After 15 years of drama and Television acting, Ali Coffey crossed to the other side of the camera and set up Ali Coffey Casting in 2001. Fishpond.ie is Ali’s latest venture. Having spotted a gap in the market, she set up Fishpond in 2008. The online casting is a one stop shop for directors, producers and casting agents to search for Irish actors. It now has over 2,000 actors in its professional pool. IFTN caught up with Ali Coffey to find out more about her move into casting in the virtual world.
So tell us a little about the origins of Fishpond.ie…
Fishpond launched in September 2008. We started off with a prototype to test the market and see if we could provide one place for actors to be; one place to display their information and where people could come to cast.
So then when it looked like it was becoming a success, we went about asking for advice from people who were using the site, actors and people casting and we rebuilt the whole thing from the backend up. That has brought it to the site we have now and we have over 2,000 actors on and around about 500 companies registered to cast from here or the UK.
Is it just an Irish site or is it international?
The actors are all Irish (mostly, in that a few might travel between here and the UK) but we’ve had people casting coming from everywhere. We’ve had a couple from New Zealand, one from Australia. We’d have a good few English Casting Directors who use it regularly as well.
How many agents use the site?
Every actor’s agent in Ireland is registered with Fishpond.ie. So for the first time, they are all contactable at the click of a button. If you want to send some information out to all agents, you can just click send. Or if you want to send casting information to the independent acting community, you can send it to them at the touch of a button as well.
What kind of projects do you cast?
It is film, TV and theatre. The TV includes commercials. In terms of film and TV, people have used it for ‘Primeval’, ‘Camelot’, ‘Pleading Guilty’, ‘Spartacus’, ‘Mary’ – which is a TV movie about the Virgin Mary. We’ve got lots of film – shorts and features. Things like ‘When Harvey Met Bob’, ‘Sidewinder’, ‘We’ve Got Balls’, ‘Stitches’. And then commercials, things like Jameson, Tullamore Dew, Guinness, Heineken, McDonald’s, and Meteor.
Does the casting process continue online beyond the initial profile?
Yes, people do online auditions all the time. Say if you were doing a big search for a particular character, it’s very difficult when you are a casting director to see everybody that may be in some way interesting just due to general time constraints. On Fishpond.ie, you can request that people upload a video or an online audition. You can give them some direction and then they can send you their Fishpond Link. Each actor has their own private web page. This means you could sift through 100 people for a part and then maybe bring in 20. Or you can redirect people and ask them to re-upload it, get them to change their performance slightly. That is becoming more and more common. I think that that is the future really.
In terms of what we are doing, we are currently working on some new applications that are building new scope for Fishpond in the next couple of months. We hope to bring the idea of online casting even further along the line. It will all be integrated into your computer and camera. That’s where we are headed. It’s a big project and we hope to have more and more opportunities to engage on the site.
I feel that that is the way casting is going so you may as well jump on board.
What is the cost for the actors?
It is ten euro per month for the actors and that includes everything. There is no additional cost. I really wanted to keep it cost effective for actors because it is a group in the market that often doesn’t have a lot of disposable income because well paid work can be hard to come by. It should be no more expensive for an actor to be on Fishpond than it is to not be because hopefully we are doing away with the need to send out lots of expensive photographs and CV’s, or couriers and taping and that kind of stuff. Now you have your link which has everything.
Everybody gets a free trial initially for a month and once that is up then it is ten euro a month.
You set up in 2008, have you noticed a lot of people you have become unemployed and are now deciding to try their hand at acting?
Yes definitely. There are a lot of people who have come by a career break, whether it was voluntary or not. Many have had this creative urge in you for the last few years but it was too hard to jump off the conveyor belt. Because there are not a lot of opportunities in other fields out there at the moment, people are saying let’s just give it a go.
I’ve met some really interesting challenges through that actually. Particularly people coming to a career in acting later in their life. In the last few months we’ve got several people aged 40+ who have come into it who are really interesting. Traditionally, there has been a real fall off in talent of that age group because people have mortgages and families and they’ve settled down. But now, in a weird way, that is filling in some gaps which used to be hard to cast.
People always say that recessions are good for the arts in one way or another or that people get more creative...
What sort of feedback have you got from the site?
I think it’s really positive. Our initial reaction with casting directors in the UK in particular was “at long last!” because they had always been dying to do this. Before this, they had to individually email each agent and invariably they would leave someone out because there would be someone unknown to them or someone recently set up. I think there is a lot more opportunity.
We can’t guarantee people auditions or success and I try and make that really clear to anybody but we do try and keep quality control so people on the site have either worked professionally or trained as an actor. If people haven’t got anything under their belt and they are just starting out, I don’t really direct them to Fishpond. We don’t do any extra work or anything. I would send them off in a different direction. We try to keep quality control.
So far the feedback from the casting directors and the actors has been good and this makes us want to provide more and keep growing.
It seems like Fishpond is particularly a good database for international casting…
We are pushing international casting at the moment, especially in the UK. We’ve been advertising in industry publications. We are trying to make sure anyone casting knows about us. We have to keep pushing ourselves into other markets to provide different opportunities.
Another thing we are doing at the moment is to bring more of a community feel to Fishpond. We are encouraging actors to barter their skills with each other. Taking money out of things, and considering there is such a shortage of it, maybe if one person is a chef in their other life and the other is a painter/decorator they can swap a dinner party for a living room…that sort of thing! We are trying to provide a hub for the actors and we want this to keep growing. We are always trying to expand the site.
Check out the online casting site at fishpond.ie