Industry Forum 2019


The
Industry Forum presented by Spotlight was held at the end of September 2019 at The Barbican Centre in London. It was a chance for agents and casting directors from across the UK and internationally to come together, share knowledge, discuss best practice and sharpen their skills. The day was made up of a mix of keynote presentations, power sessions, business experts, industry panels, delicious food and networking drinks courtesy of Tagmin.

For those of you who missed it, or wished they could have gone to every session on at the same time, here are some highlights and key takeaways from a selection of the days events.

Skip ahead to read:

Casting and Representing Performers who are Transgender

Nudity & Intimacy: Breakdown, Audition, Contract, Set

Unconscious Bias

Promoting Positive Mental Health and Building Mental Resilience

The Art of Negotiation

Managing Social Media for your Business

Decision Makers Question Time: Focus on Sales and Distribution

Casting and Representing Children

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Casting and Representing Performers who are Transgender

Speakers: Tigger Blaize (Actor), Ash Palmisciano (Actor, Writer and Presenter), Andy Brierley CDG 

The panel discussed best practice and Equity’s newly released Guidelines for Entertainment Professionals Working With LBGT+ Performers 2019 developed by the Equity LGBT+ Committee, in collaboration with All About Trans and Spotlight.

A selection of key takeaways:

  • Use a person’s correct pronouns (she/her, he/him, they/them) and use their correct name. Either of these may have changed if they have transitioned. It is perfectly acceptable to ask, for example, “What pronouns do you use?”. If you make a mistake - apologise, correct and move on. No dramas.
  • What can be considered offensive? Anything about a person’s life pre-transition, or anything about hormones or surgeries they may have had, or are considering. 
  • When casting open up the opportunity where possible. 
  • When writing a breakdown it’s best practice to use inclusive language when wanting to encourage specific submissions, such as ‘We are particularly keen to receive submissions from actors who identify as…’
  • As agents give performers the opportunity to tell you about themselves and the types of roles they are comfortable playing “Would you play cisgender roles?” or “Would you play trans (or LGBT+) roles?”, “Is there anything you would like to share with me to help me best represent you as a performer?”.
  • Protected characteristics - in line with the Equality Act, you cannot ask about an actor’s age, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, race, religion, pregnancy or maternity, sex or sexual orientation.
  • Create a production passport with your performer which allows you as the agent to seamlessly handover information such as dressing room requirements, sensitive wardrobe information and preferred pronouns to Production and Company Managers in advance of the first rehearsal/day. 

Useful links:

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Nudity & Intimacy: Breakdown, Audition, Contract, Set

Speakers: Andy Pryor CDG, Yarit Dor (Intimacy Coordinator and co-founder of Intimacy Directors International UK (IDI-UK), Megan Ott (production assistant specialising in intimate scene safety and comfort), Ita O’Brien (Intimacy Coordinator and Movement Director for film, television, and theatre. Founder of Intimacyonset.com)

Summary: We are increasingly hearing of a new role on set and in the rehearsal room - an ‘IC’ - intimacy coordinator. Post #MeToo and #TimesUp the IC has become a welcome addition, ensuring everyone involved in the portrayal of intimate scenes has consented, is comfortable and can still honour the story and serve the writing in the best possible way.

A selection of key takeaways:

  • New protocols are being established but we are still learning on the fly in some cases. But what’s clear is that no one should be put into an uncomfortable situation - and that includes the production team and crew as well as the talent.
  • An IC is employed to ensure that intimacy is also covered in rehearsals not just on the day. so e.g. in theatre - there should be an intimacy call every day to check where performers are today, if something did not work yesterday or might work better - so it’s agreed beforehand and not improvised without consent in the performance. Further nudity waivers may be added - we cannot hold people to a line of language in a script or an agreement if they are not comfortable with it on the day.
  • We need a better and more specific vocabulary - rather than just ‘top’ half, use more precise descriptions such from the ‘head to the hip bone’.
  • On-set, know that an actor has the absolute right to change their mind and not be pressured by pre-signed agreements or time constraints. 
  • During the audition process be mindful that actors are vulnerable and may be more giving than they should be as they want the role. Is intimacy necessary in an audition?  Can you see how the actors work together from e.g. touching hands, placing foreheads together?
  • An agent should be comfortable with cross checking safeguarding for their client e.g. a closed set, no photography, only essential personnel, rushes on strict release and then destroyed, no body doubles - people then assume it's the clients’ breasts or buttocks - if a body double is used it has to be agreed with the performer themselves.

Useful links:

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Unconscious Bias

Speaker: Luise Usiskin. Luise has gained a wide range of equality, diversity, and inclusion experience through her work with both Stonewall and Challenge Consultancy.

Summary: In a day packed with a variety of industry sessions, we were told by Luise that it can be challenging to ask people to volunteer to attend a session on unconscious bias. However, the feedback from this session was stand out as being overwhelmingly positive and worthwhile. We have scheduled internal Spotlight team training with Luise and we hope to be able to run or signpost further sessions for our Professional members in the future. 

