How Spotlight Really Works
Spotlight is undoubtedly the home of casting in the UK, and now Europe.
Since 1927 Spotlight has been connecting casting directors with the right actors for their roles.
Almost all of the major film, television, theatre, musical and commercial projects are cast through Spotlight but the way the casting platform works from the point of view of you, the actor is often misunderstood.
In this article I’m going to walk you through exactly how the platform works so you finally understand how to become a member and what your membership really means for you and your auditions.
Application Process & Criteria
The first hurdle you will face is actually getting accepted onto the platform. Spotlight operates a fairly strict policy of who qualifies as a professional actor and who doesn’t. If you haven’t been to drama school then you will have to rely on professional credits but the criteria for what counts as a professional credit can be difficult for an emerging actor to reach.
According to their joining criteria: You can join Spotlight if you have at least four professional, completed credits (not in pre or post production). These must be in featured, named speaking roles, in full-length film, television, theatre productions or character-driven voice work, or you must have graduated with a minimum of a year’s professional training from a full-time accredited drama school or university course.
Qualifying credits do not include commercials, idents, short films, music videos, corporate films, student productions and any work as an extra or supporting artist.
When you apply you have to provide proof of either a minimum of a year in full time training at a recognised institution or proof of those four professional credits.
Spotlight does this to maintain a high standard of professionalism on the platform but many actors feel these criterion are a little unfair as it specifically excludes commercials and shorts both of which are generally highly regarded professional media within the industry and often come with sizeable compensation as well as making up the vast majority of castings available to most actors on the platform.
Some performers have even been known to outright lie in their applications, making up fake professional credits just to be accepted on the platform.
As well as being a clear breach of Spotlights terms this is a terrible idea as you will still gain very little from simply having a profile at that level; simply being on Spotlight doesn’t magically result in auditions.
Let’s explore why.
Once you are accepted you will be asked to pay a yearly fee of £158 or £169 if paid in monthly installments.
This is due immediately unlike on other jobs sites inside and outside of the acting industry where it’s free to host your CV and you only pay for premium features of the platform. (Or my own casting platform The Hustle Castings which is free, for everyone, forever!)
It’s also different from being represented by an agent who only takes a fee when they successfully secure paid work for you.
Unlike most other casting platforms in the UK, Spotlight charges a standard fee to simply host your online resume with no additional premium features you can pay for. Mandy and StarNow for example, although widely considered a lower standard, are free to have a basic profile on, but charge you a subscription fee for premium services like submissions or promotion of your profile.
Spotlight Link – General Release
The Spotlight Link is where all general release castings go.
When a casting director wants to cast their nets as wide as possible, and accept submissions from as many people as possible they will put it out on the spotlight link.
You need to have a Spotlight subscription to see these breakdowns however you don’t need to have an agent which means if you are unrepresented then the Spotlight Link is all that will be available to you.
Logging into my Spotlight Link today shows me 2102 paid opportunities broken down as follows.
- Commercials & Corporate – 48%
- Stage – 15%
- Musicals – 10%
- Short Film – 9%
- Cruise – 4%
- Feature Film – 3%
- Television – 3%
- Other (Workshop, Photography, Voiceover, Music Video, Event, Internet, Video Game ) – 8%
Worthy of note is that, firstly the vast majority of these opportunities are already closed for submission. Spotlight leaves them up there for around a month or so. I can only imagine this is to make it feel like there are more castings on there then are truly available at any given time.
“Stage” productions include everything from tribute acts and concerts, overseas touring plays and holiday resorts but very little straight theatre, almost none in London or the major cities.
Surprisingly; “Musicals” does turn up lots of the high profile west end shows and tours.
For Film and TV combined there were just over 100 breakdowns out of over two thousand and not a single one of these was still open for submissions.
This means if you are an unrepresented actor, particularly if you are focused on theatre or screen, then worrying about getting yourself on Spotlight might be totally unfounded. You could be better off saving your money and working on gaining credits through the other platforms and raising your profile so that you can get yourself an agent first before applying for Spotlight.
Certainly falsifying your credentials to get yourself in will cost you £158 a year but likely gain you nothing by way of casting opportunities.
The next tier up from this is where casting breakdowns are sent out to “All Agents”.
This means that anyone who is represented by any agent that has agent access to Spotlight will see these breakdowns.
If you are an emerging actor this is where you want to start because this is where the value of Spotlight really begins to pay off.
In fact, some agents will not accept you on to their books unless you at least qualify for Spotlight membership because most agents use Spotlight for 80% of their day to day job.
Private lists is the missing link that most actors don’t realise exists.
Just because you are represented and on Spotlight doesn’t suddenly mean you or your agent will be seeing breakdowns for all the top blockbuster films and tv.
There is truth in the rumour that “higher tier” agents, for want of a better phrase, see higher profile casting breakdowns.
In the last week I have seen two casting directors, who had put out a general submission, tweet that they had received over 2000 submissions in less than a day and had to close the doors.
This presents casting directors with an impossible task, they will probably only be able to see a hundred or so maximum if they are really casting wide so they have to have a way to narrow the playing field.
In brief, casting directors have the option to curate which agents they prefer to get submissions from. They will add certain agents to groups or lists and selectively send breakdowns only to those groups.
Unless your agent has managed to get themselves included in those groups then even they won’t see all the breakdowns, especially those from higher profile productions in film and tv.
This doesn’t make an agent better or worse necessarily but it does impact on the level of productions they are capable of getting you seen for on Spotlight.
