To keep video and advertising productions alive, brand marketers are simplifying remote casting

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on every industry, and few sectors have been harder hit than video production. In-person casting and production have come to a halt, even as the demand for on-screen talent and scaled campaigns has continued to skyrocket in the age of digital and social media. The imperative to test and create new content has never been greater. For brands, agencies and production companies looking to keep the trains moving in a time of quarantine, remote productions are now the norm —  and remote submissions are one of the few remaining ways to field talent.   

It’s not an entirely unfamiliar move. In their always urgent need to work swiftly and efficiently, video and film creators had already been edging toward remote approaches, asking for pre-recorded video submissions or viewing auditions through live feeds. Remote submissions of stills and voice auditions have an even longer history.

“Even before the current crisis, remote techniques were yielding efficiency, cost-effectiveness, diversity, and speed,” said Josh Ellstein, CEO at Backstage. “Professionals can use remote casting for any given medium, with a fine-tuned focus on geography, culture and skill set. Done effectively, the remote approach also streamlines a number of different workflows and helps brand marketers scale campaigns much more quickly.”

As the coronavirus crisis continues, adoption of remote casting is now accelerating. It doesn’t stop there: Even remote content creation —  already a common enough phenomenon on social platforms —  is taking on newfound prominence.

“The coronavirus era has certainly amplified that trend, and has expanded it to mediums outside of just social-media content,” said Chris King, creative director at the mobile-oriented growth marketing agency Bamboo. It’s true that, from Saturday Night Live to The Daily Show, remote performances have now become part of the cultural zeitgeist. 

Fabianne Meyer, casting producer at First Media US, observed that both studios and audition rooms are shuttered. In other words, remote productions are at present almost entirely dependent on effective remote casting. Many professionals, she said, are now conducting all the external and internal communications associated with talent searches through email, text or Zoom. According to Meyer, this dynamic emphasizes the acute need for remote solutions. “People are out of work,” she said. “But projects are still being made. [The industry] is looking for ways to keep casting; it’s about finding more creative ways to do it.”

Virtual workflows offer new efficiency in casting and beyond

Only a handful of high-profile TV productions (mostly with well-established talent) have managed to continue shooting. But demand for new creative — and new talent — remains strong among brands, especially those looking to create high volumes of social-friendly content. In the new age of algorithmic trafficking and optimization by platforms like Facebook and Google, creative is the most crucial performance differentiator brands can still control; the demand for new creative to test and scale has never been higher.

And many brands are indeed still finding ways to cast and shoot remotely. As Sabrina Safran, director of casting and talent development at Hearst, said in a recent interview: “While a lot of physical television and film productions are temporarily suspended … we’re focused on remote projects that have the flexibility to be shot around our talents’ schedules.” 

But even for casting directors and creative agencies that are diving into virtual casting and remote productions, the process is often an on-the-fly slate of sometimes disconnected remote workflows, raising the prospect of a disorganized and inefficient process. A widely used remote tool like Zoom, for example, while effective for its designed purpose, isn’t integrated directly into the talent search process.

Fortunately, industry players are witnessing an emerging trend in which disparate workflows — from sending remote auditions to casting directors, to communicating with all stakeholders involved in a given project — can be combined and streamlined. 

Backstage’s casting platform, for instance, allows brands and their agency partners to post casting notices soliciting live remote auditions or self-tape auditions, and then plan and coordinate remote performances. With these tools, performers, agencies and production pros can interact, submit video content and other materials, and search and select talent based on age, gender, skills and other criteria. 

Platforms like these enable creators to solicit videos, photos and voiceover performances simultaneously for the same project. The process caters to fluid, seamless and interactive engagements as brands urgently seek ads and content to distribute across platforms quickly. 

Using Backstage’s platform, specifically, said King, “allows us to fine-tune exactly the talent we’re looking for, which is a huge time-saver.” The swift process even affords Bamboo a comfortable post-production schedule. “We then have the ability to add stock footage and motion graphics to create an asset, all without stepping outside of our homes. We will definitely consider casting remotely in the future, based on the time efficiency and success we’re seeing during this time.”

Remote casting is driving effective scaling and long-term advantages

“I don’t think TikTok would have been as big as it is now if the pandemic wasn’t happening,” said Fabianne Meyer, casting producer at First Media US. And the ability to seek talent remotely and efficiently is playing a significant role in making that rise possible. Social platforms like TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and others require a large volume of initial media just for testing: Marketers tend to distribute their budgets across a slew of performers thinly and then scale with the performers that are proving most effective. 

“People are adapting really quickly,” Meyer said. “If they’re smarter, they’re going to figure out a way to do everything remotely.”

As for Ellstein, at Backstage: “We’re already seeing a new influx as DTC consumer brands look to hire performers to shoot remote, user-generated content during this quarantine, leveraging self-tape auditions, live auditions and our applicant management system to communicate with and ultimately hire performers quickly at scale.” 

Over the next several months, casting professionals and production teams will likely recognize that the ability to seek talent remotely and efficiently — to comb through mountains of videos, resumes and auditions on one’s smartphone to identify promising candidates in a time-saving way — is inherently advantageous. 

“[P]eople are still spending money, and the need for great ad work right now is high,” Bamboo’s Chris King said in another recent interview. “Ideas that seemed crazy a few months ago may be just the strategy needed.” 

And so, if there’s any silver lining for the industry, it’s that creatives are onboarding techniques that will become part of a more powerful practice in the weeks and months after the crisis ends.

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