How to properly apply for a Reality TV show, from a disgruntled casting director

I’ve been working in documentary and reality TV for several years now, doing everything from casting to shooting to editing.  My least favorite part by far is casting, and right now I’m in the middle of a big project and becoming a bit disgruntled.  Most people who apply to be a reality tv contestant or “character” seem to have no idea what I’m actually looking for, so I thought I’d offer a few tips (and vent some of my pet peeves).

A reality show casting is the opposite of  a job interview.

One of the hardest parts of casting a reality show is dealing with applicants trying to look good and cover up their flaws.  This is totally counter-productive: if you want to look good, get a modeling contract.  Reality TV is about human drama, which cannot occur if you’re not willing to let your guard down.  Think of it as the anti-job interview.  For once, you can tell the interviewer about all your flaws, your shortcomings, your insecurities. It’s like a therapy session without the “helping” part.  Don’t try to look good. I repeat, trying to look good will get you nowhere.

Experience is bad.  Just like pornography.

Casting directors want to feel that they’ve discovered new talent.  That’s what we get paid for.  If you’ve done Bad Girls Club or Extreme Couponing or whatever, keep it to yourself.  If you’re already a reality TV celeb, we’ve heard of you.  Just let us know why you’re fresh and unique.

Be relevant to the show or don’t apply.

If the show is looking for people with crazy parents, but you have a crazy dog instead, don’t write in.  No matter how awesome you are, we aren’t going to change the topic of the show.

Don’t tell me how young you look. I have eyes.

If we’re casting people who appear 21, and you’re 31, don’t try to convince me that you look like you’re in your early twenties.  It’s just sad.  Instead, send some pictures and let me judge for myself.

Written applications should be neither novels nor tweets.

Don’t send me 10000 words.  Likewise, don’t send me a link to your website and expect me to investigate your awesomeness.  Just write a good paragraph or two that fulfills every requirement of the casting call and makes it blatantly clear why you’re perfect for the show.  And use proper grammar, even if you don’t speak it.

Don’t apply if you don’t actually want to do the show.

Believe it or not, I get a lot of applicants who write long email applications, then disappear once I’m actually interested in casting them.  My theory is that they want to vent their life issues to a stranger, thinking nobody will ever respond. But I read every. single. application.  If you’re good, you will be contacted.  So think it over thoroughly before you apply.  Don’t waste my time or your own.

Do tell me your reality show idea

Just don’t expect to get credit when we use it.


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Latest Comments
  1. Dave

    Quick thought, you’re talking about one side of reality TV. If you’re wanting to be cast as an expert for tv shows then wouldn’t opposite qualities apply?

    • Jack

      Where do you look for people to cast and what kinda questions would you ask? Just curious.

      • Brandon Li

        Hi, I seek out people either via Craigslist ads or other targeted classifieds, and the questions asked vary according to the topic of the show I’m casting. But I’m usually just trying to figure out if the applicant is relevant to the topic, interesting, and if they will give me enough access to their personal life and feelings to make the show work.

        • Jack

          Thanks Brandon, very insightful.

    • Brandon Li

      That’s a good point. I am specifically talking about casting “contestants” or other non-expert characters.

  2. Destroyer_Of_Turkeys

    This is interesting, what about music do you do that as well as cast? If so do you get a list of songs or is there a place online you find good free source music. For my indie vids I tend to just use Sound Cloud but wondering if there are any other good ones?

    • Brandon Li

      I do music placement when I edit; it’s mostly cues from a library that is provided to me by the network. They have blanket deals with music publishers. Some of the best free/cheap music online is at the Vimeo music store, though.

  3. John

    Hi Brandon, really love your work… very strong visuals.
    Wanted to ask you, how do you put together a brief with a client and preplan a shoot?

    Thanks and best wishes


    • Brandon Li

      Thanks John. For most of my freelance work, everything is done in a very un-official way. Generally my clients are people I’ve met through word-of-mouth, and they’ve seen my prior work. They just trust me to do good stuff. And the way I shoot, it’s difficult to plan what the final product will look like, anyway. It’s all based on the unpredictable.

      This kind of loose process only works for run-and-gun creative shooting. For my day job (MTV docu-reality shooting) I always submit write-ups and briefs. Those are just standard character bios and plot summaries for reality TV castings. I still can’t predict what will happen, but I give my best guess of the possibilities.

  4. sharreasmith

    I always wanted to be on tv. I’m beautiful and I have a beautiful funny family

  5. Nitz This iz a link to our First Video callec Real Real Money featuring Young Steff. I’m from an unsigned hip hop & r&b group Torrez wid my two blood related brothers Scoo & Trilly

  6. Guion Mascolo

    Thank you Brandon for your views. I am bored at the moment and Ive always been told by everyone I would be great on a reality show. If you dont mind checking out my audition video for any show at
    and giving me your input. Maybe you can use my personality for a show. I put in a application with survivor a week ago and hoping to get on that show. Even if I dont hear back from you, you have helped me.

  7. Tisha

    I’ve been trying to get on The Bad Girls club since I turned 21. No luck yet.

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