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 articles about safety ) and the professional risk to their reputation and their future privacy as adults.
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. Join one of the many Facebook groups that are run by casting directors (one example: Casting Directors and Actors Unite for Free), follow their blogs (example: How to Become a Casting Director, part of Self-Management for Actors by Bonnie Gillespie), and read their books. Some examples are: Confessions of a Casting Director by Jen Rudin, and A Star is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood’s Biggest Movies by Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson. Follow casting directors on social media — not for exposure or to network, but to silently learn about their job.
Learn how they work, what they respect and what they don’t. Learn which tools they use, and more importantly, WHY they use them. Here is a great article from CD Bonnie Gillespie about what CDs really mean when they tell you to “keep in touch”. The Secret Language of Casting Directors.
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:
- Re: Casting by the Numbers (and no, the numbers haven’t changed much in the last 15 years)
- Re: Actors and Social Media: the new STOPPER
- Re: Scam Casting Notices
- and one from Canadian CD Deb Barnes of Vancouver Casting re: the casting process, the numbers in Canada, and what you can do to increase your odds
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.
The real purpose of online casting sites is for the actor to submit on job notices, and possibly transmit an electronic audition. Casting Directors aren’t going to “discover” you there. Instead, you will have to respond to their posted notices.
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. Here are some hints:
Backstage by Jordana Capra Online Electronic Submission Services: Which Ones do the Casting Directors Actually Use?
Top 10 Reputable Casting Websites from Daily Actor
There are some objective criteria we can also use to judge which is which:
- The quality of jobs you see on the site…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. 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, newsletters, message boards, the ability to list yourself as seeking an agent, and more. Search each website for current details.
Breakdown Services (owns Actorsaccess.com, extrasaccess.com, Showfax, CastingAbout, EcoCast)
Breakdown Services is a family of companies and 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). This company has 845,000 actors listed in their database, from all over the world. Approx 80% of all THEATRICAL breakdowns are listed here — 43,000 projects a year! 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, Atlanta, Vancouver, Toronto , Chicago, Florida, Austin, Chicago and Hawaii.
- Registration cost to the actor (to have resume and pic on site): FREE, with one free photo for each representative you have
- Cost to see casting notices: FREE
- Actors Access Plus (downloading sides 24/7 and unlimited submissions) $68 a year. There is a 20% discount for SAG-AFTRA members if you fill in your membership number at checkout. Advice: do not pay the single submission prices of $5 each including a video. Most submissions now will require a video attachment, so that adds up fast! Just pay for the unlimited version.
- Slateshots (a 7 second video that will add media to your account and thus bump you to the top of submissions lists) FREE. Adding media clips to your AA profile is a flat $22/min or fraction thereof. PRO TIP: You can keep adding smaller clips to your cart as long as the total media length is under 60 seconds. If you check out at once time, it will only cost you $22. Multiple smaller clips are more likely to get watched.
- Unless a CD chooses to sort their submissions in a custom way, they view submissions in randomized alphabetical order EXCEPT that profiles with media are pushed to the top of the list. Slateshot is highly recommended for this reason.
- CastingAbout is a separate but related subscription ($9.95/mo or $48.95/year). It isn’t a submission service, but does tell you the production status of shows, what CDs are casting it, and their addresses. Super useful for target marketing!
- 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.
Pro Tip: Breakdown Services has a multitude video tutorials for actors, agents and casting directors:
How to register (free) and create an actor profile
What do Casting Directors See? This is meant for CDs, but shows you what the page view is for them, and how they sort submissions.
Talent Systems, whose CEOs are Alex Amin and Rafi Gordon, has been buying up assets all over the industry. For instance, LA Casting was started by Beau Bonneau as a company for background and commercial casting. In 2018 Casting Networks merged with another company called Cast It. Cast It (aka ActorCast) had been used primarily by the studios as a video sharing mechanism behind the scenes. The merger of these companies was a huge shake-up to the industry, especially when CNI announced that the casting directors from 20th Century Fox were going to use it exclusively. Just weeks later, Disney (an exclusive Breakdown Services user) announced that they were purchasing the entire Fox movie studio, leaving the future of Fox casting unclear. Unlike Breakdown Services, agents do not pay to use CNI, the actors are bearing the financial burden.
Over 90% of the commercials in Los Angeles are listed here. Approximately 30,000 child actors are listed, and about 1700 of those are unrepresented. Like Breakdown Services, a percentage of their breakdowns are made available to actors by a section of their site called Casting Billboard (about 150 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: $25 registration fee, plus $20.95/mo.
- On-going costs to the actor: $20.95/mo for premium membership, $9.99/mo for Casting Billboard only (submissions). 6 month and annual subscriptions available, but no longer has individual submission prices. $5.00/month for media hosting (your reel being housed there).
