Wanna work in film? 8 pieces of advice from Casting Director Sarah Finn


When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced it was adding a new competitive Oscar party for Best Achievement in Casting, we immediately thought of longtime AGBO and MARVEL collaborator,  Sarah Finn. Her illustrious career has defined an era of cinema and launched the careers of many of today’s biggest stars. Can you imagine Spiderman without Tom Holland? Everything Everywhere All At Once without Michelle Yeoh? Black Panther without the brilliant Chadwick Boseman? Neither can we, and Finn is the genius behind each of them.  

Her credits also include the Oscar-winning ensembles of Crash, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and the AGBO-produced Everything Everywhere All at Once (which she also joined as a producer). In addition, Finn was casting director of AGBO’s The Gray Man and Extraction.

Long before she was gathering The Avengers, Finn cut her teeth in the world of New York theater, where every prop, every line, and every role mattered. She learned that the devil (and often the future Oscar winner) is in the details, treating each project as a masterclass in character study. 

The AGBOVERSE sat down with the legendary casting director to gather career advice for those aspiring to follow in her footsteps – or perhaps be in front of the camera themselves.

1. Your network is your net worth. Finn's leap from stage to screen was less calculated leap and more fortuitous stumble, thanks to a web of theater connections. “It was actually through the theater that I got in touch and became friendly with the theater director, who was also a casting director," says Finn. This underscores the casting creed: Your next big break might just be a coffee away. 

2. Turn curiosity into your compass. In the fast-paced world of film, Finn remains a perpetual pupil, her curiosity unfazed by the complexities of CGI, particularly for roles demanding motion or facial capture, and the ever-evolving narrative landscapes.Her adaptability has been her superpower, allowing her to navigate the shift from indie darlings to blockbuster behemoths with grace and grit. "I just got so immersed with [working with CGI.] It was so exciting to me," Finn says. 

3. Connect before you cast. "When I work with actors I try to understand what their training is, what their background is, what the best vocabulary would be to help them and communicate with them," says Finn. This empathy was pivotal when casting for Coach Carter, a film that required actors to embody the raw, emotional journeys of their characters. This ability to connect with actors on a personal level has led to the discovery of talents like Channing Tatum, whose career trajectory shifted dramatically after the film. Her intuitive approach ensures that auditions are less about judgment and more about mutual discovery, enabling actors to bring their most authentic selves to roles.

Want more behind-the-scenes insights from masters? Meet Judianna  Makovsky, costume director extraordinaire. 

4. Scrutinize scripts, humanize roles. Finn approaches casting with the meticulousness of a detective. For instance, when casting for Mosul, Finn embarked on a global search to find actors who could authentically portray the story's Iraqi characters. Finn notes, "Casting for Mosul was like a global detective mission, searching for authenticity in every role. It's about looking beyond the surface to find actors who can bring truth to the screen." Despite the challenge of finding actors displaced by conflict, her diligent research and networking led to discovering Suhail Dabbach in Arizona, proving her exceptional skill in uncovering talent.

5. Trust your gut. Sometimes, casting isn't about spreadsheets or algorithms; it's about that gut feeling. Chris Evans as Captain America was a gamble based on intuition, a bet that paid off with superhero-sized returns. Initially, Chris Evans wasn't considered for the role due to his past portrayal of another Marvel character. However, Finn reflects, "It wasn't until later on in the process for casting Captain America that I at a table stuck my neck out and said, ‘Why can't we talk about him?’”

6. Lead with vision, follow with unity. Finn's position often requires her to mediate between the bold ideas of directors and the cautious prudence of production teams. Her pivotal role in casting rising star Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther is a prime example of her adept negotiation skills. "One of the hardest challenges we face is when people aren't on the same page, it's the casting directors, it's directors. It's the producers and it's the studio, and there's a lot of different minds that have to meet in the middle," notes Finn. Her persuasive efforts united all parties, leading to a casting decision that deeply impacted the cultural landscape and became a defining moment in cinematic history.

7. Think outside the box. When faced with casting conundrums, Finn's creativity knows no bounds. She's the Houdini of casting, turning potential crises into opportunities for innovation. A shining example of this is her work on Everything Everywhere All at Once, initially scripted for Jackie Chan. “Even with Jackie Chan saying no, I've learned along the way that when an actor says no, you don't have to be sad because it means they're not the right person to play the part," remarks Finn who placed Michelle Yeoh in the Oscar-winning role. 

8. Know when to push for what’s right.  In Finn's gospel, "no" is just the beginning of a conversation. Her tenacity has been the driving force behind her most celebrated casting decisions, from discovering diamonds in the rough for Mosul to casting Tom Holland as Spider-Man. The moral of the story? When it comes to casting, push for what’s right. Final piece of advice from Sarah:  “Just if you love it and you have to do it, please do it." 

Sarah Finn's career proves that behind every great film is a casting director who believes in the magic of the perfect match.

Get more advice from film industry veterans, straight to your in-box. Subscribe t