What's my availability for a casting? That's usually the first question I get from producers when they call. They share the production detail specs and I invariably ask them the questions below. These questions are a good checklist for producers to know before contacting a casting director for a commercial. Here you go... 

1. Where will it be running? (eg. national network, cable, internet, etc.)
In many cases this will determine the quality of talent that will come in for the casting.  Let's say you are producing a fast-food commercial with union talent that is running only in the South and is holding a fast-food conflict.  Any actor that books your spot would be taken out of the running for a national network fast-food spot and would lose out on the money that the spot would generate. For non-union spots the same is true. Since non-union actors are still eligible for union work via a "Taft-Hartley" provision, they too would want to hold out for the bigger paying gig. However, if the brand is small and specific like, for example, a state lottery, and will only run in that state and the surrounding areas, you have a better chance of getting top-quality talent.

2. Does the job require Union or Non-Union talent?
Note that since AFTRA and SAG have merged, jobs will either be union or non-union.

3. How much does it pay?
If the job is union the rate will be set by the union.  If the job is non-union the pay rate is determined by production. Obviously, the more you commit to pay talent the better your cast will be.  If, for example, you are producing a spot that will run national network, the pay rate for talent should be higher than say a local spot running in a very small market.  And remember that a "plus 10%" needs to be added on for all non-union pay rates.  For union jobs, the agents take the 10% out of the union rate.

4. Is there a product conflict for the talent?
Has an actor appeared or will soon appear in a spot for a competitor? The conflict refers to the product and an actor appearing in an ad or promotion for a competing product. This is important information to get at the start so we don't audition actors who are not eligible. (It's important to note that non-union spots do not hold conflicts.)

5. When and where does it shoot?
Sometimes a producer will say "I'll have to get back to you on that," but it's critical for the casting director to know this to make sure the talent is available.

6. What is the character breakdown?
This is a big question. You'll need the basics of ethnicity, gender, age, prototype, etc., and any more detailed information is helpful. The casting director wants to find exactly what you are looking for and they need as much information as you can give. Many times, particularly at the early stage, a production isn't exactly sure what they want in character breakdown which can draw out the casting process. Often, it's helpful for a casting director if the producer can provide more subjective "types" of the talent personality they're looking for early on in the casting process.

7. Is there special copy or action that needs to be seen in the audition?
This is important for scheduling the auditions and for seeking more specific talent requirements. The casting director will need to know how much time he or she would need per actor in the studio, for instance, or if there might be any special props used.

Hope this helps!   - B