Getting the most from Model Mayhem casting calls

I frequently read posts in the Model Mayhem forums about photographers having difficulty finding models through their casting calls or models not finding good photographers from theirs. They usually complain that either they don’t get any responses or that the responses they do get are from people who aren’t qualified. Upon closer examination, it’s clear that the reason a casting call receives few if any responses is that the author was ineffective at conveying their point to their audience.

Photo: Shot by Adam Models: Miss Mariah & Madelon Jeanne

On the flip side of this coin, there are an equal number of discussions about people responding to casting calls that either never hear back or are never cast for any they respond to. As in the first set of circumstances, this usually boils down to poor communication.

In this article I’m going to create an anatomy for an effective casting call and break it down as to how to write it, what points you should hit when doing so and how to screen the best candidates of those who respond. For those of you responding to casting calls, I’m going to show you the most effective way to break through the piles of responses and get chosen above the rest.

How to create effective casting calls

Let’s start with the running of a casting call. While Model Mayhem has a very easy to use system for creating one, there still a lot of nuances that escape people. There are rules that Model Mayhem outlines that are frequently overlooked. When you make the decision to create a new casting call, at the very top of the screen you will see a set of rules Model Mayhem requires you to follow. Some of these rules are common sense, such as actually entering a date for the shoot, but others are often overlooked or ignored. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see someone create a casting call seeking paid work, an upcoming event, or spam for a studio. Casting calls of this nature are a violation of the rules and will usually be reported rather quickly to the Moderators for removal. So, if you’re posting a casting call looking for paid work and the responses you are getting usually start with an insult, it’s because you obviously haven’t read the rules. If you haven’t done so recently, I suggest you reacquaint yourself with them before you post your next casting call.

The first set of criteria in a casting call are the basics… what are you looking for? A female model, a photographer, a Make-up Artist, all of the above? Choose what you are looking for here. Select the date. Be sure to be clear here… is your shoot on one day or several days? Are you looking to find someone available over a span of days, weeks or months? Select that here. You’ll  make reference to this later on for clarification.

Next, is there nudity involved with your shoot? Oddly enough, there is a lot of gray area on this. Some interpret this as suggesting that the model will be partially or fully nude in the photos. Others suggest that if the model merely is doing an implied shoot, but must be nude during the shoot, then nudity is involved. The way I run my casting calls is that unless the model is nude in the photo, I select “no” on this option and then explain the circumstances later on in the description.

Your next choice is compensation. I think clarification on this matter is really important, as it’s often misinterpreted. This is NOT compensation for the person running the casting call, this is compensation for the people who might respond. If you are a photographer posting a casting call and select that it is a paid shoot, it means that YOU will be paying the person you are casting, not the other way around. The same thing holds true for when you select “Negotiable.” This doesn’t mean you are negotiating for your rates, it means that you are open to negotiating for another form of payment or rate.

After you select the location of the shoot, the next part is the casting call description. This is where it starts to get tricky. This brief description is your headline… your banner as it were, to draw attention to what you are casting for. This is your opportunity to shine and really sell what you are looking for. Now is the time to take off the hat of being a Photographer, a model, a hair stylist, etc., and time to put on the Sales Person hat. You are going to use this title and description to sell your idea to the masses. This is the point where most casting calls generate results or crash and burn.

When I write my description, I make sure it’s clear, easy to understand and grabs the attention of the person skimming through all the other dozens of casting calls in front of them.

Here are some examples of bad titles:

  • “Let’s Shoot”
  • “Tog wants model for cool shoot :-D”
  • “Port Update Needed”

When writing your title, Be clear and concise about what you are looking for. Don’t use txt speak, don’t write vague or boring information and don’t use emoticons. Titles such as these are going to draw in everyone except what you are looking for. It’s going to attract those who respond to each and every casting call and you’re not going to be happy with the result.

Here are some effective casting call titles:

  • “Experienced body painter needed for cosplay shoot “
  • “Fashion photographer needed for runway show this Saturday”
  • “Tall (5’8″ or taller) redheaded model needed for artistic nude shoot”
  • “Promo Model Needed for Trade Show booth”
  • “Experienced Wedding Photographer Needed for July Wedding and Reception”

The more clear you are with your description, the more views you will get on your casting call. More specifically, the more QUALIFIED views you will get, which is ultimately more important.

Now that you have your title written, it’s time to write the description. This is the first step toward having a successful shoot or a miserable failure. Well written casting calls draw the most qualified candidates to your job and, after all, that’s what you’re most interested in, right? Typically, when people complain that they don’t get good responses to their casting calls, this is the source of their problems. Remember, your job here is to sell the vision you have to your reader. The information you provide here as to what you are looking for will make or break your success in finding the right person or persons for your shoot.

