The Final Frontier?

Leave your headshot and résumé at home. Don't bother to fill out your size card. Forget about posing for that Polaroid. That's so last January. The Casting Frontier, a new Los Angeles–based company that has revolutionized casting during the past five months by automating the entire audition check-in, has developed technology that reduces actors' bulky headshots, size cards, and résumés to a bar code that—once scanned at auditions—logs actors into the session. The popular technology has spread throughout commercial casting facilities across Los Angeles.

"Up until now, you know when an actor comes into the studio they have to bring a headshot and a résumé. They have to fill out a size card. They have to get a Polaroid taken. The assistants have to type up a log. It's all this manual stuff," said Joey Rubenstein, founder and CEO of The Casting Frontier. "We've been able to reduce that all to a little bar-code card—like a Ralph's card—where all the actor has to do is show up and get scanned."

Here's how it works: Either at the audition or from home, actors log on to the Casting Frontier website and create a MySpace-style profile that contains their name, size card information, résumé, and headshot. They then print out a bar code assigned to their membership profile and bring it into the casting room, where it's scanned by the session director. Actors slate on camera. Instead of snapping a Polaroid, the session director takes a digital photo of the performer and then records the audition. Moments after the actor's performance ends, the session director clicks "upload." Within seconds, the actor's profile and audition appear online solely for the casting director, producer, director, production company, and ad agency with the proper password to access the session. They then can peruse an easy-to-navigate list of all the actors who have auditioned for the project, watch their auditions, and begin making selections from anywhere that has an Internet connection.

Rubenstein, a former audition session director, came up with the idea for the technology while pondering how casting facilities might more easily upload sessions data online. "For a couple years now, people have been posting sessions to the Internet, but not very efficiently," Rubenstein said. He collaborated with graphic designer Elad Berger and technical operations manager Andreas Tompros to create a new software application called isessions to handle the task. Rubenstein said he has already equipped 65 percent of Los Angeles casting facilities with the technology, including Ocean Park Casting, the Casting Studios, the Casting Underground, Village Studio, Castaway Studios, Deborah Kurtz Casting, On Your Mark Studios, and the Casting Lounge. He plans to take the technology to the East Coast in the next few months and eventually go national.

Some actors who have used the Casting Frontier technology at auditions joke that they've been reduced to a bar code. At a recent audition at Ocean Park Casting actor Karen Peterson said with a laugh, "I'm ready for the chip to be embedded in my arm so I just have to scan myself." Peterson, a mother who frequently brings her baby to auditions, said the technology has made auditioning much easier for her. She used to have to fill out her size card with one hand while holding her child in her arm. Now she and other auditioning actors need only manually check in for union paperwork to prove their audition wait time didn't exceed union limitations. Rubenstein said he approached the unions about whether they would be interested in implementing the bar code procedure for this check-in as well, but they passed on the opportunity.

Other actors find the one-time registration process tedious. An anonymous actor at a recent audition at Ocean Park Casting found the process to be "a huge pain in the ass." A friend of his who had used the system before said he felt the bar code has simplified the check-in process. But other actors, though good-humored about the process, expressed hesitation. Back Stage blogger Tom Kiesche wrote in an April 12 post on Unscripted that it "scares the bejesus out of me to be a bar code…. Kinda makes me sick to my stomach," but noted it facilitates the casting process.

Actors' responses to Kiesche's blog entry were mixed. One poster wrote, "Wow, if you didn't feel like a number before, you should now." Another agreed, writing, "Bar code mania is going to be infiltrating every other facet of our lives soon."

And some praised Rubenstein's idea. "[I] couldn't be happier about it," wrote one actor. "I was thinking last week how sick I am, after nine years, of writing the same sizes over and over and over."

Rubenstein admitted that some actors feel weirded out by the bar code element but thinks it's mostly because they're afraid of incurring hidden charges. "Because of other companies that have started out and then, in my point of view, ended up gouging the actor, [actors are] a little more wary now to try our databasing," Rubenstein said. "So we've had to reassure them that it's only for casting, that they're not going to be hit up with marketing schemes, that we're not going to charge them."

Most actors can appreciate the technology for another reason: It saves paper. Some casting directors feel the same way. CD Cathi Carlton of Cathi Carlton Casting said, "The main reason I like [Casting Frontier] is because it's ecological. We're saving trees, and to me that's a really big plus. It's saving time, money, and the environment."

Casting director Annie Egian of Annie Egian Casting said the technology saves money for the production companies and ad agencies, who usually foot the bill on mass auditionn-session mailings of DVDs, headshots, résumés, and size cards—thousands of dollars in postage. Egian added that the capability of producers and directors to watch sessions immediately also helps facilitate her job. "I can get my directors' input right away, and I'm getting selects right away," she said. "It's just going to save me so much time in the process of callbacks as well."

Tim Riel, owner of the Ocean Park Casting facility, said the technology has been very user-friendly for everyone, though he noted that some elderly actors may sometimes feel confused by the technology and may not know how to upload their headshots and fill out their résumé information. To help actors sign up, assistants in the lobbies of casting facilities are available. Riel said members of the MySpace generation love the technology. "You come in and get your bar code scanned, boom, and then that's it. You spend all that extra time basically learning your lines and getting into character, which is what you're here for in the first place."

Carlton noted that some actors are skeptical of the new casting innovation because just five years ago they had to learn the entire online submission process and have had a lot of new casting technology thrown at them, but she expects the extra preparation time will ultimately lead to better audition performances from actors. It should also mean fewer clerical errors. "There's no penmanship problems, no misspellings of the names, because they spell it themselves," said Ocean Park Casting session director Spencer Nicholas.

Casting Lounge owner Susan Vergara said the technology fills a major industry gap: "It's what was needed in the casting business—to have it immediately put on the Web is where it was headed."

So love it or leave it, odds are The Casting Frontier is probably here to stay. And actors, if you were wondering whether this innovation means you'll someday be able to watch your auditions online, think again. The audition video is proprietary material of the production company or advertising agency, so unless that company decides to profit by posting the auditions online for a fee, that part of the process will likely remain the same.

Actors interested in signing up for a free Casting Frontier membership can visit the site at www.castingfrontier.com.