Unconscious bias is inherent in us all and how we can recognise and deal with it at work, particularly in our industry, is key to ensuring we represent and cast as widely as possible. 

A selection of key takeaways:

We learn to categorise ‘our schemas’ by negative and positive experiences; who it’s safe to be around, play with, who is professional vs. unprofessional, creative vs. uncreative and bring it into our conscious from an early age and often on first meeting, so bias is difficult to counteract. But the good news is that our neural paths can change the way we link things and change the way we see things.

  • The importance of diversity in decision making groups.
  • Push back, if we don’t stop countering the micro inequities then they become the norm, beware of micro messages building.
  • Look at the language we use, think about using e.g. an online gender decoder
  • Conflicting priorities or stress can lead to bias. Take breaks, stay hydrated 
  • Challenge scripts and casting requirements - why is it this gender/this race/this sexuality/this accent etc.
  • Assess the clients on your books: do you have a type? 
  • Get training for you and your team. 

Check out what Challenge Consultancy can offer.

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Promoting Positive Mental Health and Building Mental Resilience

Speakers: Carole Watling, Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society and registered Occupational Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council. Addam Merali-Younger, Equity’s Membership Support Assistant for Bullying, Harassment and Mental Health.

A selection of key takeaways:

The working lives of agents and casting directors have become even more time pressured. The rise of  a 24/7 culture with instant digital access, constant on-call demands, increasing budgetary constraints and the fact that many industry professionals often work in isolation means mental health has never been so relevant. Carol and Addam gave a fascinating talk on how pressure affects our wellbeing and described techniques which can help strengthen mental resilience.

A staggering 57% of all working days are lost to mental health. How can you do your best work representing your clients and casting the best actors for the job if you are stressed, tired and in need of help yourself. Pushing yourself is good but you can, and should, always retreat back to your comfort zone.

It’s important to note that not all stress is bad for you - it can be a challenge instead! And not all pressure is work related but just because there are no symptoms this doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

What are typical signs of stress to look out for in yourself and others?

  • Signs of distress, emotional, mental function - forgetfulness, loss of focus, behavioural changes

How can you mitigate stress?

  • Create parameters beyond which you won’t go e.g. manage clients expectations by agreeing no phone/email after say 7pm, manage from the get go
  • No phones in bedroom
  • Clear your desk if working at home
  • Go for a walk! 
  • Create a healthy working environment

Communicate well

  • Be proactive and decisive
  • Be responsible and avoid unrealistic deadlines
  • Delegate don’t dump
  • Be approachable
  • Empower people
  • Socialise - ‘banter’ is important

Managing difficult situations

  • Don’t let problems fester
  • Address bullying and harassment immediately, be brave - call it out
  • Be flexible
  • Take responsibility to solve issues
  • Follow up on conflicts after resolution

Signposting for Performers 

  • There is a wealth of content on mental health on Spotlight’s site 
  • Industry mental health is really important which is why Spotlight joined forces with Equity, The Stage and BAPAM (British Association of Performing Arts Medicine) to create an online resource called ArtsMinds which helps performers and creative practitioners facing mental health issues. 

You can also hear from Addam on this Spotlight podcast about mental health support for actors

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The Art of Negotiation

Speaker: Richard Savage is a Director and Senior Consultant of Scotwork with 30 years of experience in brand development, strategy, marketing and retail intelligence.

A selection of key takeaways:

Through thought-provoking points and hilarious anecdotes, Richard helped us all reconsider what negotiating actually is, and the different strategies that can help us achieve our goals.

  • Negotiation is an art – you need to do it right, or you risk coming out of it with your goals not fully met, or a damaged relationship that will impact future negotiations.
  • Offer to do something for them if they do something for you.
  • Meeting in the middle and haggling is not negotiating – view them as giving half of what you wanted to achieve away for nothing. If you have a reasonable proposal, don’t give what you want away if you’re not getting anything back for it.
  • If you give in, the other side learns. They’ll come back again and again, knowing they just need to push harder.
  • ‘We must be better at learning about the other side, because therein lies the key to getting what we want.’
  • Don’t confuse your strategy with your objective (e.g. Brexit was the strategy to the objective of having more control over our borders, but now making Brexit happen has become the objective). Keep your strategies simple and flexible, and don’t be afraid to change them if they’re not helping you achieve your objective.
  • Prepare/plan a mutual dialogue, understand needs, make proposals, build deals, be empowered, be flexible, close the deal, be satisfied with the outcome.
  • Don’t be afraid of making the first proposal. If you make a good proposal, you have the power and control the deal. Otherwise the other side will have to make up what you want, and it won’t be what you want.
  • Alternatives to negotiating include: problem solving (make sure you’re solving the right problem), persuasion (has a habit of turning into nonsense), conflict (make sure you’re resolving the right problem), imposing your will (achieve objective, but at loss of long term relationship and future objectives), imposing your good will (problematic, as people have short memories), postponing (haggle) and arbitration (but you hand over control).

