Casting Workshop Compares Pay-to-Play Probe to Salem Witch Hunt

Gary Baum

In a sharply worded appeal, workshop owner ITA slams the Los Angeles City Attorney's ongoing investigation: "This disturbing attack on businesses and casting people following the law has to stop!"

A prominent casting workshop company has lashed out at the L.A. City Attorney’s ongoing probe of alleged pay-to-play audition practices in the industry, comparing the investigation to McCarthyism and the Salem witch trials.

In an e-mail sent to its actor clients on Sept. 23 and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, ITA Productions asked them to “spot the similarities” between prosecutor Mike Feuer’s inquiry into potential violations of California’s Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, enacted in 2010, and the “fear” that “drove the government and public to extreme measures in order to seek out and contain” both “communist supporters” and “devil worshipers” in America. The Culver City-based firm, situated a few blocks east of the Sony Pictures studios lot, requested that recipients call city councilmembers and write California Attorney General Kamala Harris, adding that the “very scary tactic” of Feuer’s office sending subpoenas “slanders” and that this “disturbing attack on businesses and casting people following the law has to stop!”

The owner of ITA (also known as In The Act), actress Jean St. James, declined THR’s request to comment about the letter. She helped spearhead the Los Angeles Actors Workshop Coalition in 2002 to represent the sector’s interests when California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement first issued guidelines related to, among other things, advertising. The more rigorous Krekorian legislation, which specifically outlaws workshops and casting directors from charging money for an audition or employment opportunity, followed.

James’ son, Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr, tweeted out support on July 29 for a petition urging “to stop [the] LA Attorney’s office from wasting our taxpayer money” on the probe, which was initiated after THR published a detailed examination of the labor issue on March 30. It’s currently netted just over 400 signatures. A competing appeal, launched several months earlier and asking Feuer to pursue the investigation, has netted more than 15,000 supporters. 

Feuer’s office defended its probe. “Protecting consumers and upholding the Krekorian Act are key priorities for our office,” said City Attorney spokesman Rob Wilcox. “While we can't comment on the specifics of an ongoing investigation, we will continue to intervene on behalf of potential victims – and won't be deterred by cheap tactics that purposely misrepresent those efforts. Anyone who preys on vulnerable clients has every reason to be concerned that we will enforce the law.”

Earlier this month another L.A. casting workshop company, The Actor’s Key, sent out its own e-mail blast on behalf of casting director Ricki Maslar, noting that she had been questioned by a City Attorney’s office investigator and entreating clients to write character reference letters on her behalf. (Feuer’s office noted such letters are not requested as part of its investigatory process.)

In July, just after the City Attorney’s probe became public, the Casting Society of America at a special town hall meeting reminded its members to follow its own rules related to interacting with workshop firms. Owners of workshops have privately acknowledged a dropoff in business since THR began covering the issue earlier this year, as casting directors have canceled sessions at the behest of corporate overseers.

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