In the last 5 years, on-line casting has taken over Hollywood! As with all technological “advancements”, it is a good-news-bad-news sort of thing.
The good news is that the use of the internet for storing actor pictures and resumes has allowed actors to spend less money on headshot printing and demo reels, has allowed agents and casting directors to work more quickly, and has allowed actors to begin submitting themselves for projects whether they are in Hollywood or Decatur . It has opened up Hollywood to the world! See our article specific to how to tape auditions here.
The bad news is, well...it has opened up Hollywood to the world. The safeguards we once had in our industry (agents who personally knew the casting directors, etc) are gone. On-line casting sites have become the biggest acting/modeling scam in the history of the internet. Copyrighted breakdowns (casting notices) are stolen, tampered with, and reproduced on a daily basis. Unscrupulous individuals create casting sites (literally hundreds of them!) and promise fame and fortune to actors who pay a fee to be listed. Predators and pedophiles search through casting sites looking for prey (prey=desperate young people who will do anything for the chance at their dream).
The trick to success in this ever-changing world is to separate the good guys from the bad. Separate the professional, industry-accepted websites from those who are anxious to steal your money, image, and dreams.
Why not list your child everywhere you can? Any publicity is good, right? WRONG. Like all other decisions in the entertainment industry, there is a risk vs. benefit factor to consider. Remember—we are dealing with children here. Listing your child in the wrong places is dangerous. It is not just a money issue, although the $15-$100 a month these sites charge does add up. It is the personal risk to the child's safety (see our article at www.bizparentz.com/Safety ) and the professional risk to their reputation (see Scam Casting Notices below).
The jobs listed on different sites are also not created equally. Any job is a good job, right? WRONG. Please read this companion article on our site: All Roles Are Not Created Equal
We are not suggesting that you don't market your child's talent. But as any marketing expert will tell you, TARGET marketing is essential. Choose to spend your time and money where it will be the most effective, with the least amount of risk. Know your target audience—who do you want to see your child? The person who can actually HIRE your child for paying jobs, right? Enter...the Casting Director (CD, for short).
KNOW THE CASTING BIZ
Part of being a professional actor is understanding the casting process. You can read about it here, from casting director Bonnie Gillespie, and casting director Mark Sikes both of whom write weekly columns for Showfax.com: www.showfax.com
We strongly suggest purchasing Bonnie's book Casting Qs, which contains dozens of personal interviews with casting directors: http://cricketfeet.com/castingqs/
Learn how they work, what they respect and what they don't. Learn which tools they use.
Understand the job description of a casting director. The casting director's job is to cast a net (release a “breakdown” which is really a “want ad” for an actor), and then sort through and ELIMINATE people...narrowing the pile of thousands of agent and actor submissions into a few dozen to meet, and then a wonderful few to bring to the director. They are a very valuable filter.
Here are some examples of that concept, from the casting desk of Bonnie Gillespie:
And an article from Backstage by Jordana Capra (11/4/09): Online Electronic Submission Services: Which Ones do the Casting Directors Actually Use? http://www.backstage.com/bso/advice/online-electronic-submission-services-1004033464.story
As you can see from the above testimony, Casting Directors are not spending their time searching databases for “fresh faces”. In the exception to the rule, they MIGHT search the industry-accepted databases for a particularly unusual talent (ex. A 4'10 Asian girl who can do a French dialect) after they have exhausted the usual sources. High end directors and producers are also not combing the internet for talent...it is not in their job description either. That means the “database search” factor of on-line casting isn't really all that important.
SORTING THE GOOD SITES FROM THE BAD
OK, now you know what the employers are looking for, via their filter, the Casting Director. You can see why technology and the internet could make the CD's job much easier and more efficient. But they can't use ALL that technology! They don't use ALL those sites. They couldn't, and still be efficient. They each pick their favorite and stick with that. So as an actor, you must sort the good sites from the risky sites, and find the ones the casting directors are actually using.
There are some objective criteria we can use to judge which is which:
- The quality of jobs you see there...are there union jobs there? Whether you are union or not, the presence of union jobs does lend credibility to the site. TV, film and print jobs with pay (not deferred pay, real pay)? Are there recognizable products for commercials?
