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Mind Groan: Ready Player One Open Casting

There are a few things I want to make very clear from the very beginning of this entry.

  1. I loved the book Ready Player One.
  2. I was thrilled to find that the film rights to Ernest Cline’s awesomely geeky and adventurous novel were in the hands of one of (if not, the best) blockbuster film director/producers of all time.  I mean, come on…this has all the makings of a new Goonies kind of journey with a completely fresh and modern source material.
  3. I couldn’t contain my excitement when it was announced that I was up for the lead role of Wade Watts…yup, the casting for the part was open!
  4. When Deadline Hollywood broke the news that Tye Sheridan landed the most coveted young-male role in recent history, I was beyond pleased…I love all of Tye’s past work and I am so excited for his future performances; if I lose the part to anyone, I’m so glad it would be him…

But I gotta call bullshit.

I was cleaning out my email inbox today and found two messages regarding my participation in the open casting call for Ready Player One. One was a confirmation from Cast It Talent (the service that hosted all entries via a website they built) of my video submission, and the other was a free one-month subscription to Cast It’s parent site.  Free subscription, you may ask?  For those unfamiliar with the casting processes for “emerging talent” today (aka “actors starting out”…regardless of their level of passion, training, expertise, connections) there are numerous services we “have to” subscribe to so that we may be considered for acting jobs. Imagine a semi-private social network…each actor has a profile, complete with headshots, video clips, and resumes.  A job listing goes up, actors or their Agents/Mangers click “submit” and their full profile goes through to the casting team for further review.  There are a couple major must-have service providers, and it costs about $15 to $20 per month to maintain a profile on each…this does not include the added cost of uploading new photo/videos which can run anywhere from $15 to $60 for each individual upload. There’s a bit more to this process, but you hopefully get the idea: actors shell out decent portions of their monthly income for the opportunity to have their profile land in a digital pile of headshots that can be at least 3000 deep for a paid gig.  And this isn’t the only area in which actors are “encouraged” to pay-to-play…see the Hollywood Reporter’s Casting Workshops investigation for a whole other side to the shady financial equation of pursuing an acting career in today’s film industry. Anyways, there is a revolving door of new “must-have” services for the modern day actor and it appeared as though Cast It Talent had suddenly become the latest now that they were running the RPO search.

Around the time of the casting call announcement, I noticed Cast It Talent ads were popping up on my Facebook news feed…a lot.  Banner ads on websites too. It’s as if Cast It Talent paid for a major digital marketing boost targeting Andrew Fromer.  Or perhaps young actors just like him, that displayed a digital interest in being a apart of the Ready Player One movie.  And by the way, when I did submit, I followed their odd video encoding procedures.  What I ended up with was a two minute scene/slate as requested that (in my opinion) was so low resolution it completely distracted from the performance; the video/audio bitrates were so reduced and displayed in an outdated frame size that it felt like I had converted a BluRay to VHS. It is understandable to think that each actor’s entry would have to be limited to a certain amount of data when there are thousands of submissions coming into their servers…but then I asked myself, what’s the point? Now that free one-month subscription starts to seem more and more fishy to me. And as we all know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch…especially in Hollywood. Unless its craft services. But that’s after you book the gig…I digress…

Now, I want you to imagine you are a casting director of a big budget movie directed by Steven Spielberg; you have an incredibly juicy and super cool role to fill.  You could practically pick anyone you want, right? Don’t forget to take into account that you’re in an industry where social media presence is an increasingly important factor (projects are literally casting based off of who has more Instagram/Twitter followers). And the margin for error in filmmaking is slimmer than ever.  You could cast any rising Disney Channel/Nickelodeon star, or an independent film darling.  Now go check out some of the Wade Watts auditions on YouTube and ask yourself…would you and your team comb through thousands of these to find an unknown star from Middle of Nowhere, USA or would you rather start going through your inbox packed with emails from Hollywood, USA’s top agents? Who is really going to sell this movie at the box office?

Now maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Cast It Talent wasn’t trying to tease thousands of unknown looking-for-stardom-actors and passionate RPO fans into subscribing to their services. Maybe it wasn’t a charade, even though the Tye Sheridan news conspicuously broke one day after the submission deadline for the open call. But it wouldn’t be the worst marketing move by Cast It Talent if their goal was to up their game in the ongoing exploitation of fledgling actors…and the Ready Player One PR team certainly earned a spike in internet traffic for their film.  Do I blame either of them? Absolutely not…I recognize that this is indeed show business.  But I feel Cast It Talent set out to prey on those who believe in the age-old lie of instant success; thousands, maybe even millions of people who believe they can just show up and carry a $100 million dollar movie without putting their nose to the grindstone.  It is no easy task and one I am happy to see Tye Sheridan take on.

I can’t wait for this movie!

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