The reading is of an imaginary scene dropped from The Avengers movie.
In it, the character of Loki is looking to secure a bank loan. It’s not going well. Being Odin’s son doesn’t do anything to loosen the purse strings of big finance. The whole shape-shifting thing is a complete contravention of corporate face-recognition software requirements too.
Actor Zahf Paroo plays the helpful banker who clearly memorized all the rules of customer-service conduct to the exact line. Trevar Fox is the annoyed Loki. I’m in the casting director’s chair watching the two square off. None of us is in the same room, but I can still jump in and ask for a second reading where Trevar heaps more scorn on the hapless loan officer rather than indignant fury. Just as if we were really all in a casting room, it all happens in real time. Reading 2 is the one I like better.
Welcome to the Virtual Casting Room, the latest innovation from Casting Workbook. Founded by Susan Fox almost three decades ago, the Vancouver-based company was an early adopter of all things digital.
Casting Workbook’s enterprise suite ties into a casting platform for use by producers, casting directors, agents and actors, and was incorporating a self-taping app for actors to make reels years before YouTube. From its actor and voice apps to the agent’s dashboard, Casting Workbook’s products are available for as little as $10 a month. Casting Workbook operates brick-and-mortar offices in Vancouver, Los Angeles, Toronto, Montreal and — recently — Madrid.
The Virtual Casting Room became available in May. Envisioned for some time, the platform was fast-tracked when the COVID-19 pandemic hit with an eye toward enabling “at-distance,” secure virtual-waiting rooms where actors reading for a role can be directed, recorded and the results shared.
“I love helping people, which was the whole point in starting the company, and we’ve been doing it a long time,” said Fox. “We had designed ways to capture actors on video, to share content with executives and provide a service to all parties already. When COVID-19 hit, the question became how to get actors and casting directors and others in the same place virtually?”
Skype, ZOOM and others offered ways to recreate aspects of the casting room reading experience. But they couldn’t provide instant access to information sheets, allow video directions and provide instant video links to productions. Casting Workbook set about connecting all of those dots in reverse to build the Virtual Casting Room. It had to be as seamless to run as an actual casting session and to recreate, as much as possible, an in-the-room experience.
“There is a chemistry that takes place in a reading that is what a casting director wants to see in action,” said Fox. “(Virtual Casting Room) provides an easy-sharing platform for actors to forward their slides, information forms, demo reels, resumes and so forth, as well as giving productions the ability to share video directions, scheduling conflicts, role descriptions and script breakdowns and the smart script. If the production team wants you to read, then you can pre-check-in to the session in the virtual waiting room before being invited into the reading room.”
Actors get a simple onscreen alert with session details, time, date and other particulars. A link is included to take them right to the virtual audition as well. Once the actors are brought into the Virtual Casting Room, the session can begin. Fox says that the response to the product has been enthusiastic.
“We’ve got 120 of the top agencies in Spain signed up and we are hearing back from insurance companies eager to mitigate risks as business picks-up again,” said Fox. “Clearly, the traditional casting call isn’t going away, but this is one more asset available to encourage safety and efficiency as the industry gets going again.”
Among those who embrace Casting Workbook products is Catherine Falcon of Falcon Narine Casting: Commercial.Film.Television. The full-service casting business offers casting services as well as a fully equipped casting studio, called Studio 3. There is a lot of activity in the company space, ranging from film and TV to commercials, docudramas and technical aspects of production.
After months away, Falcon is pleased to be back in business.
“I’d just signed a new lease as the new season started up thinking, ‘What could possibly go wrong?’ ” said Falcon. “What Casting Workbook is doing with the Virtual Casting Room will be a great tool that we can use with our casting in conjunction with what we do actually seeing directors when we get to the callback stages. (The Virtual Casting Room) will be key in helping us move forward as we try to mitigate seeing people as little as we can.”
Falcon notes how well the self-tape app works for getting content that she can upload for directors and others to peruse, and the benefits talent living out of town can receive. While she heralds the Casting Workbook products being “far and above anyone else’s,” she still thinks that the classic people in a room reading is preferable when dealing with local talent over the Virtual Casting Room.
Falcon figures a mix of the two is the way moving forward. She is back to work with three films green-lit right now.