As film and TV sets start to resume production after prolonged shutdowns, Hollywood companies have been rethinking their strategies amid the pandemic — whether it’s working from home or how cast and crew can be kept safe on set.
Culver City-based Castifi, a production management platform, is trying to ease that transition by helping producers organize and communicate with their cast and crew and making sure projects are delivered on time and under budget.
From onboarding crews to helping casting directors find actors for their projects, Castifi was born out of the need to simplify outdated processes and give back time to creators and their production staff.
Since its inception, the platform has been used by major studios including Netflix for the series “Outer Banks,” Hulu with “Saints and Sinners,” Showtime for “The Good Lord Bird” and CBS with the show “Seal Team.”
CEO Rum Sheikhani and COO Ebrahim Bhaiji spoke with Variety about how Castifi has been helping production teams during the pandemic and how the company can help productions work with background actors.
As a former production accountant who spent hours on paperwork, how did this need come about?
Rum Sheikhani: One of the tasks I had to do on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” was go through these vouchers from the extras for the day. I realized that just one day’s worth of extras was taking me hours to do. It was a lot of tedious work. I looked to see if there was a tool that would make this process easier and there wasn’t. So, I started devising my own tools to make the process faster. I realized that technology can be leveraged to make a lot of these tasks easier and save a lot of hours.
With the entertainment industry’s tendency to resist change, how did the coronavirus pandemic impact your business?
Ebrahim Bhaiji: We started with music videos and commercials, then moved to low-budget indies and eventually to bigger feature films and TV shows. There’s always a resistance to change. But we’ve had a lot of early adopters and production managers who want to go digital.
Coronavirus has forced every production to adapt, so if they weren’t thinking about using a digital onboarding solution before, or a digital verification or scheduling system, they are using this downtime right now to do that. We have never been busier taking more inbound calls and demos. We’re having meetings with finance at major studios. From a company standpoint, we’re doing well.
You mention finance and early adopters. Who is your target audience?
Bhaiji: Our users are assistant directing teams. The decision-makers who bring us on to set are the line producers, production managers and production supervisors.
Sheikhani: Accountants also use our software, as do studio production executives. They can see an overview of what’s happening in the production at a high level.
How do you coordinate with COVID-19 safety managers?
Bhaiji: We are a resource for COVID-19 safety managers, especially as they manage on-site testing before cast and crew enter the set.
Our software coordinates all the elements, including real-time COVID-19 test results depending on the third party used, so that the production team can instantly see who is cleared to enter set when they check-in cast and crew.
We’re coordinating with lots of production teams to help with their safe return to work. For example, Netflix has a production where they’re thinking of hiring numerous background actors for the show, and these actors would be tested continually.
Real-time messaging through Castifi can be used to show the test results and to direct where the actors physically need to go when they get to set. It’s all such an important part of the restarting of production in the industry.
Being a digital solution is just vital in this COVID-19 moment, so it becomes an even more powerful tool as Hollywood is reopening.
How else does Castifi save time for production teams?
Bhaiji: You can check all kinds of availabilities from our database of 70,000 crew and background actors. So if you’re a casting director looking for a Navy SEAL-type or need extras who have cars from the 50s, which happened recently, or you need to check a background actor’s union eligibility status, you can do it from one system.
To replace paper-based processes, we’ve created an integrated production system. All the information gathered at the beginning can be used throughout the production. You don’t have to double up on steps. That’s the beauty of it.