Growing up, Rum Sheikhani was a self-proclaimed “nerdy child,” tinkering around on the new world wide web, teaching herself HTML, CSS, and building websites. After getting a degree in accounting, then working in public accounting for PWC and consulting for Ernst and Young, she decided to make a switch in her career.
In college, Rum helped her friends with projects like pilots and commercials, so she knew she’d always loved entertainment and production, and ended up getting a job on set of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. She found it was the perfect blend of everything she’d learned “in terms of accounting and spreadsheets” and a creative process she really enjoyed, but coming from large, multinational companies where efficiency was so important, she was surprised by the inefficiencies in the industry.
Today, Rum is the CEO of Castifi, a mobile digital end to end solution for casting, hiring, managing, and paying background talent and contingent workers, a company she founded out of a desire to create a tool to simplify workflows and address the inefficiencies she experienced in the production office.
Listen in as Julie Harris Walker, GreenSlate’s Senior Vice President - West Coast Operations, and Rum discuss all things Castifi (“it’s almost like a dating app but for casting”), the entertainment industry, and GreenSlate and Castifi’s partnership, a “game changer” for everyone in the industry to be able to complete the entire production payroll process digitally end to end, all the way through direct deposit of wages, on The GreenSlate Podcast, or read the full interview below.
Julie: What is Castifi?
Rum: Castifi is a software platform that makes it super easy for extras casting directors to book extras, and we go through the whole process of finding, managing, hiring, and paying out those extras all through our platform.
J: So, there's a casting director side, there's an actor side, and then you're going to partner with GreenSlate so that there's a payroll side?
J: How does Castifi work from an actor side?
R: From the actor side it's really simple. They go into the app, they can download it from the app store for Apple or for Android, set up their profile, fill in all of their information, upload headshots, and then they just sit and wait. It's actually a very passive approach. It's free for the actors, so they fill it in, and from the casting director side, they can see all of the actors.
And if there's a match to their profile for a job, then the actor will get messaged. They'll get a text message and an email notifying them about the opportunity. Once they get that, they can see all of the details for the job, they can set their availability, and then they can also confirm their booking and sign a little mini deal memo when they do that. That way they get all the information up front. It's in the app and it's really simple for them.
J: So, it’s almost like a dating app but for casting?
R: Pretty much, yeah. I mean you have so many actors out there. There are thousands ... even hundreds of thousands I'm sure, even in the LA area alone.
We have over 25,000 actors in our database and they're all looking for work. And I know a lot of the actors really like that it's a free service and they don't have to scroll through job boards looking for different opportunities. Instead, if there's interest in them, then they'll be notified, which already increases their chance of getting booked in the first place.
It makes it a lot easier and they don't have to sift through roles that don't necessarily apply to them.
J: So, independent casting directors can go on and log on and they have access to not only people who they put in there or encourage to get in there, but then they have access to everyone who has signed up?
J: Is this just in LA and New York?
R: No, it's actually nationwide and we've done several projects all over the country, everywhere from Miami to Chicago, to Atlanta, and New Orleans. Really everywhere in the country.
J: So, if you live in Chicago and you want to do extra work in Chicago, you can log in there and there are Chicago casting directors who are in the app who will see your profile?
R: Yes. We're onboarding more and more extras casting directors right now and we're really starting to get the word out. We've had a few kind of pilot casting directors who have really gotten onto the system and started using it, embraced it, and given feedback. And so we've been trying to perfect that process for them.
But we're actively bringing on and spreading the word to casting directors as well right now. People message us directly or call us directly, so we will find casting directors in the space that we can refer out that work to, and give those independent casting directors an opportunity to do that work and use the platform when they're doing it.
J: Great. So, you're looking for those partners too?
J: How do casting directors sign on to Castifi?
R: They can find us on our website, message us, get a demo, and then we'll onboard them and get them a login so they'll be able to use the system.
J: Let’s talk about once an actor is hired for the job. So, you've made the match, they got the deal, they're going to set. Talk about the payroll component, the onboarding and the start paperwork and all of that.
R: Yes. So, let's say an extras casting director sends them a booking notification, they can also list out the payroll details, which I think is really helpful. My background was in production accounting before this and I specifically helped with extras payroll. I saw what a nightmare it was for everyone in the process. The actors would call us months later asking for their paychecks and it was very messy.
J: Those teeny tiny paper vouchers that who knows what happens to them.