- Do real casting directors use that database? Consider purchasing a directory of casting directors from Breakdown Services (about $15) and/or checking the database at the Casting Society of America (CSA, the professional organization for CDs). You can search by name there, or you can check the list for television shows here: http://www.castingsociety.com/episodic. At least you can begin to recognize the names of the professional CDs and see if they match what you are seeing on the online database.
- Are the casting notices real? Do the CDs list their jobs there DIRECTLY? You don't want a site that culls the internet for casting notices created by others. Submitting on such notices is futile 99% of the time—the notice is old and casting long since finished. And the likely scenario is that the CD is not welcoming submissions directly from actors (they have enough from agents and managers) so submitting will put you on the “bad list” with that CD. In other words, it backfires. So you need to find the casting sites where REAL casting directors list REAL jobs. Don't just take the word of the site owner, learn the CDs names and look for them.
- Searching capabilities: Can ANYONE search the database for talent? This can tip the risk vs. benefit scale WAY toward the risky side of things. Legitimate industry sites require casting directors to register to see the talent. They are password protected. They hold the privacy of their clients (the paying actors) close. If the site allows any joe off the street to search for your child's picture and contact information, you might as well have put their picture up on a telephone pole. The idea that 5000 people can see your child's profile is often pitched as a good thing ...but in fact, it is TOO open and exposes your child to predators and scam artists.
THE “GOOD GUYS”
Using the above criteria, these are the online services we feel are most worthy of a professional child actor's time and money. They are listed in order of use by industry professionals. All of the companies have other benefits including sides, labels, newsletters, message boards and more. Search each website for current details.
(owns Actorsaccess.com, extrasaccess.com, showfax.com)
Breakdown Services is the oldest casting service, founded in 1971 by former child actor Gary Marsh. They own the copyright to the vast majority of breakdowns in the entertainment industry (so the info re-printed on the lesser sites is often stolen from this company, and occasionally lawsuits ensure regarding that). Most breakdowns are released to licensed agents and managers ONLY (who pay a high fee to have access to those). Approx 80% of all THEATRICAL breakdowns are listed here. Some breakdowns are released by the casting directors to the general public on www.actorsaccess.co(approx. 30-50 per day in Los Angeles , of which about half are paying jobs). Additional paying jobs can be found on the section of the site for background players, ExtrasAccess.com. Breakdowns are listed geographically, with sections for LA, NY, Vancouver , Toronto , Chicago , Florida , Texas , and Hawaii.
- Registration cost to the actor (to have resume and pic on site): FREE
- Cost to see casting notices: FREE
- On-going cost to the actor: $2 per submission, $5 w/reel OR $68 a year (includes sides)
- Demo Reels: yes, via partnership with ReelAccess.com or via their own ActorSlate at additional cost
- Security factor: Because of Gary 's background, he is particularly sensitive the needs and safety of child actors. Staff members review all breakdowns and pull suspicious looking notices on sight. They have been extremely helpful, responsive, and pro-active when dealing with child safety issues.
Casting Networks (aka LA Casting, NY Casting, SF Casting, Miami Casting)
LA Casting was started by Beau Bonneau and has grown by leaps and bounds within the last few years. Over 90% of the commercials in Los Angeles are listed here and only licensed talent agents have access to them (not managers). Like Breakdown Services, a percentage of their breakdowns are made available to actors by a section of their site called DirectCast (about 100 notices a day, the vast majority are no-pay or print jobs). This company separates their pricing structure and services according “represented talent” (i.e. you have an agent) vs. “unrepresented”. They also have special pricing for KIDS, so make sure to ask!
- Registration Cost to the actor: Represented: FREE; Unrepresented: $96/yr or $10/mo.
- Cost to see casting notices: FREE
- On-going costs to the actor: .99 per submission or 4.99/mo (various packages available)
- Demo Reels: YES, for additional fee.
- Safety Factor: CDs list breakdowns on-line by themselves, so sometimes the questionable ones aren't noticed by LA Casting staff. They have been unresponsive to us when dealing with child safety issues.