Typical bad descriptions read like:

  • “My portfolio stinks and I need new photos. If you’re a photographer and are free to shoot next week hit me up.”
  • “Seeking a model who wants to shoot something sexy. I’m open to ideas, locations, etc. Email me if interested.”

People aren’t inspired by others with no vision or direction in their purpose. If I ever saw a casting call from a model saying she just wants new photos I’d skip it and move on to the next casting call. Right there is a warning that, odds are, the model is not clear in what she wants and her unprofessional casting call might be a red flag for an unprofessional shoot.

Examples of good casting calls look like this:

  • “My portfolio shows all my images from when I was brunette and now I’m a blonde. I would like some updated headshots in studio and in two remote locations. One would be downtown on Main St. and the other would be in a park near the center of town. Photographer would be required to have access to his/her own studio and can provide 1-3 retouched images per look.”
  • “Casting for a tall, brunette model to fill existing showgirl outfit for promo shoot. The outfit is designed to fit a model 5’7″ – 5’9″ tall, 120-130 pounds, and C-cup. Model will be required to provide black, heeled, platform shoes and her own hair and makeup. The shoot will be in studio from 1-3 PM this Monday.”

See the difference? When writing your casting call, there should be a set of bullet points you hit so you can get the best responses possible, such as:

What is the compensation? Is this a paid shoot and, if so, how much? If the shoot is a TFP shoot, how many images are you providing or are seeking?

  • General location and time of the shoot. What will be the total amount of time needed for the shoot? Are you flexible on dates and times?
  • What will be needed of the person being cast? Will they need to provide any costuming, hair, make-up, etc.? Do you require a shoot to be done with a particular lens or camera? Do you require an MUA to use a particular brand or style of make-up?
  • If you are casting for a model, be as specific as you can in what you are looking for (e.g. 5’5″ or taller female model, age 21-30, blonde hair, athletic build, etc.)
  • What kind of photos are you expecting? Headshots? Full body shots? Shots involving vehicles or pets?
  • Does your shoot involve nudity, and, if so, in what way?
  • Describe the full vision of what you want out of this shoot. Remember, you need to SELL YOUR IDEA to your prospective readers.

The more specific you are in your details the better the responses you will get. In addition to providing all the specifics of your shoot, I also suggest you include what I refer to as my “Van Halen Clause.” Back in the 80’s, the rock band Van Halen wrote into their contract a provision that in their dressing room there needed to be a bowl full of M&M candies provided with all of the brown candies removed. While some interpreted this as an ego-maniacal tirade, it actually did serve a purpose… to insure that the event management did, in fact, read the whole contract. I do the same thing in my casting calls. A sure-fire way to see if someone is really reading it and not just responding to each and every posting down the line is to include some information that requires a specific response. For example, in my casting calls I always include the following statement:

“Please respond to this casting call only via private message and include your name, contact information, the best time to reach you and your availability for the shoot. Responses without this information, public responses or responses of “Interested” will be ignored and deleted.”

You’d be amazed at how well this works to help you weed out the good from the bad candidates. If someone is using a cut-and-paste response to every casting call of the day, or is clearly not reading what you are saying in your casting call, it’s a sign that they are not truly looking out for your best interests in the shoot. When people respond with specific information I requested, I know they actually bothered to read the full casting call and are genuinely interested in contributing in a professional manner.

This all being said, responding to someone else’s casting calls should be done with the same attention to detail. If you respond to a casting call with nothing more than “interested,” you aren’t doing a good job selling your services. My experience has shown that when people respond to a casting call in such a fashion, it’s usually a sign of other unprofessional mannerisms and I skip to the next possible candidate. When responding to a casting call, take the time to read it thoroughly. Answer back with specific information that’s requested and possibly even contribute an idea or two as to why you are the best choice. If I put out a casting call for a bikini model, get 30 responses back that all look the same but one person says, “I even have over 50 different outfits I can bring to the shoot, all organized and ready to go for you to choose from,” it’s going to make me take a closer look at that model as opposed to the ones that only say, “Please take a look at my port and let me know if you want to shoot.” Remember, the more you sell what you bring to the table, the higher the likelihood that you’ll rise to the top.

So, follow these simple steps when working with casting calls and you’ll start to see a big difference in the quantity and quality of your responses. When responding to casting calls, understand that you probably are not the only person responding, and probably not the first one to respond either. You don’t need to write back with a doctoral thesis as to why you are the best candidate, but you should respond in a way that sounds professional and genuinely interested in the project being cast. Doing so will make a dramatic impact on your ability to be cast for a project, and will leave a lasting impression in the minds of others for possible future projects as well.

Shot By Adam

Adam Sternberg has been a professional events, commercial, and creative photographer for 15 years. Born and currently residing in Las Vegas, he has worked with many top models, celebrities and venues only the Entertainment Capital of the World can provide.

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