R: Exactly. It would take hours to sort through those every day too. This eliminates the need for that, and the casting director can go in and put all of the details for the payroll in their casting notice. That way extras know exactly what to expect when it comes to payroll.
They'll see that when it's through GreenSlate, everything is handled through the system. When they sign their startwork through Castifi, they will get a notification saying, "Hey, you've received your startwork. We need you to sign this direct deposit form. Sign this and please do that before you arrive to set." That way once they come to set, they don't need to worry about any of their paperwork.
And through our digital voucher system, it makes it really easy for the production assistant to just check in the actor when they arrive to set through a QR code scan. So instead of sorting through the piles of paperwork looking for that person who just arrived to set, they can just simply open up their Castifi app for the production side on set, scan their voucher, they can see who they are, what their call time is, and they can clock them in either at the current time or at their call time, whatever they decide, and they are all set.
So now going through and checking in a bunch of actors once they arrive goes from being a much lengthier process and much more time-consuming to really simple and fast and efficient, kind of like when you're boarding an airplane and you're getting checked in. It can be really easy now that we don't have to deal with paper boarding passes.
J: So, you're going to have a PA standing there with an iPad, just checking everybody in as they come, checking people out as they go? And their timecards are done?
R: Yep, then their timecards are done. Either they can use an iPad or they can just use their phone, whatever they prefer. All of that information is already in there in terms of their call time, their startwork, their role information, all of that. So there's really no need for that set of skins that they would normally expect that would arrive with the paper vouchers to set.
Instead, it's all on their phone. They can just simply hit the QR code scanner, scan the person's QR code on their phone and now they have all of their information pulled up and what their union status is, what their role is, what their call time is. They can then add their breaks and their bumps through one of our globals interface so they can either have it applied to everybody or just to a certain group of people. They can just simply check mark those people in and do that.
J: They can add their wardrobe bump, or they brought a car?
R: Exactly, yep. All of the wardrobe bump information, smoke work, wet work, nondeductible meals, grace, all of that's baked in and it also will apply according to what the union status is of that actor.
So if you select a bunch of people, some are union, some are non-union, and you add the wardrobe bump, then they will get applied the correct amount according to their union status. And they will also be able to even Taft-Hartley people who are non-union. If in case they do get that "voucher" on set to be SAG, then they can even Taft-Hartley that person through the on set app.
And then at the end of the day, they scan the QR code out for those actors. If they want to add a couple of clicks, meaning they get an extra 15 minutes of pay while they walk to their car, they can just type that in and then batch check everybody out, and then they can generate an extras breakdown once everyone's checked out automatically through all the data that we've collected.
J: So, then the production can approve all those timecards and just submit them to GreenSlate for payment?
J: And hopefully all those people who signed up for direct deposit so then they all just get paid?
J: That sounds a thousand times simpler than paper skins.
R: It's definitely a lot easier. No paper vouchers to sort through, the actors don't have to worry about losing their paperwork, and they can always reference everything in the app.
J: So, they can see what jobs they've worked on, how much they've gotten paid, where all those payments are, and manage all their own things so they're not calling anybody.
R: Exactly. It cuts down on a lot of back and forth communication questions. And we're always available to answer questions as well to help, because the actors can just call us up and we also have all of that information. We can direct them accordingly or we can answer that question for them.
J: That's fantastic. As long as you're using GreenSlate, it's a completely digital solution beginning to end. And you can use that whether or not you're using GreenSlate for the rest of your production, although of course we want you to use GreenSlate for the whole process.
R: Exactly. You can use us. Whatever background payroll you're going to use to process it, we have a way to export all of the information. So let's say you do want to process it: either paper timecards or not, we can even send you a PDF of all of the timecards for that project and send it over, and the whole process would still be the same.
J: Say you have someone who doesn't have a smartphone and just can't even do it. You can still put that person through the system?
J: That's great. Now you said it was free for actors. Is that going to change?
R: Yes, so we're looking at developing some additional features to make it easier for actors to be found and to get work. So we are rolling out some new features that will be paid. Actors can subscribe and take advantage of those features if they so wish, but there will always be a free plan. You don't need to pay in order to find work. It may increase your chances through some of the features we'll have available, but there will always be a free plan, much like LinkedIn.
J: So, there'll be a subscription model and a free model?
J: I'm curious about what is your background and what made you think, "I'm going to create this thing from nothing?"