Now Casting is a 5 year old LA-based company, created by actors for actors. Owner Peter Elliot (aka Bob Stewart) started the
business to offer breakdowns and database listings to actors, casting directors and agents for free. Registration IS free, but you need to join in order to see casting notices and self-submit. This site is more of an actor-oriented site, and is not used by agents nearly as much as Breakdown Services or LA Casting. It has a mix of commercial and theatrical breakdowns, but is heavy on the no-pay and student film variety.
- Registration Cost to the actor: FREE
- Cost to see casting notices: $10/mo minimum membership package
- On-going costs to the actor: $10-20/mo membership includes submissions (various packages available)
- Demo Reels: YES, for additional fee
- Safety Factor: Again, CDs list breakdowns on-line, so sometimes questionable ones aren't noticed by staff. They have been responsive when dealing with child safety issues.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Canadian counterpart, ACTRA, both have databases of their members, and listings of job opportunities, but they are not connected in an on-line casting service. In other words, there is no direct submission for a specific job. Employers do go to these sites to find actors they know. A few examples of union member benefits:
- SAG launched a new online member directory in late 2007, where actors can upload their own headshots, resume, etc. The site is www.iactor.com. If you are a union member, check with SAG for details, and make sure that SAG has your most recent agent and contact information.
- SAG offers a series of free acting classes and workshops for members, including kids. This program is called SAG Conservatory. Participants in this program are used as a casting resource for prestigious AFI grad student films. Check www.sag.org for details.
- The SAG Foundation (a separate organization from SAG itself) sponsors FREE Casting Director workshops through the Casting Access Project. The Project has offices in NY, LA, and Florida but does workshops occasionally throughout the nation. Check www.sagfoundation.org for details.
- Another resource available for casting notices is http://www.sagindie.com/resources. SAG Indie is a branch of SAG dedicated to helping smaller film makers. They often list their casting notices on this site. Most are available to both union and non-union actors.
- ACTRA's database section is called Face to Face and can be found here: https://www.actra.ca/actra/control/public
Casting Workbook ( Canada with some US )
Founded in 1994, Casting Workbook is the original on-line casting source in Canada . Founded by husband and wife team Susan Fox and Aerock Fox, it is structured in a similar way to Breakdown Services, but has the “represented” vs. “unrepresented” benefit packages similar to LA Casting. Another interesting difference is that Casting Workbook has special pricing for model portfolios (more pictures), and a lower price for children under 5 yrs old. Casting Workbook is utilized primarily by agents and casting directors with 500 breakdowns a month being posted of all types.
- Registration: $54 a year
- Cost to see casting notices: included in membership
- On-going costs to the actor: included in yearly fee
- Demo Reels: YES for additional fee (also has an audio package)
- Safety Factor: Unknown
Voicebank (audio only)
Voicebank is the on-line casting source for voiceover work, all over the US and Canada . The company is based in Valencia CA. Voicebank keeps the “house reels” for voiceover agencies, releasing breakdowns, allowing the secure transmission of voice auditions to ad agencies/studios and even transmitting actual finished spots from place to place.
Individual actors can also have profiles on Voicebank, but most often it is submitted for FREE via your voiceover agency. Ask your agent for details.
Backstage is actually an industry trade newspaper for actors, published weekly. Many years ago, it absorbed Dramalogue, the leading theatre newspaper. Backstage has east coast, west coast and on-line versions. Casting notices are printed once a week. While there is an occasional union or high paying job, the vast majority are student films, low/no pay independent films and theatre. The theatre notices in the eastern version are the highlight...they often publish the AEA (aka Equity, the theatre actors union) required open casting calls for Broadway. Backstage also has occasional issues where talent can list themselves in a directory format, and web subscribers can post their resume and headshot, but that function is not really used much by agents, managers, or casting directors. The casting notices are the value here! The same company also owns Ross Reports.
- On-line Subscription: $12.95 or $135/yr.
- Print version w/on-line access: $2.75/issue (available at Borders bookstores and news stands nationwide, or you can have it mailed—but this loses you a couple of days on casting notices) : $195/yr.