- CDs view submissions randomized, but alphabetical order (meaning each CD views will start with a different letter of the alphabet to insure CDs are not always seeing the same talent at the front of the list. If a CD has specifically requested a submission video, those actors with video attached will be listed first.
- Demo Reels: YES, for additional fee.
Safety Factor: Casting Directors are put through a thorough vetting process (industry credits, CSA or CCDA memberships, etc) and those CDs are able to post projects directly on to the site. For others listing (such as a student film, or an indie doing their own casting) the project must be vetted by an employee before posting Sometimes questionable notices aren’t noticed by CNI staff or were uploaded directly. Since the merger, they have been more responsive to Bizparentz when dealing with child safety issues. If you have a concern about a project, CNI requests that you email a manager immediately at email@example.com.
Casting Frontier (also owned by Talent Systems, see above)
Founded by commercial Casting Directors, Casting Frontier is primarily used in Los Angeles for commercials, with some presence in New York. Because of the speed at which commercials are cast, we suggest asking your representative if it is necessary for you to have a profile on Casting Frontier in your market. If you choose to, we suggest limiting it to a Basic (free) or Premium Profile and paying a year in advance because they offer deep discounts–50-60%–for paying year.
- Registration: FREE
- On-going costs to the actor: Premium– $14.99/mo or $75.99/year which includes 5 headshots, some video and unlimited submissions
- Demo Reels: YES for additional fee (also has an audio package)
- Safety Factor: UnknownQuick Video Tip for Casting Frontier: What Agents and Managers See on Casting Frontier
The Screen Actors Guild American Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) 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-AFTRA’s online member directory allows actors to upload their own headshots, resume, etc. It is called iActor. 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. Each geographical area, or “local” has their own Conservatory Program. In Los Angeles, participants in this program are used as a casting resource for prestigious AFI grad student films. Check SAG LA Conservatory 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.
- Another resource available for casting notices is SAGIndie. SAG Indie is a branch of SAG-AFTRA 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 now called ACTRAonline, replacing their old Face-to-Face (F2F) website.
- Actor’s Equity, AEA, is the union for theatre actors. They have a database for logged in members called Casting Call.
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 children (0-5 years) and youth (6-10 years). Love that. Casting Workbook is utilized primarily by agents and casting directors with 500 breakdowns a month being posted of all types.
- Registration: $49/year for children ages 0-5, $75/year for youth 6-10).
- Voiceover only: $35/yr
- Cost to see casting notices: included in membership
- Demo Reels: YES for additional fee (also has an audio package)
- Safety Factor: Unknown
Central Casting (Background Players Only)
“Straight out of Central Casting” has become a part of American vocabulary for good reason. Founded in 1925, they are the largest company hired by producers to populate the background of their projects. They now have offices in New York, Los Angeles, Georgia and Lousiana. Background players are cast extremely quickly, so this is probably not a great venue for those outside the production hubs where they have offices. Children can register in person for FREE. Check out our article about Acting in the Background for more details about navigating extra work for kids.
Voices.com (audio only)
In late 2017, Voices.com purchased Voicebank.net causing a controversial shift in the world of self-submission for voice actors. Voice actors are used for everything from radio commercials to animation to video gaming and it can be extremely lucrative. The controversial issue is that Voicebank was primarily used by agents to submit on high level union jobs with established pay rates with residuals. Actors had their voice demos stored there, but established actors did not self-submit. Voices.com, in contrast, housed the world of amateurs where actors submit themselves and pay rates were significantly lower if talent often didn’t get paid at all. Like Fivr, where you can pay $10 to get someone to record your voicemail message, unrepresented actors could offer their services for next to nothing, recording at home and sending their recordings directly. Voices.com themselves were accused of charging heavy escrow fees and other unsavory practices. For more on how Voiceovers For Kids work, check out our article. For now, it appears that Voices.com is “owning” the online submission world.
Backstage is actually an industry trade newspaper for actors, published weekly. Many years ago, it absorbed Dramalogue, the leading theatre newspaper and its roots continue to be in theatre, but now the online version has become the most popular since casting happens too quickly for the weekly print version to be of use. 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 as they often publish the AEA (aka Actor’s 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, and are most valuable to those fairly new to the industry (for student films) and to theatre actors.
- On-line Subscription: $12.50 a month for digital only. There are frequent discounts for $99/yr.
- Safety Factor: Not great. The casting notices here are not screened well and since they have no membership function on the professional side, there is no consequence for those who violate the rules. Approach with caution!
Like Backstage, Playbill is a news publication, but they have a casting section. They specialize in theater, and most of the Broadway open calls are listed here. They do have jobs listed for other states as well though. You will want to sort by the category “Performer”, then click your state. It is FREE, and you don’t submit directly via their website. Playbill just gives you the contact information and details about the job.
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, kidscasting, auditionsfree, 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, and review our page on How to Research People. 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 most of the 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 at the Directors Guild of America site here.
- 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 or if they have a student online casting site.
- 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!!