Crewing up in the cloud: "We're like AirBnB for productions"
With web-enabled recruitment sites becoming more sophisticated, cast and crew become another asset to be managed
Casting and crewing for TV productions and advertising spots used to be all about who you know, or which agent was the best placed to get you the gig. As with almost everything else these days, the internet, in particular the cloud, has changed all that.
Movidiam, ‘a professional creative network for filming’, is the brainchild of George Olver and Alex Vero, which they developed after running a production company of their own for 12 years.
“Movidiam is a profiling site - where talent, directors, producers, editors and others can build a profile, showcase their expertise, their geographic location and people that they’ve worked with,” Olver explains. “Then there’s the project management tool - you can find someone [for a video project] in a matter of minutes nearby, or we can brief the system and it will match you algorithmically with the right team. We have 25,000 independent creatives, producers, videographers, and so on, on the network. We sign up around 2000 production companies a month to the platform.”
Through automation and AI, the system manages more than a team of people could ever do
Movidiam relies on a subscription model to its services, though anyone can set up a profile for free on M-Network. A subscription gives access to a partnership with Google, called M-Promote, which lets users enhance their visibility on the network, and have the ability to showcase expertise.
“We have the ability to pay through the system,” adds Olver. “Freelancers really like it, because we pay them 50 percent up front and 50 percent when the project completes.”
“TV and production companies are also finding it very useful for finding international resources,” he continues. “For example, you can find a drone pilot in 160 countries around the world on our platform.”
The casting cloud
Another UK start-up taking advantage of a cloud-based business model is Auditionist, described by its co-founder Will Crosthwait (below right) as a ‘video platform for people’.
“Auditionist is a more direct service [than traditional casting],” he says. “When you put a job out, it’s the actors themselves that apply for them, but they can only apply via their showreel, or the self-tape that the producer has requested.”
“The one thing we wanted to do when we started Auditionist, bearing in mind that I came from a production background, was to make it easier for producers to find great talent,” says Crosthwait. “We manage and collate all of the submission process. You just click on a headshot, it pops open with a video, starts playing and at that point you can just say, ‘shortlist, decline or invite’. You can share all the people you've shortlisted with your team, so you can start working collaboratively on it.”
Shortlisted actors get a notification saying, ‘please record a self-tape’, which can be a reading from script, or a demonstration of a specific character or talent - and they can upload it from their phones. “We’ve actually had two people who have auditioned from trains,” says Crosthwait.
The self-tapes are all hosted on Auditionist itself. “So we won’t clog up your inbox with videos,” says Crosthwait. “You don't have 107GB of showreels or self-tape submissions that you've got to try and get over to your director by 9pm, wondering how you're going to do it without getting a courier, or sitting by your laptop as it uploads and takes about 20 hours.”
Crosthwait says this results in a more refined selection of actors being actually called to the set - which is another automated service offered by Auditionist.
Like Movidiam, Auditionist also handles the financial aspects of production.
“From the moment you send in the brief, to the moment you pay the invoice, you’re doing all of that through Auditonist” says Crosthwait. “The ultimate benefit for a production is that they get an itemised invoice for a hundred actors, rather than a hundred invoices, which would completely swamp their HR and finance departments. We even handle expenses.”
Crosthwait claims it also democratises the process. “Auditionist opens the role up to all the actors who match the criteria that you’re looking for,” he says. “By default we set the criteria to ‘any ethnicity’ - the production has to choose to limit it to a specific ethnicity.”
The search function also ranks the actors on their skills. “Rather than which agent they are with,” says Crosthwait. “So it’s not who you know, it’s what you can do.”
Demise of the little black book
“Fundamentally crewing used to be a case of calling someone on the desk in Soho to see who was on her list, getting her to find someone who is up for it and then get them to travel a hundred miles,” says Olver.
Now, he claims, you could use Movidiam to crew a whole show. “We’ve got a 1000-man Hollywood production studio being crewed up, or a two-man wedding video being crewed up. Whether you’re making a multi-million dollar feature film or a three-man corporate video, it’s the same process - you want a director, producer, editor, all arranged in the right way and in the right time frame, that’s the way it works.”
Freelancers really like it, because we pay them 50 percent up front and 50 percent when the project completes
Operational overheads are reduced too. “You can hire a producer for a project for a period of time,” says Olver. “You don’t need them full time in-house, they can be freelance, [the team] can be virtualised.”
Auditionist is aiming to become a supplier to broadcasters and bigger companies.
“We set quite high expectations of ourselves, to achieving rapid growth,” says Crosthwait. “We’ve just started casting for ITV for example. We’re now looking to do more sustained drama, larger productions where there are multiple roles, where it veers between actors and extras. That moves us towards our ultimate goal of casting for feature films.”
The Auditionist system is fully automated, with a very responsive tech department in the shape of co-founder Ben Albahari, whose developer skills were honed as a programme manager at Microsoft. In fact, the human element of the company still only consists of the two founders.
“When we started out on this project we really wanted to put automation to the test,” explains Crosthwait. “Through automation and AI, the system manages more than a team of people could ever do.”
“The system will automatically chase up actors who haven’t replied to a message” he adds. “It will automatically send out invoices. It automatically does a lot of things which traditionally we would have had to employ an accountant to do, or a finance person. Even five years ago we would not have been able to leverage the amount of automation which we have now, and therefore we wouldn’t have been able to provide a service which can scale up to provide hundreds of actors [to a production].”
Movidiam is also a disruptive force thanks to advanced tech. “We’re like AirBnB for productions,” says Olver. “A marketplace leveraged with a technology platform.”
We’re like AirBnB for productions
That Movidiam platform is backed by one of the biggest names in the business:
“We utilised nearly a full suite of Amazon tools to deliver Movidiam, the whole storage side of it is on the cloud,” says Olver. “I launched the business with Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, in October 2015 at AWS Reinvent. AWS has enabled us to very efficiently build a platform which is completely global from day one.”
Both Auditionist and Movidiam are growing exponentially, thanks to word of mouth and social media, in effect fuelled by the success of their users.
“The real advantage for us is the community plus the tool; it becomes a viral network of people using it,” says Olver.
“I think the industry will see more tools like this crop up,” he adds. “It’s going to get increasingly competitive as people enhance their knowledge of the cloud.”