Stick to doing you: casting director David Steven Wilton on fashion talent and taking your time
Based between London and the south coast, casting director David Steven Wilton has collaborated with some of the biggest names in fashion, scouting and booking talent to help realise a brand’s creative vision. In the past, he has worked with the likes of adidas and Selfridges, cast shows for Vivienne Westwood, and put Brooke Shields on the cover of Pop Magazine. His journey getting there, however, was an unconventional one. Growing up in rural Australia, David found his way to fashion through a love of dance and performance, attributing studying make-up artistry, and later fashion business, with putting him on the casting-director path. Recently signed to East Photographic agency in London, David talks essential skills for the role, weighs up the pros and cons of working in big cities, and the challenge realising your own vision while satisfying a client.
David Steven Wilton
Between London and South Coast
Assistant Agent and Producer, Maxim Fashion Agents (2011–2013)
Casting Associate, Adam Hindle Casting (2013–2015)
Casting Director and Producer, Rosco Production (2014)
Fashion Business, Fashion Business Institure, Glebe, Sydney Australia (2009–2011)
Make-Up Artistry, The Make Up Technicians (2007–2008)
Entertainment Industry Management, Arts, Entertainment, and Media Management, Newcastle Tafe (2005–2006)
Arena Homme +, POP Magazine, Muse, Self Service, Adidas, Selfridges, Vivienne Westwood, William and Son
How would you describe what you do?
I work closely with my clients to find, select, edit and book talent to fit the a brand or publication’s creative vision. This could be for an advertising campaign, fashion cover, editorial or runway shows. I work with a range of clients, the majority of which are within the fashion industry, such as Selfridges, Vivienne Westwood, Pop Magazine and Arena Homme +. I sometimes work with more commercial clients on specific projects that involve finding people to sell a brand.
What does a typical working day look like?
No day is ever the same, which is what I love about the job. Some days I’ll be working on a few jobs at once, which may involve holding a live casting, doing one-on-one go-sees with models, or running in and out of meetings with brands, production companies, stylists and photographers.
“Casting involves being a people person, a lot of administrative tasks and being super-organised.”
Casting involves being a people person, a lot of administrative tasks and being super-organised. The time span of a job can vary, which can make it a 24-hours and 7-days-a-week job, as I am usually working with clients in different times zones. It’s super-important to know how to manage your time properly and create a good work-life balance as it can become all-consuming at times.
How much of the day is spent in front of a computer?
It really varies, I would say a good 80% of my job involves me being in front of a computer or being able to have access to some form of communication.
These days a lot of my work can be done remotely, unless it involves physically being present at a fashion week casting or at a live casting with a client for an upcoming shoot. I am a little old school, as I believe it’s important to step out from behind the emails to do face-to-face meetings, which are key to building strong relationships with existing and potential clients.
What do you like about working in London?
Cities like London are great for exposing you to opportunity. In the past, London has been key to growing and evolving your career as a creative, because it has so much to offer. However, the drawbacks are that you start to think being there is the only way to succeed and stay relevant. If you fall into this mindset, it becomes hard to step back and re-evaluate things. I’ve struggled with this, but I was able to re-adjust and come back with a new approach.
How does your project-based work usually come about?
Most of my work has come through word of mouth, meeting people and on some occasions, Instagram. My editorial projects with fashion publications are instrumental in attracting commercial clients. I have a few key clients that I work with every season, but I try to be proactive in generating my work too. This is particularly important as it keeps you evolving and taking yourself to the next level. Within my work, I aim to maintain a cohesive consistency and identity to be able to attract the right collaboration for future projects. This has helped make me the right person for the jobs I do, as it shows clients how I align with their direction.
“My approach is to give the client what they want, but open them up to other possibilities they might not know exist.”
How collaborative is your work?
It depends on the client, but I love being as collaborative as possible. It can be very easy to become a facilitator when a client asks for a particular model. But this becomes about the popularity of the model and their following, and not really about them being the right person for the shoot. My approach is to always give the client what they want, but open them up to a strong edit of possibilities in line with the brief that they might not know exist.
As a casting director, a huge part of the job is knowing the brand faces, the faces of the seasons and what the more established ones have been up to. This shows the client your expertise and insight on how a particular selection could elevate, or in some cases, be detrimental to them. In the end, they may still go with their initial choice, but if I don’t try to give them other options and open them up to other ideas, I’d feel like I have done them and myself a disservice.
What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job?
Most enjoyable is seeing the finished product and it evoking exactly what you had imagined it to. The admin is the most mundane. But finding a process for all these tasks makes it easier, and at some points allows for a nice break from the crazy periods of the job.
What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months?
My Pop Magazine cover with Brooke Shields. As a casting director, I was involved in pre-production, getting talent to set and trusting it all comes together. Once on set it's out of your hands and you just have to wait to see the outcome. In this instance, all aspects of the shoot were a match made in heaven. Charlotte Wales shooting Brooke, styled by Stevie Dance in Calvin Klein for a Pop cover story was always going to create an amazing outcome.
The team at the magazine are great, super-supportive and trusting of my direction. For the last two issues, I have worked with various photographers and stylists on covers and fashion editorials. Notably the covers of Brooke with Charlotte and Stevie, as well the most recent cover with Hiandra Martinez by Juergen Teller and Vanessa Reid.
What skills are essential to your job?
Being interpersonal, organisation, time management, an eye for detail, and stamina (for the long days and nights of show castings).
