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Sunday, Aug 14, 2022

Audition Business Casts Lot With Second Location

An L.A. company that rents studio space for casting calls has recently found room for growth, even as technology threatens to upend its industry.

A year after opening a 6,500-square-foot space in Hollywood, Space Station Casting Studios expanded by adding a 10,000-square-foot West L.A. location in August.

Chief Executive Ben Rovner said the new location has been getting busier as the company builds partnerships with casting directors and ramps up online booking.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth,” he said.

Casting directors said they tend to be drawn to new facilities, especially if they’re conveniently located. But Rovner attributed the growth to the fact that his company rents by the hour, not just the day, and does so for lower rates.

The low-cost strategy dovetails with a trend of lower production budgets and surge in low-cost Web series. Even bigger-budget commercials are cutting the time spent on auditions.

Rovner said the move, financed with operating profits and the help of an undisclosed investor, has come at a cost. While revenue has risen, the expenses associated with running two sites have outpaced the gains, and the company is now operating in the red.

Despite the growth, Rovner is mindful that the casting industry is facing a long-term existential threat as technology allows actors to record and distribute their audition tapes virtually, without ever showing up to an audition.

“If the business model doesn’t change, all the facilities are going to go under,” he said.

Traditional casting facility businesses have for years offered free office space to casting directors. In exchange, they bring in TV, film and commercial producers that rent adjacent studio space to hold casting calls that might bring in dozens or even hundreds of actors to audition.

The producers foot the bill for the facility rental and pay the casting directors for their services. It’s a niche business full of idiosyncrasies. For example, some producers expect a continental breakfast and midafternoon snacks. And with hundreds of actors coming through a facility on any given day, good parking is a key selling point.

“It’s like entertaining for a day,” said Terry Berland, an in-house casting director at Space Station’s West L.A. location who focuses on casting actors for commercials. “The space has to make them comfortable.”

It’s an industry that relies on the age-old tradition of putting actors face to face with casting directors.

But one way Rovner and one of his partners are trying to adapt to the changing industry is by developing an app, called Thespis, that will feature tie-ins with Space Station and allow actors to manage their audition schedule, review footage and make contact with industry professionals such as talent agents. They hope to make money from the app itself, but the app also could result in more business for the casting facility.

Another casting studio operator, Cazt in Hollywood, is also banking on technology. The company has 12 casting studios, but it doesn’t charge for use of that space.

Rather, Cazt makes all of its money from selling memberships to actors who pay about $16 a month for technology that allows them to manage their audition materials and reach casting directors.

“We’re more of a technology company,” said Emily Adler, Cazt’s chief operating officer.

Scaling up

What grew into Space Station started out in Hollywood six years ago when casting directors Dan Velez and Sherrie Henderson rented a single room to start their firm, Dream Big Casting.

The casting business grew, and they moved to a former factory on Cahuenga Boulevard last year. They formed a separate business, Space Station, to rent out the casting facility.

They continue to run their own casting business and hired Rovner, who also works as an actor, as chief executive of Space Station at the start of this year.

Rovner said he saw a big opportunity to fill the company’s vacant audition space by selling hourly bookings online, since many local facilities only offer full-day bookings that can cost about $1,000. The company also began offering space at night for theater rehearsals.

He said it’s helped to fill the Hollywood location, which has seven studios outfitted with tables and couches, as well as a conference room and a larger actors’ studio. The space is on average about half-full on any given day, he said. The West L.A. location, called 310, has eight studios and a conference room. It charges $37 for an hour or $370 for a day for an 18-foot-by-20-foot studio.

Rovner said revenue grew to about $455,000 last year, from about $300,000 the year before. But the expenses associated with the expansion have added costs and the business is not now profitable. Still, he is projecting revenue will rise to $1 million next year and that it will be back to a profit by the end of this year.

Both Rovner and Adler said they couldn’t pin their recent growth on rebounding production levels, although it can’t hurt that local production has been on the rise this year. Feature film production days were up 7.1 percent and production days for television were up 11 percent in the first half of the year, according to permitting agency FilmL.A.


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