Technology and Casting

For my second column in a series covering the ATAS casting director and talent agent panel (click here for links to event details and panelist information), I’m focusing on the technology of casting, which was a major component of the panel discussion that took place on 21 May 2005.

One of my first questions of the panelists was: How has technology changed the way you do your job? Jane Jenkins quickly responded that, in the first hour after putting out a breakdown through Breakdown Services, she and her partner Janet Hirshenson, receive 600 submissions electronically. Other CD panelists nodded in agreement. This is a common volume for electronic submissions from agents and managers. Of course, this is a huge change from the days of messenger-delivered submissions, as there is simply no way that many submissions would arrive on a casting director’s desk within an hour prior to the development of electronic casting.

Richard Hicks lamented the fact that this pace causes many people to “move quickly, rather than moving exactly right,” in choosing which actors to submit for which roles. He said that it is now a part of his job, as a casting director, to find a balance between the fast pace and the most-accurate submissions and pitches from agents. It’s not about calling in the first hundred actors for prereads. It’s about knowing which actors, of those first few hundred submitted and pitched, are the ones who best fit the roles. This is where pace meets the proper fit.

I asked about technology’s impact on the globalization of casting (basically, is technology making the world smaller, for casting) and was quickly met with an enthusiastic response from Sonia Nikore, the vice president of primetime casting for NBC. “We do a great deal of video conferencing,” she volunteered. Sonia also told us about a fantastic database in use at NBC (something we can assume is either in existence or in development at all other networks as well) wherein casting executives can search “by attribute” (or type) to see video, photograph, resumé, and contact information on actors. The execs can “flag” actors using parameters needed for particular projects and create a master list which is then used to contact agents when scheduling prereads for pilots or mid-season replacement series. So cool!

As for how technology benefits non-LA-based actors, agent Mitchell K. Stubbs admitted that a full 15% of his clients are not located in Los Angeles. Chris Barrett commented that, “the Internet is an extraordinary tool to help me do my job. I can communicate my taste quickly and integrate my work into my life. I love it!” Certainly, some agents and CDs would prefer to have more free time, as casting never really stops, but technology, according to all panelists, has made it so we rely on our “Crackberries” in order to check for auditions, notes from producers for callbacks, offer terms, etc. “I love it. I now have more time to take pitch calls than ever before,” Chemin Bernard commented. Whereas a large part of her day used to include sorting and prioritizing submissions before being able to talk with agents or managers about their clients, Chemin can now get on the phone to hear pitches right away, as she can pull up the actor’s profile within the electronic submission system just seconds after entering the search term. Now that’s an efficient use of everyone’s time!

So, what services are agents and casting directors using? Everyone on the panel made it very clear that IMDb-Pro was essential, as is Breakdown Services‘ interface, for finding who reps whom, what credits each actor has, and media such as headshots, demo reels, etc. Also mentioned by members of this particular panel of casting directors and agents were services such as CastIt.biz (April Webster mentioned that she’s able to upload session videos instantaneously for studio execs on big-budget films using this service), CastingWorkbook.com (a Canada-based casting service often used by Chemin), and SpeedReels.com (a demo reel service along the lines of the Performance Video and Actor Slate services at ActorsAccess.com).

An important point agreed upon by all panelists was that actors must keep an updated headshot at IMDb and whatever online casting service their agent uses to submit them. One of the biggest frustrations casting directors mentioned was attempting to show an actor’s credits and photo to a producer or director using a link to IMDb and having that actor’s image represented by the “no photo submitted” icon. The $35 expense to have an IMDb photo with your listing is worth every penny, according to the panelists.

Agent Glenn Salners mentioned that every client on his roster is at a different level of “electronic readiness,” which certainly makes the pitch different for each client. I asked whether agents had any requirements for clients on their roster (like, each actor must have a demo reel online, each actor must have a headshot up at IMDb, etc.) and was told, no. Absolutely no agent requires technological leaps of the actors on his or her roster, though casting director Ellie Kanner mentioned that actors should, by all means, “give your agent the tools to sell you properly.”

Currently, about 70% of all television projects are listed as electronic-submission breakdowns, while only about 20% of all feature films use electronic submissions exclusively. Why? Panelists agreed that the ultra-quick pace of TV casting is part of the reason. Feature film casting directors have several weeks to cast the major roles, whereas episodics are cast in as few as three days (20 roles in three days, according to April)! All the more reason to check in regularly and read the deadline for submissions carefully, plus take advantage of rush casting, when listed.

Bottom line, technology has sped up the casting process, which means pacing is everything. Actors who self-submit need to check ActorsAccess.com frequently. Agents and managers stay in constant contact with their clients and with casting directors using their mobile phones and text-messaging systems. Casting directors feed footage of their best auditions directly to the studio and/or director. Each panelist agreed that there are many more opportunities for actors now — due to advances in technology — than ever before. More on DIY filmmaking, demo reels, and that all-important magic involved in an actor’s job next week!


Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!


Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000237.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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