Leftovers. They range from “questionable” to “useless” to just plain “scams”. Most websites charge the actor a monthly fee to be listed. It is often difficult to remove data from them once it is on, since their big claim is that they have “10,000 (pick a number) members”. Their advertising is, uh, colorful and it is not unusual for them to link to porn sites. They are the telephone poles of the internet.
Examples of these “telephone pole” sites are exploretalent, freshfaces, starsearchcasting, starzcasting, imdb.com casting board, mandy.com, modelsearch, craigslist, starsearch casting, instantcast, toospoiled.com, castingyou.com, myspace, etc.
If you decide to utilize any of these sites or the hundreds of others like them, please understand that you are taking a risk. Pedophiles and online predators pose as photographers, scouts and producers very easily on these sites. TFP photos (Time for Print, aka free headshots) may end up in unsavory places, digitally adjusted. A publicly searchable site (as all of the above are) can be nothing more than a buffet for creeps.
At the very least, check out anyone who contacts you. Do a Google search, look on www.easybackgroundcheck.com and other similar sites. Use the internet to YOUR advantage! Also, do a safety check, a clean-sweep of your child's on-line presence. Make sure you have no home contact listed, no school or places listed where your child can be found. Make sure pictures are appropriate and do not unintentionally include erotica (boys shirtless, bare feet, etc). Make sure your child is not writing on message boards at these sites. If you decide to use alternative casting sites, you simply have to be REALLY diligent with your child's safety!
BUT WAIT...I'm in a Smaller market
As you might have noticed, we have focused this article on actors in the major markets. But what is the actor living in a smaller market to do? We always advise actors to “bloom where they are planted”, but here we are telling you that the only legit casting sites are those in the major cities. You need experience, but the only experience is in the big market. Kind of a catch 22, isn't it?
We know it is, and we're sorry. But the answer is not in posting your child's picture all over the internet. Think...target marketing. The whole internet world is not going to hire your child locally. You have to think creatively to find safe opportunities in your own town. If you live in a smaller market, we suggest:
- Utilize the FREE resources available to access the large market nearest you (for instance, if you live in San Diego, you might want to list yourself on actorsaccess.com and lacasting.com and commit to driving into Los Angeles if an important casting were to come up). Those are relatively safe, and don't cost much if anything.
- Check the state and local film commission websites. They often have casting notices or can direct you to someone legitimate in your state that does. You can find a list of state and local film commission offices here: http://writerdirector.com/film_commissions.htm
- Spend your efforts on finding representation in your market if you can. Even if there is only one legitimate agent in town, you need to get to them on your side. Local agents often have the only connections to real jobs.
- Recognize that in smaller markets, people are still making movies. But they aren't always following the casting director job description we've described above because they are probably on a budget and have to multi-task. Sometimes the filmmaker, himself is doing the casting. That's OK, but make SURE to check out whoever you are going to work with before submitting (do Google searches, etc).
- Seek out student films in person. Contact your local university and ask if they keep headshots of actors on file. Jackie Apodaca, a columnist for Backstage and university instructor wrote the following article on how to contact university film departments: http://www.backstage.com/bso/news_reviews/columns/working_actor_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003526870
- Seek out local theater. Almost every town in the northern hemisphere has a theatre program. Even community theatre is great experience and great on the resume.
- Contact local radio stations, local access cable TV stations. They often produce the commercials for local businesses and sometimes will give air time and free equipment for your child to produce their own TV show. Contact stores (for runway and print ads). Offer to send them your child's picture and resume to keep on file.
- Avoid paying anyone for talent competitions, talent conventions and “packages” that include classes, photos, showcases, etc. These are not the way to get into the legitimate entertainment industry. If those of you working in smaller markets have additional ideas that are working for you, we'd love to hear them! Please write us!
A Final Thought
While a family's involvement in the entertainment industry can be exciting and rewarding on many levels, nothing would be worse than openly inviting and having to deal with dangerous situations in their child's life. The safety rules and situational considerations that we automatically follow in ‘real life' not only have to exist regarding show biz, they have to be even stronger! We hope this article provides information that will assist you in achieving safer success!!
Copyright BizParentz 2007