The last way in which Spotlight is used to facilitate the casting process is simply where a casting director will reach out to an agent directly if they have a specific client in mind they want to audition. They might then submit their Spotlight profile directly without any breakdown ever going out.
There is one other major way that talent is discovered through Spotlight and that is the Spotlight Search.
This is the reverse of the breakdown process where instead of our agents submitting our Spotlight profiles in response to a casting, a casting director will search through the directory of performers in order to gather a list of potential candidates with specific attributes or skills.
Spotlight are keen to remind us that “every year casting professionals perform hundreds of thousands of searches across the spotlight profiles… searching by name, skills accents, languages”. Reminding us how important it is to keep our spotlight profiles up to date, and not to leave anything on our profiles that might be misleading.
However hundreds of thousands of searches does not equal hundreds of thousands of submissions or auditions as a result. Estimating the numbers generously suggests that if 10% of Spotlight searches result in a useful match and 10% of those useful matches result in a candidate being shortlisted, of which 10% of the shortlist are eventually auditioned along with other submissions, that probably means Spotlight Search results account for only a few hundred to a thousand or so auditions over a whole year in real terms.
To put it another way; over 70 years you are likely to receive one audition as a result of a Spotlight Search (if we assumed that every member will receive at least one, which they wont)
Spotlight has come under fire quite a bit recently over two main subjects. The first is membership fees and the second is promoting free work.
In the last few months Spotlight have taken the tremendous step of removing all no-pay and “expenses only” castings from their platform, despite a majority of members surveyed stating that they wanted to see the opportunities regardless of the pay status as is the case on other casting platforms like Mandy and StarNow.
This is a commendable step forward from Spotlight who no longer believe that genuine opportunities are being offered under the umbrella of no-pay or expenses only and really sets Spotlight apart as the leading platform for professional castings.
However they have been less satisfactory, in their response to criticism about membership fees.
Spotlight is seen by the vast majority of Actors as a “necessary evil” in their careers, begrudgingly handing over £169 a year through gritted teeth with very little alternative.
The main complaint of average members is that, despite the operating costs of Spotlight dramatically decreasing in the last few years with the elimination of the printed catalogues, a huge cost saving to the company, this cost saving has not been in any way passed on to members and in fact membership fees have actually gone up.
Where previously there was only an annual subscription fee, Spotlight introduced a monthly direct debit to make it more convenient but added around £10 per year for any member availing of this service.
In addition to the general complaint about the rising cost of membership, the secondary complaint, as detailed above, is that not everyone has the same access to castings listed on the site, despite everyone paying the same.
Spotlight have justified their fees by stating that you are not paying for castings, you are paying for your profile to be hosted on their platform however this argument doesn’t hold much water when you first consider that in every other industry jobs sites are all free to list profiles on but more importantly it has recently come to light that, in fact, not everyone is paying the same for their profiles.
Many performers, particularly dancers in theatre, get their Spotlight completely for free but have the same profile privileges as everyone else.
When Spotlight wanted to take over the musical theatre casting market many years ago they did so by offering “dancer” profiles for free. This allowed musical theatre ensemble members who previously didn’t qualify for “actor” profiles to be cast through Spotlight and therefore casting directors in musicals had a unified experience and all moved onto the platform.
Years later when Spotlight amalgamated their “actor”, “dancer”, “presenter” etc. profiles into a single “performer” profile, all of these legacy dancer accounts remained free. To this day theatre companies will have some cast members paying regular fees and their colleagues, often doing the same job, getting their account for free.
This places a large unspoken question mark over the argument that everyone pays the same and everyone gets the same profile.
A New Approach To Consider
I have tried to fathom how Spotlight could improve its services in a way that makes genuine business sense to them, doesn’t put any added pressure on casting directors and agents and provides more value to members.
The closest I can get to a solution would be for Spotlight to consider launching a “Probationary Membership” similar to that of the CDG and PMA.
A probationary membership could be offered at a reduced cost to actors, particularly those who are unrepresented.
The joining criteria for probation could be less strict than full membership making it easier for emerging actors to get on the platform and start gaining the experience and credits necessary to become a full member.
Probationary members could only be granted access to the Spotlight Link, and could be filtered out of access to breakdowns by casting teams. This means there would be no additional burden placed on casting directors who already have far too many submissions to manage.
Unrepresented actors, who currently have to pay the same as their colleagues with big agents, would have the option to instead become probationary members reducing their yearly fees but retaining most of the service they get anyway by being unrepresented.
The financial hit that Spotlight might take from actors downgrading to probationary would likely be made up many times over by new actors joining who were previously not eligible for full membership.
It would also address the complaint about the quality of castings on the Spotlight Link not qualifying actors to actually get on the platform. If an actor only had experience in Spotlights “non-qualifying” categories then they could still register but they would only have access to that work that broadly matches their current experience level which is the majority of the work that we can see on the Link anyway.
Spotlights Holistic Approach To Services
In recent times spotlight have finally started to pick up speed in improving the experience on the platform for all categories of members, including rolling out the first phase of a completely new admin experience for actors’ profiles.
Aside from the casting platform Spotlight also champions what they describe as a holistic approach to services for members providing career development services, 1-2-1 advice sessions, workshops and events throughout the year, self taping services and room rental, as well as practical day-to-day advice and support for members who might be struggling as well as discounted membership for disabled members.
Spotlight were also one of the founders, along with Equity and The Stage & BAPAM, of ArtsMinds, an information hub focused on issues of mental wellbeing in the arts.
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