Curious to find out more?
Scotwork run negotiation courses, and also have a blog where they post useful advice.

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Managing Social Media for your Business

Speaker: Adrian Larkin - Social and Digital Consultant 


This seminar-style session was designed especially with casting directors and agents in mind. Adrian outlined the best uses for each social media platform, and some useful dos and don’ts for when you’re using your profile for business purposes.

  • Facebook – use for making short, snappy statements (post 1 a day).
  • Twitter – good for brand and personal (post 2-10 a day), hashtags searchable in bio, add humour, avoid copyrighted images, make use of advanced and local searches, put a ‘.’ Before ‘@’ to share to everyone.
  • LinkedIn – video becoming more popular.
  • Instagram – ephemeral content growing (post 1-2 a day), laugh at yourself – ‘behind the scenes’ images are great, use 9-15 hashtags per post to expand your reach (don’t always use obvious ones – be niche). 
  • Bitly – tool for creating short links for social media.
  • TweetDelete and Deseat.me – tools to clean up online presence.
  • IG Audit – tool to check if someone’s fanbase is real.
  • Have social media policy/contracts for staff and talent to prevent behaviour that could lead to a social media crisis.
  • Set up listening tools so you’ll know quickly when a crisis does strike (Automate Twitter/talk walker alert)

Session handout available upon request [email protected]

We also have some great Spotlight content for performers on Social Media Top 5 Tips and Getting Started on Social Media

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Decision Makers Question Time: Focus on Sales and Distribution 

Panel: Dan Hubbard CDG, Donna French - Agent for Gordon & French, Simon Gillis - Chief Operating Officer of the film division at See-Saw Films, Tom Grievson - Head of Marketing and Distribution at Hanway Films

A selection of key takeaways:

This panel aimed to demystify how decisions are made at the sales and distribution end of the casting chain, specifically focused on independent film.

  • Film is a bigger risk than TV. You spend millions before you know if anyone wants to see it, hence the reason why distributors often insist on ‘bankable’ talent.
  • Producers need sales agents to give them certain loans, and bankable talent is what brings in the loans.
  • When trying to finance a film, you need to convince distributors to pre-buy films. It’s uncertain for them, so they’ll research past performances of similar films so that they can pitch to their greenlight committee. Past performance doesn’t guarantee future performance, but at least the distributors can say a bad performance was just ‘unlucky’ if the numbers supported it.
  • When money from sales comes in, 20% goes to the taxman, and only 30-40% goes to distributors. The higher you are in the production line, the harder it is to get money from profit. This isn’t helped by the decline in DVD sales and the difficulty of getting a long cinema run (due to US superhero movies). Money from DVD sales used to be what brought distributors out of the red.
  • Sales agents should work more closely with casting directors. They can help manage expectations and also identify new, emerging talent. 
  • The producer is a seducer of sorts, trying to sell the script. They need to bend the truth to agents a little bit because they need to convince themselves that the film is going to happen.

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Casting and Representing Children

Speakers: Lucy Jones Child Employment Officer for the London Borough of Bromley and secretary of the London Child Employment Network (LCEN). Jessica Ronane CDG, Cathy Sweet (Equity), Michelle Kirby (Agent/Founder, Daisy & Dukes Ltd), Ellie Samuels (Spotlight Young Performer Consultant).

A selection of key takeaways:

  • It’s a complicated area, with little formal regulation. We need to continue to work together to ensure best practice and safeguarding for children in the entertainment industry. 
  • Producers, especially in commercials, often do not consider and allow for the time needed to properly licence a child, which puts pressure on the casting director, agent, parents, licensing officer and so on. This can result in a casting director needing to ask for several children to be licensed as options before the role is actually cast. 
  • An application needs to be completed for each performance or activity, with all the required information, for it to be legal Leicestershire.gov website
  • A child licence can take up to 21 days (this is a hang over from postal times!) but 10 is more common these days.
  • Fast turnarounds for child licenses are possible but vary from borough to borough. It’s in everyone's interest to allow as much time as possible to ensure the welfare and safety of the child. 
  • All professional jobs for children should be paid and licensed.
  • Children under 16 are generally paid 50% of the full Equity adult rate, as a minimum, or the full adult rate depending on the role.
  • Child performers can join Equity from aged 10. If more children joined this would strengthen the negotiating position of casting directors and agents alike in terms of their pay.

 Useful links

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Equity led sessions ran throughout the day covering agreements: PACT TV, PACT CFA, Netflix and Commercials. Other sessions included, How Casting Directors Cast: Voice, Screen and Stage, Collaborating Live! with Directors UK,
Gaming Tech and The National Theatre. If you would like copies of the session handouts where available please contact [email protected]

If you have ideas for future sessions, projects or best practice resources to share we would love to hear from you, please contact the Spotlight Professionals Team on [email protected]