn’t seen. A number of emails are missed, merely because they are left unread, if the firm has already found someone else who fits the bill.


9. A common question that production houses ask when hiring is: “Do you have any connections in the industry?”

There is a place in Mumbai called Aram Nagar, which does exactly the opposite of how it sounds. Every day, you can find actors and artists waiting in queues, just trying to find a chance to hand out their CVs and portfolios. Even if you’re lucky to find a chance to enter one of those places, a number of professionals ask you if you’ve links to someone in the industry. This especially happens if you wish to work as a crew member, so it boils down to connection over skills and talent.


10. There is no safety, you can be removed from a job if they want, when they want.

In a lot of cases, professional are hired as freelancers, because that’s just how the system works. So, when a project finishes, you have to find another job, which is, again, a choice. However, if you’re active on a gig, the producers or anyone with power, can easily remove you without providing reason. This is because most production houses don’t have a hierarchy to protect their employees. You are also not given so much as a severance if that happens.


These issues may not exist everywhere, but that’s when you’re very lucky. Besides, ‘most’ places being flawed is not a good enough look.