Spotlight is the leading provider of UK casting calls. It has a premium reputation throughout the U.K.industry, with many suggesting that if you’re not on Spotlight, ‘you’re invisible’. It’s also the predominant directory that agents and casting directors use, with many of them spending their entire working days with the Spotlight tab open on their computer. So, seeing as it’s the favourite platform of casting directors, and the biggest casting directory for projects in the UK, signing up seems like a no-brainer, right? Well, it’s not that simple. Firstly, you have to actually qualify for a Spotlight profile (which we’ll go into in more detail a little later), and secondly, qualifying for and creating a Spotlight profile is just the first step to actually getting those sought after castings. Today we’re going to take a deep dive into Spotlight, it’s features, and its role in the industry and an actors’ life, to give you an idea of whether or not Spotlight is right for you depending on what stage you’re at in your career. We have done our absolute best when writing this article to only include the most up to date information, and to make sure our information has come from a variety of sources (as at November 2020).
Buckle up because this is going to be a long (and very detailed) one!
How to Qualify for a Spotlight Membership
Firstly, joining Spotlight is not as simple as just signing up and paying the annual fee. In somewhat of a contrast to the US industry, in the UK it is very easy to become a member of the union (Equity) but more difficult to become a member of Spotlight. This is quite a stark difference to the US industry where access to a casting website like Backstage or Actors Access is simple while becoming a member of SAG-AFTRA is much more complicated.
To qualify for a Spotlight membership, you need to meet the membership criteria. There are two ways that you can qualify for Spotlight membership:
- Qualifications: You have graduated with a minimum of a year’s training from a full-time accredited drama school or university course, or
- Experience: You have at least four professional credits in featured, speaking roles in a full-length film, qualifying short film, television, theatre productions or character-driven voice work.*
*Somewhat ironically, nearly half of all the castings listed on Spotlight (were you to audition, book, and perform them) would not qualify you for a spotlight membership… so go figure!
#1 Accredited Courses
Needless to say, these criteria can be a bit tricky to meet if you’re just starting out, and haven’t attended an accredited drama school. Many actors will therefore seek out and complete an accredited course as a sure-fire way to meet the criteria. But it’s important to make sure that the course you’re interested in is actually considered ‘accredited’ before enrolling. In 2017, and in response to the demise of Drama UK the previous year, Spotlight and Equity created a ‘universal standard’ for drama school and university courses. The Spotlight website details these requirements here. In addition, the course must be approved, with the course leader (and not students) being required to apply for this accreditation approval. Furthermore, applications need to be submitted the previous year to when your study has commenced. Meaning, you may very well be completing a course that meets the requirements to be accredited, but if the leader of your course hasn’t applied for approval the previous year, you may not qualify. For this reason, it’s important that you check, before enrolling in a course, that it already has been approved and is considered accredited by Spotlight.
#2 Professional Credits
If at this point you’re thinking ‘I’m untrained’ or ‘I’m not interested in training right now’ or even ‘I’ve already trained in an unaccredited course and don’t want to train again’, you’re probably going to be seeking membership through the ‘Experience’ avenue instead. So let’s have a look at which credits count towards your “professional credits” and, somewhat more significantly, which don’t. The detailed provided by Spotlight on their website (which can be found here is as follows:
“Named paid speaking roles in four professional productions not in pre-or post-production (in either television, full-length film, short films (on the BAFTA Short Film list), theatre productions or character-driven voice work.”
This excludes commercials, idents, student productions (be that screen or stage), roles where you are an extra or supporting artist, or any short films that don’t qualify. Qualification requirements for short films can be found here.
To be quite honest, I struggle to imagine how you can have found yourself as an actor with four professional credits of this standard without already having an agent, and therefore already receiving castings. However, this may be the avenue through which international actors, who have recently moved to the U.K., find themselves gaining access to Spotlight having already built up some professional credits in their country of origin.
Otherwise here are some tips we’ve thought of for helping you build up those initial professional credits:
- You can create a voice reel (of a professional standard) and send out some cold email submissions to voice over companies in an attempt to get some voice acting credits.
- You could also approach smaller theatre companies for an audition to try and land a professional role that way.
- Many student films, or early career film makers’ projects, do go on to be submitted and accepted into festivals. Discerningly choosing short film projects to be a part of (something with a good concept, a solid script, an exciting team, and a good role for you) is another great way to build experience and professional credits.
- If you are a filmmaker or producer yourself, you may consider creating your own project and casting yourself in a leading role.
Spotlight provides some more tips of this nature here.
Finally, once you have met one of the two membership criteria above, you will also need to pay an annual fee of £158. Some discounts are available to deaf and disabled performers.
