In 2020, virtually every industry across the globe was forced to adjust to new realities and reimagine old ways of doing business. Nowhere was this truer than in branded film and video production. As in-person gatherings became impossible, a vast array of professionals were forced to transform their casting efforts.
Many casting professionals — especially those working in branded marketing — turned to digital tools that enabled them to seek talent through online platforms. This wasn’t an entirely new phenomenon, of course, many professionals were already in the early stages of dabbling with such tools — but the trend has dramatically accelerated.
More than 80 percent of the casting notices that have run through Backstage, for example, have come from professionals looking to hire talent remotely throughout the pandemic. In most cases, these professionals were looking for user-generated content (UGC) creators who were proficient on both sides of the camera — a necessity in a landscape where remote content has been instrumental to scaling marketing campaigns across all channels and platforms.
“I hadn’t been doing a lot of casting ever since the beginning of March,” said Menashe, founder of the creative agency Nue.Digital (Menashe uses only his first name professionally). According to Menashe, the use of a remote casting platform is the only thing that has enabled this to change: “Now I can use all these fantastic features for messaging and to collect self-tape videos.”
In short order, this process enabled the agency to cast a new project.
The question now becomes: What does the future hold? For brand marketers, remote casting has provided an invaluable lifeline during the pandemic. But now, as vaccines begin to roll out and the post-pandemic future inches into view, there’s still no evidence that professionals plan to revert to old ways of doing business. Indeed, self-recording tools and remote submissions seem likely to remain crucial arrows in marketers’ quivers, even as many also re-integrate in-person techniques.
“With the increase in demand for content and the speed of creative iteration required to power campaigns, we’ve seen the need for these tools emerge prior to the pandemic,” said Josh Ellstein, CEO of Backstage. “The pandemic has only accelerated adoption, and we expect it will continue.”
Professionals have multiple reasons to leverage remote casting tools
The tools that have emerged over the year have become more sophisticated. In addition to posting basic notices for talent, casting professionals can collect self-tape auditions directly through a centralized platform, and they message directly with talent as well. The remote functionality streamlines what’s historically been a complicated process.
Additionally, for many casting professionals, the imperative to respect social distancing is no longer the sole motivation to leverage remote submission tools.
“It may not be as personal, but it’s definitely more convenient,” said Menashe. “Everyone wants the information right away as soon as possible in the best quality. The practicality is very important.”
Another notable benefit is that remote tools enable brand marketers to write casting calls that are more inclusive of a diverse group of talent — and then field a great number of submissions quickly. “The industry is finally championing diversity with all the right urgency,” said Ellstein, at Backstage. “And as all brand marketers can attest at this point, diverse casting is consistently also better casting.”
Whether explicitly searching for a diverse pool of talent or simply seeking out creators with the right skills and charisma, casting professionals need scale and simplicity. Marketers can leverage remote submission tools to collect self-tape auditions from large numbers of candidates within an easy-to-parse centralized platform. And they can do so in an extremely brief timeframe. In effect, they can conduct nationwide searches for UGC talent without going outside.
When Menashe put out a request for a self-tape video, for instance, he received a number of excellent submissions quickly. “I went through the tapes, clicked on their videos, and watched them,” he said. “And then I messaged them through the platform as well. I went back and forth a little bit and hired one of them.”
This process carries some inherent benefits over the in-person approach to which he’d previously been accustomed. “It takes much longer,” Menashe said. “You have to set up meeting times and meet people in person. Some people can only come down at a later date, and it keeps you waiting. It can take months. I would say one month is the shortest you can hope for, especially when you’re looking to cast one person.”
Now, for many professionals working in branded productions, the decision to pursue digital casting solutions is increasingly about fostering better communication and swifter, more efficient operations—motivations that aren’t likely to vanish once global conditions return to something like normal.
Remote tools are beginning to change production itself
Thanks to emerging digital tools, marketers are beginning to integrate remote approaches to facilitate production. New technologies enable the production industry to venture into an era in which project management, pre-production, production, post-production and even distribution can all be managed and delegated within a single digital platform.
Such tools promise smoother collaboration between parties — even remotely — while merging all of the assets for content creation into one place.
“As we’re entering a new era of production, and the ground is shifting every day, what hasn’t been lost is that urge we have to collaborate,” said Bernadette Rivero, president of the Cortez Brothers video production agency, in a recent interview. “I see new forms of technology — remote viewing tech, mobile backpack hotspots, no-contact studios-in-a-box, etc. — as just one more way for us to do what we do best, across every stage of production: communicate, innovate and adapt to bring concepts to life.”
Remote casting and production are part of the new normal
Brands and casting professionals of all stripes are now looking to a post-pandemic future — and it won’t be quite like the past. Even as actors once again begin to line up for auditions and production pros once again flood into the studios, the in-person approach is now likely to be just one piece of the puzzle.
This is likely to be especially true when it comes to branded content, an area of production that demands rapid-fire casting and production, all in the service of proliferating and repurposing content across an ever-growing array of social and digital platforms.
As we look to the future, the ability to cast, create and collaborate quickly, efficiently and at scale will necessitate more remote work, not less. And if professionals don’t examine the new tools available to them now, they’re likely to find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, regardless of what the world looks like in a year or two.
“I don’t have to leave my office, and I can do everything right there, within seconds, which is incredibly valuable, especially when I’m running a tight schedule,” said Menashe. “It doesn’t really take up much time or effort. And people can definitely use [these tools], God willing, when this pandemic is over.”
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