Prominent Casting Director Blasts Pay-to-Play Audition Practices: "More Like a Speed-Dating Scenario"

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Marci Liroff

Casting veteran Marci Liroff (whose film credits include 'E.T. the Extra Terrestrial' and 'Mean Girls') decries the embattled industry's educational value and advertising practices.

Veteran casting director Marci Liroff, who is currently spearheading a Casting Society of America committee to probe widespread pay-to-play audition practices, has harshly criticized the industry’s practices, according to a memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter and recently circulated among the embattled casting workshop owners she was apprising. Liroff’s long list of film credits runs from E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Footloose to Freaky Friday and Mean Girls.

The CSA committee was established in April, weeks after THR published an investigation into the proliferating pay-to-play scene. Since then, its most prominent practitioner, Criminal Minds casting director Scott David, has parted ways with the show and shuttered his workshop business, The Actors Link. Meanwhile, a petition urging L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer to take action on the issue is closing in on 15,000 signatures.

The memo indicates that Liroff’s comments were made over the phone on June 9 to Ajarae Coleman, the founder and operator of The Workshop Guru, a listings service for workshop classes. Coleman then transcribed and paraphrased the remarks as annotations and observations about the CSA's detailed official workshop guidelines, which were issued in May 2010.

“She took me through the Guidelines one by one, highlighting offenses that she believes are happening regularly,” Coleman wrote in an introduction to the memo, which was distributed during a meeting with fewer than 10 owners and managers of workshops that took place the following day, at Connect Studios in Burbank. (Representatives from Connect, GoGo Acting, The Workshop Spot, Actors Advantage, Next Level Studios and Act Now were among those in attendance. The prominent Actor’s Key, of particular focus for Liroff, was not.)

In an interview, Coleman acknowledged the authenticity of the memo but would not speak further to the meetings except to say, “It’s a work in progress.” Liroff, CSA president Richard Hicks and the owners of Connect Studios declined THR’s requests for comment. The CSA will be holding a town hall meeting for members on July 14, which will focus on the workshop issue.

Liroff’s remarks, as rendered by Coleman, were tersely dismissive about the educational value of the workshops often bandied about by the owners and participating casting directors, along with their associates and assistants. She expressed disbelief that a one-on-one reading structure was anything more than a pseudo-audition (deriding it as “more like a speed-dating scenario than a class”). And she ridiculed the educational value of the perfunctory explanatory sessions that begin each session: “A Q&A and ‘this is how my office works’ is not a lesson plan. It needs to be prepared in advance and given to the workshops.”

Liroff went on to observe that casting associates and assistants not only must attain permission from their bosses each time they “teach,” but the workshops must be responsible for having a vetting process in place to “make sure this is taken care of.”

Yet perhaps her biggest concern is related to the workshops’ advertising practices, which Coleman documented her describing as “so egregiously outside the rules.” Associates and assistants without proper experience are allowed to “teach” classes. (“Are they really a casting director or do they answer phones?” Liroff asked aloud)

The June 10 meeting at Connect Studios among workshop owners turned in short order into a venting session, according to one attendee. While they are upset, in the near-term, that there has been a dip in monthly client business  “Actors are calling and saying they aren’t going to do workshops, but [the owners] know that actors are showing up by the hundreds in L.A. every day”  they are far more concerned about the difficulty they are having booking notable casting directors since THR’s investigation.

“CDs [industry shorthand for casting directors] are canceling left and right,” this attendee says. “Apparently a couple of the networks have even outright said ‘you are not allowed to do these workshops.’”

As for Liroff’s assessment, the attendee observes, “[workshops] have no intention of changing how they are running things and what they are doing  they believe in what they are doing.” According to that individual, a preliminary plan was instead put forward on June 10 to look into forming a self-governing trade association, which could nominally enforce guidelines but primarily act as a buffer for the increasingly wary entities that interact with them, including the studios, networks, production companies and, most especially, the CSA. Says the attendee: “They think that by creating such an organization they could present as policing themselves.”

UPDATED June 29, 11:45 a.m. to reflect that it was the CSA's official workshop guidelines that were issued in May 2010.

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