All casting presents its challenges, but finding families who have had a violent child in the house that were prepared to take part in a documentary series was always going to be tough.
This series, 'Violent Child, Desperate Parents', is an evolution of 'My Violent Child' that Popkorn had made for Channel 5. It had proved to be a difficult and time consuming series to cast, but I knew that Casting House had a trick up its sleeve which would make all the difference. I was keen to take on the project to prove a new technique of casting that we’ve been practicing for 5 years.
Traditionally casting for cases where families are in desperate need of help leads research teams spend time contacting charities, social workers and family counsellors to see if they know of any appropriate case studies, and if they are willing to introduce them to the shows researchers. However, our experience is that this kind of casting almost never works. There is rarely any incentive for experts to introduce production teams to cases. The risks are too high and the rewards almost non-existent. This had been Popkorn’s experience too on the previous series.
This was clearly a casting project that traditionally would take a huge amount of time and people power. But we thought that a new technique would work well and enable us to advertise directly to the families that we needed to approach. Rory Wheeler, the Managing Director of Popkorn, saw the potential immediately and backed our theory on how to tackle this difficult cast.
Here’s how it works, simple internet advertising. Google Adwords, channel the project directly to parents who were looking online for help and advice to in order to manage a violent or disruptive child. Everyday there are millions of internet searches where people are asking for advice and help on topics that TV series are routinely engaged in. Whether it is rare medical conditions; emotional support in a divorce or, as in this case parenting advice, for extremely challenging children.
By analysing google you can see how many of these searches are going on. For instance, in the UK alone, there are around 25,000 searches from parents looking for parenting advice on extreme behaviour every day! When casting for Popkorn we saw 1,500,000 individual search terms, over a three-month period, that corresponded to what we were looking for. That generated 11,000 relevant cases that clicked through to our landing page www.casinghouse.co.uk/vich, which had details about the show, and generated over 160 leads.
These leads were all people who had read a webpage, understood that we were making a TV show, knew that they had a relevant story and contacted us. In short…gold dust. By the end of the first week we had 12 possible leads which we talked to the series producer about. By the end of week two we had 25 leads and had found the family used for the first show of the series.
Instantly the power of google to help us cast shows is clear.
I believe that internet advertising can revolutionise factual television casting. It is particularly effective on what would be traditionally the hardest shows to cast. But it is also cost efficient on any subject where there is a large online presence. Health, property, personal and emotional problems or teenage angst. It could even make previously uncastable projects viable for the first time.
With a little investment of time it is possible for anyone to run a Google Adwords campaign. With some more research it is also possible to become good at it. (I can’t claim that we didn’t have a learning curve.) But the rewards are there once it is mastered.
However, this type of casting still faces a large hurdle.
The hurdle for internet advertising is that it seems expensive to production managers. Casting teams don’t like to have much of an advertising budget. Most don’t have any and some might have a few hundred or even a thousand pounds. In my view this is because there has never been a truly great way to spend advertising money in casting….but now there is and it needs a budget to match.
Our basic principle is that a good Adwords campaign will outperform a good casting AP, so reduce the team by one AP and spend that money on advertising. We routinely spend £100 a day and occasionally up to double that. So far Casting house has spent £50,000 on google advertising.
This kind of spend needs a shake up in the way we budget our shows. It needs Production Managers and Executive Producers to see the power of internet advertising and opt to reduce their team by one or two team members so that they have a workable advertising budget. And you know what, if Google Ads don’t work over the first two weeks, well then you can just turn it off. It is totally controllable and there’s no emotional problem with sacking it!
All that said, Google ads might seem expensive, but it is incredibly cheap.
Just taking the last project we worked on, looking for families with violent children, Google ads generated 160 leads at a rate of three per day, for a cost of £42.50 each, £6800 in total. Less than the cost of one casting AP over 10 weeks.
It would be wrong to say that Google ads made this casting easy, however we constantly had a flow of potential families to talk to the production about and the series producer was always able to be selective about what he required to make the ideal show. There is no doubt that this technique was a revolution compared to the casting of the comparable series of My Violent Child and many series like it.
The first episode Broadcasts on Channel 5 on 10th February 2016.