R: My background has pretty much just been in accounting really. I studied accounting in college and I worked in public accounting at PWC and I was consulting for Ernst and Young, and I decided to make a switch in my career just because I wasn't really fulfilled with the work I was doing. I ended up in LA and ended up getting a job on set of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a TV show that's just hilarious. I love the show. It's great and it's a great crew and cast.
That's where I really started learning about production accounting. I always have loved entertainment and production as a whole. In college I would help my friends out with different projects they were working on and pilots and things they were putting together, like commercials, and I had no idea I was being a production assistant at the time. I didn't even realize that was a role or a job.
I started doing that and I loved it. And so this was actually a perfect blend of everything I'd learned in terms of accounting and spreadsheets and all of that, but also more fulfilling because it was a part of a creative process that I really enjoyed. But I saw these issues with efficiency, and that the way that things had been done specifically with that payroll processing could be done a lot easier, especially coming from the background I did in these large multinational companies. Efficiency was so important.
J: You're like, "TV, why is it so inefficient? This is crazy."
R: Yeah. I'm here like, "Oh, I'm in Hollywood." And then I'm like, "Wait, why are we alphabetizing this stack of paperwork?"
J: "I'm in Hollywood in 1982!"
R: Yeah. So I realized this could be easier. And I was kind of that person on my teams where I would always try and come up with a creative way to make things a little bit better or fix a spreadsheet, because that was really my jam back in the day, spreadsheets were. I would help put something together to make it cleaner and easier and just more effective for everybody. I always kind of had that nerdy side of wanting to create tools or fix things or help make things easier.
Once I rolled off one of the shows I was working on, I kind of came to a point where I felt this entrepreneurial itch. My parents are entrepreneurs, my older brother's an entrepreneur, so I think that was always something I saw and just the lifestyle that I was used to.
J: You thought, "I see a need, I can fill it and I have the tools to actually go and do it."
R: Well, I didn't know about the tools. I don't know if I had the tools to do it, but I had the faith in myself just to figure out the tools.
J: You knew it was possible.
R: Yeah, I knew it was possible. I knew there had to be a way to do it. I didn't necessarily have the way.
J: So, how'd you figure out that piece, because to go from accounting to software development, it's not an automatic if you know how to do one, you know how to do the other.
R: It's not, no. I guess I kind of had a bit of a knack for it without realizing it. This was also just one of those things that I'm like, "Oh." When I was a kid I actually learned, I self-taught a lot of HTML, CSS and I built websites.
J: As you do.
R: Yeah, I was a very nerdy child. I was just tinkering around on this new thing called the worldwide web. So I'm like, "Wow, I can create things." So I started doing that and my brother ran a tech business too, so I would help him out. And so when it came time to figure out how to develop software, I kind of just jumped into it and said, "Okay, let's figure out how to do this," and started researching and reading up about it online.
I met one of my advisors who's still one of my key advisors today. His name is Atul Patel and he is a three-time entrepreneur. We got connected and I just told him about the idea and he really liked it and he said, "Hey, let me help you build this." And it was really through him that I realized how important it is to really understand as a CEO what you're building and all the nuances of it. I went through trial and error with contract developers, agencies, I looked at all the different options and finally decided to hire in house and grow the platform just from scratch. That's where we started.
And just through the process, there's a lot of trial and error. There are a lot of learnings along the way. But I think I realized I had a passion for it and so it wasn't a drag for me. It was something that I was really enjoying. And even today now I'm really the head of product for Castifi, where I can understand both the business side of what we're accomplishing and the industry and the users, but also how to build that technology in the most effective and scalable way, so that down the road we're not dealing with a lot of technical debt or scaling issues.
R: So that's really where I started. I'm still learning a lot. That's the thing with software, you're constantly learning new things.
J: It's always changing.
R: Exactly, it's always changing. There are trends, there are things that come and go, so it's really something that keeps you on your feet. I enjoy that part of it though. I really enjoy learning and always keeping up to date with what's the latest. The first couple of years was just more self-study and discovery and understanding really what it takes to build a company and to be an entrepreneur, and the challenges that I would be facing along the way.
J: Well, it is a huge endeavor. Congratulations. Castifi is very cool. Is there anything you wanted to say that we didn't say?
R: We’re really excited about the partnership with GreenSlate. We think it's going to be really a game changer for everyone in the industry to be able to do the entire process end to end digitally. And we're really, really excited about that.
J: Yeah, so are we. We think it's great and it really fits in with our model and mission of a green process beginning to end. Great. Thank you so much. Everyone should go use that.
R: Yay! Thank you so much for having me