The Insider's Guide to Production: Knock-on impact - Sponsored by Casting Unlimited

The best casting is the result of thorough preparation and an unhurried process. So if it all goes wrong, don't just blame the casting director.

In the same way a company is only as good as its people, a brand is only as good as its image and face. These days, we all know the face of a campaign can make or break the product, or the reputation of the creative, and it's therefore surprising the amount of obstacles the creative and production companies manage to place in their own way before the casting director has had even a chance to find his first suggestion.

We are all aware that, with the spread of available new-media options, we are seeing almost a commoditisation of creativity. However, the one thing that is difficult to commoditise are the people we use to communicate our brand.

An industry sage once said to me: "It doesn't matter whether you sell bricks, people or Boeings, there are only three parameters for judging the delivery of a brief or task - time, cost and quality. Nothing else matters." The interesting thing is that, from those wise words, I also concluded that if only one of those values are changed, then it's likely that so, too, will the others.

The key to a successful casting is an early selection and appointment of someone you feel can work with you as a casting director, followed by an accurate and solid brief, together with an acceptance that if the brief changes, those variations will have knock-on effects down the line.

Of course, one of the key attributes of the casting director is the ability to extract the required level of detail from you, but the longer you have to interact and understand each other the better; and the more you work with each other, the more intuitive that understanding will be.

We have worked on the IBM campaign with the brilliant but demanding Joe Pytka for many years now; and we truly believe our understanding of Joe's eye allows us to deliver successfully time and again - a skill built upon commitment to each other's needs.

Bearing in mind the importance of time, it is astonishing the low priority given to the engagement of a casting director. Often we start off trying to push water uphill, because scant regard has been given to the importance of "the face". Recently, we were asked to cast a number of beauty-product commercials in Europe during London Fashion Week. This event alone will drain the campaign of a large number of high-calibre models/actresses, which will dilute choice. Far better to have consulted earlier, researched professionally and planned the castings around the event.

The quality of a casting is generally regarded as 70 per cent artistic and we have already identified that brief is all. Ironically, it's the logistics (and attention to detail) of delivering the "deliverables" that will be remembered long after the commercial is canned!

A good proportion of the work we do is for the cream of clients in the US. The amount of problems (and costs) that can be caused by tape transfers and time-code issues, overseas couriers (few of which deliver on time), over-zealous customs officials and missed flights are immense. Indeed, taking on board the comments of clients such as Pytka, Jonas Renck and David LaChappelle, we have developed and launched the only real-time streaming direct-access online casting site in the industry and are reaping both benefit and acclaim.

This offers a quality-led solution which removes a host of risks from the casting, while adding genuine value upstream as far as the client company itself. It also allows an infinite number of the client team to watch real-time from any computer in the world within a few hours of the casting finishing. In time, we hope to use the product for location casting and also perhaps to host "rushes", opening it up for all casting and creative directors to use themselves.

In our industry, "reactivity costs" can be amazingly high. We are aware just how long a client can "umm and ahh" over a pitch competition for a brand campaign; however, we realise that the same courtesy of time gets diminished the further down the chain you go. It is a truism to say that prep (and also certainty of delivery) is a key requirement in making a good casting great, and the only way prep is successful is with good management of time.

Too often, failure to allow proper prep and planning time can result in an ill-conceived and chaotic casting that doesn't reflect the aspirations of the creatives, and the net result is a re-cast and extra costs.

Taking all of these points together, our best successes have been with clients that have taken an early and consultative approach, listening to our advice regarding both talent and method of delivering the casting.

A wonderful example of this was the controversial (and subsequently banned) 2003 Nike Rugby World Cup campaign, where we worked closely with top creatives Mojo, not only to identify the right "look" but also to recruit a rugby skills coach during the castings who could assess the aptitude of the artists to undertake fairly complicated technical movement related directly to the sport.

In this instance, we had enough time to prep, recruit and identify the right people to become the face of Nike Rugby and make the campaign a roaring success, despite the (dare I suggest) positive controversy surrounding it. It's fitting that Nike was the team sponsor of the English side that won the Cup, a side whose motto was "Don't do one large thing better than any other side, do 101 small things 1 per cent better". This is a maxim we have transferred into our business in our efforts to continually improve the quality of service we offer.

Looking to the future, we believe that the globalisation of the media industry, combined with the diversification of available media, whether through satellite TV, mobile phones or webstreaming, will encourage more creatives and directors to use innovations like our webcasting. Implementing products that save time and cost must improve the quality of our offerings, thus allowing creatives to become more efficient and more effective in finding that elusive "brand face" which our marketplaces crave.


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