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Acting Out: Hollywood OS Serves Up Online Casting Help

BY ANNE RILEY-KATZ
Staff Reporter

Off-the-bus newbies in the mid-1990s, Angela Bertolino and Carla Lewis were like so many other Hollywood hopefuls. Young, naive; and convinced they just needed headshots and acting classes to land roles or modeling work, they looked like easy prey for unscrupulous booking agencies. And they were. The women, who met on a set, both spent thousands of dollars and got very little in return.

"I don't know how I'm not homeless now," Bertolino said. "I found that when I would go to all those supposed casting companies, they'd turned out to be scams and not so legitimate--you know the ones that have ads in the back of LA Weekly. I am the idiot that did all that stuff."

What they did get out of their experiences was the concept and motivation for a business-Hollywood OS--which they launched in 1997.

They started with resource guide for people who came to Hollywood to make a go of it, but didn't know where to start. Initially 50 pages, the book ballooned to 560 by the time they included all of the pitfalls and pointers,

"People can and do make a living at it," Bertolino said. "Every single day people can be cast as an extra and work--it's not all too hard to get if you know where to go."

These days, the business is primarily Web-based, though the book still sells. The site functions like a matchmaking service, linking casting directors looking for extras and actors looking for work. Actors can upload headshots and bios for directors to search and the first week is free. There are typically 15 to 30 casting notices a day posted on the Web site and between l0 and 40 casting directors search the database daily for different types.

The Web site, and connecting with the extras community, kicked the business into high gear.

"That is when my membership tripled, Bertolino said. "People were still a little wary in 2001 and 2002 and that's when computers got a lot cheaper. People were buying new ones and became more comfortable doing things online."

Lewis departed last year to become--yes--a casting agent, and turned over her half of the company to Bertolino. She's recently cast extras in movies like "Georgia Rule" and the "Jimmy Kimmell Live" TV show.

Bertolino then lured Behnoosh Khalili, a friend and former journalist working for St. Martin's Press in New York, to to help her run the business.

Right now, Khalili is focused on expanding the company's membership, and has spent most of the last year trying to increase revenue by about 25 percent.

Bertolino and Khalili are launching an upgrade to the Web site next week to give it a more current, MySpace-like feel, with social networking elements.

The pair said the casting notices posted cover every "type" under the sun. A recent day's offerings include roles calling for a grandmother to play a hooker; an old, frail man who'll be hitting on a bong and an overweight gentleman who can ride a unicycle and juggle at the same time.

There are around 20,000 people in the Hollywood OS talent search engine, but paid membership hovers above 2,500. The site is entirely paid for by membership fees.

"Some people have less than $20 in their bank account when they get here," Bertolino said. "That's why we have pay-as-you-go."

 
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