A note, before we proceed…
Before we get into what the membership itself can get you in terms of castings, it’s important to note that being on this platform does legitimise you and your work in the eyes of many people in the industry across the UK. Spotlight’s reputation is strong, and there is the view that without being on this platform, some members of the industry will perceive you to be an amateur, rather than a professional, actor. How this would affect your hunt for acting work or your actual interactions within an audition is not necessarily hard and fast, but it’s worth noting the general vibe in the UK industry.
Another important point to note is that not every casting in the UK will go through Spotlight.
A casting director, when casting a major production, will likely start by sending castings to well-known actors (big names), and then actors represented by top talent agencies, before looking at actors signed with mid-tier agents who already have impressive credits. After all that, they can look to Spotlight to fill in any other roles, but as you can probably imagine, many of the roles in a big production will be filled by this stage.
Something else to keep in mind is the effect of having a Spotlight membership on your agent hunt, if you don’t already have one. You may meet with an agent who is interested in you and would like to sign you, but who may ask you to come back when you have gained Spotlight membership. Agents will use your Spotlight membership to get you work, but not all agents can help you to get a Spotlight membership in the first place. If you are lucky enough to land with a top tier agency from the get-go, this may work out slightly differently for you.
Casting Tiers on Spotlight
Once you’ve qualified for a Spotlight membership, and have paid your annual fee, you can start to create your profile! Every Spotlight member also receives access to Spotlight Link with your membership. Spotlight Link is used mainly for general release castings, and very few high profile castings will be found here. Instead, there are a lot of ads and commercial work, and smaller independent projects.
If you’re unrepresented, and the only part of Spotlight you will be able to access is Spotlight link, and you’re also on a budget, it may be worth considering if this is the right time to sign up and pay for a Spotlight membership; if the only castings you can access are the ones on Spotlight Link, other casting websites might get you further and charge you less. But, if money’s not a consideration, I’d suggest signing up to Spotlight as well as some other casting websites. If you’re interested in the other casting websites in the U.K. you can follow this link to an overview of all of them.
The next tier of castings is All Agents. Now, if you have an agent, and you have connected them to your Spotlight profile, they will have access to all of the castings in this tier. However, actors who are unrepresented cannot submit themselves for castings in this tier.
There are hundreds of acting agents in the UK, and if casting directors sent every casting they received to every agent in the UK, the amount of submission would be insurmountable. For this reason, the next tier Private Lists exists on Spotlight. What this means is that a casting director can customise a selective list of agents to send out specific castings to. Obviously, top tier agents are more likely to be listed in these Private Lists by casting directors than smaller agencies, but this is not a hard and fast rule.
Finally, the other way you may receive a casting on Spotlight is through Spotlight Search. This is a search tool that casting directors can use, often when they have a specific role to fill, to search through the profiles on Spotlight. For this reason, it’s important to make your Spotlight profile comprehensive, up to date, and accurate. If you have any specific physical features that make you unique, be sure to include them here. Same goes for professional skills, but be sure only to include skills that you are at a professional level with.
After all that – should I try for a Spotlight membership?
Unfortunately, there’s no simple answer I can give here, and it really depends on where you’re at in your career. Let’s look at a few different scenarios:
If you are a recent graduate, from an accredited course, and you’ve signed with an agent upon graduating, your agent will most likely request that you apply for a Spotlight membership, and you probably should; otherwise, your agent won’t be able to use your Spotlight profile to get you auditions and you’re really not making the most of having an agent.
Say you’ve recently graduated from an accredited course and you haven’t landed an agent just yet, it may still be worth becoming a Spotlight member to find yourself some work and build up your experience while you look for an agent. Having said this, I believe it is equally important, in this scenario, to check out the other casting websites out there and weigh up the varying costs of membership against the types of work listed. Remember, Spotlight Link, which will be the only tier you can access without an agent, rarely has the sort of professional, large scale production castings you’re probably looking for.
What if you’re not a graduate of an accredited course, but you have the professional credits? I’d say defer to your agent for advice in this scenario. And if you don’t have an agent but you’ve somehow managed to build up some professional credits, it may be worth signing up for a Spotlight membership to assist in your hunt for an agent. It’s my understanding that most agents will want you to be on this platform.
If you’re someone who hasn’t completed an accredited course and doesn’t yet have four professional credits, do not panic. If you’re in this situation and you have an agent, they should be working hard at finding different ways to get you those credits that you need.
If you’re in this situation (no accredited training and no, or not enough, professional credits) and you don’t yet have an agent, you need to make your focus: networking, finding roles using other casting websites, and creating projects yourself and keeping up your training. You may also want to make finding an agent a higher priority than becoming a Spotlight member. This can be a catch-22 if the agents you’re corresponding and meeting with keep telling you to come back when you have a Spotlight membership, but at least in this scenario you are opening up the conversation and you can ask them for their advice. An agent who is really interested in you and can see your potential, will want to help you at this stage.
Hopefully, you found this a helpful article, and have a little more clarity on whether or not Spotlight is right for you!