To get ahead in casting, you fundamentally have to love people. You have to love talking to people, but most importantly you have to love listening to them. After five years in such a challenging and exhilarating industry, I feel that casting is something I have taken to strongly – and I think the real secret to success is being able to find that piece of yourself, however small it is, that connects you to someone else.
On its sixth series and with a BAFTA under its belt; First Dates has proven time and time again that it nails the art of match making. There are many elements that make the show successful, but nothing compares to its brilliant casting. Having started on First Dates as a researcher and now on my fourth series of the show, I feel I know what makes a great contributor for this particular series. Is this something that I have learned? Maybe. Or am I just lucky enough to have found a show that I suit so well? Now as a Casting Producer, of course my role is to make sure that my team meets its targets. For me though, the most important thing is to trust my instincts, keep everyone enthusiastic and moving forward (even in times when people seem despondent), encourage competitiveness but not divisiveness, and show support for everyone.
Here at First Dates we are lucky enough to have access to an online casting database of over 100,000 applicants, but this comes with its own problems and at times it can be tricky to know where to start.
The appeal of the show lies greatly in its representation of those living in the UK today, and the ability of viewers to relate to our daters. With this in mind, it is key that we cast our net as wide as possible and always try to find new ways to represent dating in 2016. With each new series comes the opportunity to tell new stories, as well as finding those golden individuals and characters in their own right. The casting team in many ways represents our audience, and should trust their instinct and use their own judgement. The excitement is, that with each new applicant we contact, we are presented with someone's own life experience and their completely unique view of the dating world. Sometimes a thinly written application completed after one too many Pinots on the sofa can have an AP or researcher on the phone for hours. With each applicant we are interested in exploring what has shaped them, their individual views on relationships and dating, and essentially why they will now find themselves in the First Dates restaurant.
There are many different reasons that people come to us for help, with no particular winning formula on why they deserve to be there. The key is that we want to help them, and follow them on their journey to find love. It is then our job to form a relationship with each and every one of them – after all, it’s much easier to set up your mates!
From a viewer’s perspective there are sometimes evident, sometimes not so, reasons that each pair have been matched – but in reality a great amount of time, thought and passion go into each individual one. It is important to remember that we always match couples in the hope that they will hit it off, but obviously this is never guaranteed. Forming a relationship with each contributor is key, as when it comes to our weekly ‘match meetings’, we know what each person wants from a partner and, not only who we think they will feel an attraction towards, but who will help draw out their individual story. These match meetings can get very heated, and phrases like “Tim DEFINITELY wouldn’t go for Sarah” can often be heard echoed throughout the building.
Once a couple are matched, we tentatively hand our babies over to the Directors to continue their journey. Much like our viewers all we can do is sit back and watch their date unravel in our infamous restaurant; of course in the hope that they meet ‘the one’, but just as importantly that they learn something about themselves. Job done. For now…
Just as I’m writing this I’m asking myself “I wonder if the lollypop lady I walk past on my way into work is single…”
Alex Gray will be speaking at the RTS Futures event ‘First Dates: Uncovered’ on Wednesday 23 November. To find out more or to book a place visit the RTS website.