San Francisco-based casting director Taylor Lambert may have taken the long way around from acting to his casting career, but not even a global pandemic could stop him from attracting high-profile clients like Apple, Amazon, Adobe, and Delta. Two years after starting Aura Casting as a fully virtual casting service, Lambert and his team are finally planning their launch party. We sat down with Lambert to talk about what it means to be a virtual casting director and, yes, to get all the details on that launch party.
Thanks for talking to us today. You started as an actor before moving into casting. How did that transition come about?
The transition didn’t go directly from acting to casting. I spent time as a property manager, I sold cookies, I got into software sales, I did video production. I had a stint where I was a talent coordinator for a VR startup entertainment platform. And then finally I got into the realm of casting after all of that.
It worked out really well because all of those things that I did aided me. I spun all those things together into this new virtual casting creation I call Aura Casting.
How is virtual casting different from what we would think of as traditional casting?
Everything is entirely online, pretty much the way that it’s been in the pandemic. I guess the only difference is now that things are opening up again, we don’t have a studio to return to. I started my company without a studio because we didn’t need one then, and we still don’t.
A lot of my producer clients prefer Zoom callbacks. Everything is initially done on self-tapes, with callbacks for the few jobs that need callbacks, because most of my jobs work off self-tapes. We just jump on Zoom and it works really well. It’s efficient, it’s convenient; as long as there’s no lag and the video quality is decent, we can really see what we need for the shoot. And all parties save money, time, and energy.
If you weren’t in casting, what do you think you would be doing now?
I think that I would be a producer at a production company. Up until the pandemic hit, I was working at a production company as a production coordinator. And so I thought that might be my trajectory to go in that way and learn production.
But frankly, I’m so happy I didn’t go into production because, my poor clients, I mean, I can feel the stress coming off of them! With casting, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. With producing, there’s, like, 34 pieces. So I’m happy to just stay in my little lane of dealing with talent and agencies and negotiating. I think that had I been a producer, I would’ve burned out pretty quickly.
It sounds like casting was the right call for you. When you look back on your career, your casting career so far, is there a proud moment that you can tell us about?
I was really proud of an eight-hour turnaround casting. I had a producer call me in the evening saying, “I need talent at 6 a.m. tomorrow, seven of them. Can you do it? Can you find me seven actors?” I said, “You got it. Give me a few hours. I’ve got you.” And sure enough we did! We got all [the] talent to be there on time. It was supposed to be a half-day shoot, but everything was going so well [that] they booked them out [for] the whole day, and we just had a blast. It’s always fun to be the hero.
When it comes to inclusive casting, how do you go about filling that brief?
I use every tool that I can think of—friends, social media, Casting Networks, agencies, word of mouth—everything I can do to get the casting call out there. Talent agencies now represent all walks of life, all backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexualities, and it’s easier than ever to find talent through social media. We love to receive inclusive casting specs because it allows us to utilize our network and connect with artists all over the country.
Talent agencies are starting to rep all walks of life, all backgrounds, ethnicities, and sexualities. The talent pool has opened up a lot. Sometimes I’ll put a casting on social media and we get wonderful responses from either agencies that rep all types of people. Or talent directly will DM me and say, “Hey, I just saw this casting. I meet the specs.” Sometimes they’re tricky specs to fill and I say, “Great, let’s have you do an audition.”
You mostly focus on casting commercials and social media and print, and you’ve racked up some impressive clients like Apple and Amazon. How does your approach to casting change from one type of project to the next?
Every single job is entirely different. Rate, union, non-union, location, age demo, casting rate—all these things that help influence me in my decision-making on how I’m going to cast this, what channels I’m going to use, who am I gonna call, what are new relationships I can make.
Maybe it’s a casting in Chicago, and I haven’t done much casting there. I’d reach out to a bunch of agencies, jump on a Zoom meet and greet, have coffee, make friends, and there you go. And then we just set up the beginnings of a new relationship. [I have a] wonderful rapport with talent agencies across the country since we do castings all over the nation.
If somebody made a film about your life story, who would you cast to play the role of Taylor Lambert?
Well, me of course, because I used to be an actor. But if I’m booked out for another job, I might have Adam Scott do it. Incredible talent. There’s a kind of enthusiasm and subtlety in communication that I believe we both share.
Possibly Emile Hirsch. Maybe a combination between Adam Scott and Emile Hirsch.
How has your acting experience influenced and that way that you cast?
I’ve been an actor, I’ve seen actors work in theater and film, I have been in commercials. All those things we learned in acting school and [through] professional experience have really helped influence the kind of people that I now try to book and recommend to my clients. Obviously, they make the final decision, but I’m really there as someone who can help coach them along and find great talent.
And I think it’s also given me such an enthusiasm to be a casting director because I’m really rooting for the actor now. There’s nothing more delightful in my day than getting on a call telling an agent or an actor, “Hey, you’re booked for this job.” And just feeling the elation in their voice, feeling how happy they are because they knew they were up against 500 other people, and they got the job. They did it. That’s really a meaningful experience for me to share with the talent.
You’re hosting an industry party in the Bay Area in December. What can you tell us about it?
It will be December 1st in Berkeley, California [with] 350 industry professionals, actors, directors, producers, writers, production coordinators, [and] casting directors. We’re celebrating our launch. Obviously we’ve been “launched” for two years, but we started in the height of the pandemic in December 2020. Now we feel like it’s a safer opportunity for people to get out and meet and connect and shake hands and hug and do the things that we used to do, but in the context of a big party.
Last question: What do you do to relax and recharge when you’re not working?
I love to take long walks around where I live in Walnut Creek. [There’s] beautiful nature around here. I also love calling up friends and family and hearing about their lives. It’s very nourishing to catch up like that. I’ll feel restored visiting a good, old-fashioned coffee shop on an autumn afternoon, or hanging out and watching a movie with my wife and family.
This interview has been edited and condensed.