Are you currently working on any self-initiated projects?
I’m always working on a few. In some instances, I take a different approach to the way I cast; finding talent who I am inspired by or I feel are relevant to the current climate. I’ll develop a relationship with them and go to brands or publications with the goal of showing them from a fashion perspective. Projects like this can be more interesting for me as it allows me to use my skills and contacts while showcasing more of my own direction.
What tools do you use most for your work?
I like to keep everything digital and online; I’d be lost without my iPhone, Mac and a internet connection. My most used tools are Squarespace for creating casting packages to send to clients, Google Docs, Google Drive, Calendar and Email. This keeps me organised and allows everything to be accessible at any given time.
During fashion week and live castings, I also rely on a few extras. This includes a camera, a selphy printer (compact photo printer), a Dymo labeler, push-pins, coloured stickers and large foam boards. Castings are fast-paced and can change at any minute, so you need to have a visual reference printed out so that everyone involved knows what is going on at a glance.
How I Got Here
What did you want to be growing up?
Growing up, I always wanted to be a professional dancer. After many years of dancing and being accepted into a prestigious ballet school, I decided against it and chose to pursue a career in fashion.
What influence has your background had on your choice of career?
Attending a performing arts high school, I was always surrounded by talented people and free to explore my own creativity early on through theatre, music, dance and performing, which lead me to make-up, costuming and fashion. At 16, my model obsession started with the top models at the time, including Raquel Zimmerman, Sasha P and Gemma Ward.
I grew up in rural town in Australia, where I travelled two hours each way by bus to school every day. The world of fashion was so far away from there, but in high school I got heavily involved in make-up artistry and decided to study it full-time. This opened up many doors for working with models, and started me on the path to where I am today.
“Moving to the London was one of the best things I did for my career; it was where I was introduced to the concept of a casting director.”
How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
A lot of what I do can’t really be taught, but studying as a make-up artist helped my understanding of beauty, how it is subjective and how different people can work within different briefs. It gave me the ability to develop my eye and be confident that what I can see is what a client is looking for in the casting.
Later on, I studied fashion business, which gave me a whole overview of the industry. A lot of it only scratched the surface, but I was given insight into many key roles that trickle into what I do now. It’s helped me to manage the expectations of everyone involved on each job from the photographer, stylist, production, art director, client, sales and marketing, models, model’s agent to the design team in the studio pulling the collection together.
What were your first jobs?
While I was studying make-up, my teacher introduced me to a fashion events producer. I ended up working backstage at a Gucci Runway show, dressing and managing all the models. I was in my element and loved it.
On the side, I worked as a make-up artist on different things up until moving to London in 2011, to support doing various internships within PR, creative and model agencies, as well as being a model scout. In late 2010, one of my internships turned into a part-time paid role working as an assistant producer at photographer agency.
What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
Moving to the London was one of the best things I did for my career; it was where I was introduced to the concept of a casting director. I had worked so hard in Australia to penetrate the tight-knit circles of the industry, but these roles were taken by people who had no intention on leaving until they’d retired. As the market there is much smaller and job movement can be harder to come by, this was a constant struggle along with being told I was too young.
Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
I worked on a project with Adam Hindle, a super-talented casting director. He made it possible for me to step out on my own, and gave me my first show client, which was Vivienne Westwood. This pushed me to establish myself as a casting director and it snowballed from there.
“Don’t try to rush to the top! If you get there too quickly, it’s a long way to fall.”
What skills have you learned along the way?
The skill set throughout my career has generally remained the same. It’s been more about adapting these to different scenarios. One thing that I have gained is the skill of dealing with different personalities. It’s always changes job to job, but once you've mastered it, you can manage exceptions better and are able to put out potential fires you see coming.
What’s been your biggest challenge?
Second guessing myself and diverging from my creative vision. In order to stay relevant I felt like I had to be doing everything and working on projects to maintain relationships. I learned to understand where and when this is the case. Once I recognised that who I was as a casting director was getting lost, I reigned it in and refocused. It helped me to pursue and attract the projects that understood my voice as a casting director.
Is your job what you thought it would be?
Not at the beginning. Although casting directors have been around forever, it’s only in recent years that it has become a much bigger role in the fashion industry, and one that keeps evolving. That’s what keeps me doing it.
What would you like to do next?
One of my main goals it to cast a feature film with a small cast similar to films by Tom Ford, Luca Guadagnino, Greta Gerwig and Yorgos Lanthimos or something biographical – finding people who embody and portray real life like Margot Robbie in I, Tonya.
Words of Wisdom
What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to become a casting director?
I think what’s important for any young creative, and not just someone wanting to be a casting director, is to have a good foundation behind you. I am a big believer that studying only helps you in some areas – and that doing internships and exploring the industry gives you a wealth of knowledge to start any career.
Don’t try to rush to the top! If you get there too quickly, it’s a long way to fall. Break down your time, set goals for growth and enjoy the journey there. There are always setbacks and you’ll want to throw in the towel, but in these times, take a step back, re-evaluate and come back with fresh eyes. You’ll be surprised how much quicker things will fall into place.
Stick to doing you. Bend and be flexible when needed, but if you keep to your creative vision and identity, you’ll attract the right people to work with. Find ways to make your work commercially viable, but don’t distance yourself too far from your creative voice and lose sight of what it is you want to be doing.
Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Mention David Steven Wilton