INVESTMENT NOTES

Reeling in talent: why we invested in Altai

Investment led by
Sam Henderson
Written by
Company
Altai
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“Our industry is faced with never-ending admin. It’s eroding the audition and casting process, but more importantly, it’s undermining our ability to innovate and connect with the storytelling potential of our nation and beyond.”

Renee Currie
Co-founder
,
Altai

The entertainment industry is never short on gossip about “difficult to manage” actors. 

But with the way things are running, all actors are difficult to manage. 

Casting directors and talent agents are browsing talent profiles, viewing audition tapes, promoting artists, and negotiating contracts across about 17 different platforms - Zoom, Quicktime, Vimeo, Dropbox, Jotform, Google Sheets, YouTube, IMDB, Adobe…

And great talent is falling through the cracks.

Amidst last year’s Hollywood strike, the resulting lay-offs of Australian crew members, shocking pay for Australia’s actors (70% earn less than $29,000 a year), and contracts allowing AI to capture an actors voice and image to generate replacement “avatars”... the industry is creaking under pressure to modernise.

Built on “who you know” exclusivity, and fading Hollywood glamour, the 125 year old film industry isn’t exactly friendly to challengers. 

To appeal to fresh new talent and the modern audiences that watch them - a generation sick of streaming service overload, “nepo babies”, and shockingly tone deaf Met Gala themes - the big screen must become a place of inclusivity if it’s going to survive another century. 

Meet the problem

Dedicated software for casting agents does exist.

There’s the incumbent Show Cast, described by one of Altai’s customers as “from the 80s, dragged kicking and screaming into the tech world”.

There’s Casting Networks - built by a casting director but bought by an IT company and relaunched with reduced functionality - described by r/acting subscribers as “overpriced”, “shockingly bad”, and “like Friendster when MySpace was king” (Reddit always says it best).

“These tools are inefficient and archaic, not only wasting a huge amount of time, but also impeding the ability to do great work. The owners of the current platforms seemingly had no interest engaging with industry or improving their products. Something had to be done! For the casting process, this means removing all the barriers to the creative process.”

There’s an exclusivity to these platforms that just don’t fit the modern world. Show Cast may offer legacy talent, but has historically been hostile to minority actors, and those from outside “legacy” circles.

Data is siloed, communication suffers, and casting directors revert back to “who they know”. 

Hours are wasted on inefficient scouting, manual uploading, disjointed emailing, and trying to manage the deluge of self-taped materials. 

But it's not just about revolutionising the process for decision-makers - it’s about putting some power back into the hands of artists, who no longer need famous fathers to get them through the stage door. 

Meet the product

Altai is a kind of collaborative staging area shared by artist, agent, and casting director.

Incumbent platforms run on artists’ dollars. It’s a requisite to be “on there”, otherwise it’s almost impossible to get discovered. Casting directors and agencies pay to access the talent, but reclaim their costs through the actors.

Altai turns this model on its head with a bottom-up approach. 

At AUD $10 a month, it’s super affordable for actors. The interface is beautiful and accessible, providing an integrated end-to-end audition process, audition calendar with updates, and space for multiple headshots and voice and video reels. 

It’s a huge boon for transparency - where actors can actually expect updates rather than attending 50 auditions and hearing back from maybe one or two.

It’s an industry premier - no incumbents or competitors have yet placed such a focus on the artist.

The plot goes: once the pool is teeming with talent, casting directors and agencies will have no choice but to go where it is.

Word spreads like wildfire in casting circles, making network effects a unique and formidable marketing advantage for Altai. 

Altai has built up significant traction in the Australia and now has eyes on the rapidly-growing LATAM market. The team is currently in Mexico - a country whose filmmaking star is on the rise - to start laying the groundwork with Mexican agents and casting offices. ¡Vamos!

Almost ready for screening is a feature called ‘Lists’, a pre-casting planning tool, and a function that will allow agencies to share artists selectively with Casting Directors, effectively promoting both their services and Altai at the same time.

Meet the founders 

Altai’s founding team has a combined 18 years experience in casting, directing, and talent management. 

Co-founder Renee studied Fine Arts at the Queensland University of Technology, and has since founded an acting college, and spent 10 years as the director of her own talent agency, negotiating talent contracts with Marvel, Netflix, and Roadshow. 

A global career showed Renee that casting challenges often play out in the exact same way, whether you’re filming in Hollywood, Bollywood, or Brisbane. 

A co-founder with a similarly global outlook, having worked in Madrid and travelled to the Mongolian region of Altai, Josh has spent 8 years in casting, working with major studios such as Netflix, Disney, Apple, and HBO. 

“Six years ago I hiked through Mongolia, and the highlight of the trek was crossing the Altai Mountain range, where the borders of four countries come together. It's an incredible melting pot of diverse landscapes, and it holds a rich historic past of storytelling. It seemed a fitting name for our platform, as it’s a convergence of different communities and cultures. Four core users coming together in one place - artists, agents, casting, and clients.”

Renee and Josh are joined by Chief Digital Officer Phil who oversees the tech build. Phil grew up in London and has worked on the web since 1.0, leading multiple large project teams and agencies across London and Sydney over a decades-long career. 

The big picture  

With an inflection point for user numbers already in the shot, we’re ready for our close up with Altai.

We’ll be working with them to target big-name talent agencies and casting directors, carving out an enterprise pricing strategy, and implementing some good old-fashioned B2B modelling and sales support.

“We were looking for investors who took the time to properly understand our business and market. Skalata ticked all the boxes. Our first meeting triggered some passionate debates to firm up our roadmap and plans. We love our industry and sincerely hope we can lift everyone in the industry to do better, more impactful work.”

As Australia becomes a leading destination, there are a lot of incentives to keep filmmaking native. 

The new Ryan Gosling film The Fall Guy recently shut down the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Mark Wahlberg’s been filming on the Northern Beaches. And the director of Anyone But You said the Aussie film industry “bent over backwards to help” - providing funding, the Commonwealth Location Incentive, and assistance from some of the “greatest VFX artists” in the world - Sydney locals.

“Australia is a great place to be in film - but Altai’s tech applies to casts and casting directors the world over. This is a founding team that’s spent almost two collective decades completely immersed in their industry. They’ve seen it all, they’ve felt the pain first hand, and their passion to soothe it across the industry is clear.” 
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Skalata x OIF Ventures Founder Drinks

The OIF Ventures team is in town from Sydney, and we thought it would be a perfect opportunity to join forces for a night of networking and conversation.

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