Undercover Informant Helps Expose Hollywood's Pay-to-Play Audition Scam
The L.A. City Attorney hired an actor, reportedly identified as James Runcorn, to wear a wire while attending casting workshops. Newly revealed court documents show how that effort actually worked.
Recently uncovered evidence obtained by a confidential informant offers new details into Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer’s prosecution of casting directors and operators of firms for alleged pay-to-play auditions. Feuer, who is prosecuting more than two dozen cases of alleged predatory labor violations of the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, announced the indictments in February, with trials ongoing.
Feuer noted at the time that the actions were the result of a yearlong undercover investigation executed in tandem with an unnamed professional actor. Four days after the first defendant accepted a plea deal as a result of the crackdown — Actors Alley owner Bradley Sachs pleaded no contest to one of the three misdemeanor counts with which he had been charged — Deadline on June 9 outed the confidential informant as James Runcorn.
Reached by phone, Runcorn explained that he could not speak to The Hollywood Reporter. “Since I am a potential witness in pending cases, I am unable to make any statements or comments,” he said.
However, he was forthcoming in May 2015, when he explained to THR why he was concerned about pay-to-play auditions. The publication was conducting interviews for an examination of the issue it would publish 10 months later. (The reporting, which included a November 2015 meeting with Feuer’s consumer affairs deputy Mark Lambert, appears to have prompted the city attorney’s office to subsequently act; it hadn’t prosecuted against the problem under Krekorian since it was passed in 2010.)
“The ‘education’ that happens at these places is really insulting, limited to how a particular casting office works,” said Runcorn, who’d attended dozens of workshops over the years. “At best it’s ‘Do that first line angrier.’ The most consistent question is, ‘How do I follow up with you?’”
Unlike every other actor with whom THR spoke, he elected to voice his position on the record. “I’m not afraid of being blacklisted,” he explained. “My IMDB rating fluctuates in the high 100,000s. I’m a nobody here. I’m also 41 years old with few credits. I’m not going to ruin my career by speaking out.”
Court documents filed April 13 by the attorney for Scott David, the co-owner of workshop firm The Actors Link (since rebranded ACE Studios) and longtime Criminal Minds casting director until THR’s story was published, provide a window into a portion of the Feuer-directed undercover effort, which began in January 2016.
The following month, the informant — described as a SAG/AFTRA member and as having accrued 25 IMDB acting credits — was put into action, eventually interacting via email and phone calls with TAL representatives and visiting imminently scheduled workshops on a series of occasions while wearing a wire. The prosecution took care to highlight recorded statements it believed to be incriminating.
In one instance, casting associate Michelle Seamon (Fresh Off the Boat) explained, “with the craziness of this time of year [pilot season] it is even more important for us to find new faces and get to know people. So we’re really glad that you guys made it out tonight.” In another, casting associate Becky Silverman (American Horror Story) discusses, approvingly, the difference between “casting directors who just are in here and say ‘Good job. Thanks,’” and those who “call people in from their workshops because they just know that it’s a good important thing.”
TAL co-owner Brett Weinstock told the informant, “we only bring in the best guests [who] have a very long track record of success stories,” and advised contacting staffer Susan Angelo for further consultation. When this occurred, she noted that “the people we have on the calendar the most often are who you want to target when you are trying to grab some quick credits,” going on to specify the transactional usefulness in particular of David, Krysti Baxter (NCIS) and Jamie Castro (multiple Shonda Rhimes shows).
Angelo added, generally, “the only way to get on soaps is to be in front of a casting director. They do not put a breakdown out ever because they don’t have time.… They saw you at a workshop last night, they’re gonna call you and say, ‘Hey can you be on set at 2.…”
The informant attended a workshop with David himself on April 9 — 10 days after THR published its own investigation, which David told the actors in attendance had resulted in his then-recent termination from Criminal Minds. While within a month he would depart TAL, that evening he said that although “there is a lot of shit going on,” he was “still proud to be here.”
David went on to acknowledge the pretense of TAL’s ostensible educational mission (“You don’t have to come to the ‘Q and A.’ We have to offer it. OK?”) before musing that “we are probably going to eliminate the name ‘workshop’ from anything” the firm advertised because it had been “tainted by people that criticize” the format. “Who cares what it is called? Let’s just call it ‘class.’”
At the beginning of his session, David read a Krekorian-mandated disclaimer that stated that his workshop was only “a learning experience,” not “an audition or employment opportunity.” He added: “You understand it. How many times does somebody have to beat that into your head as an adult? Don’t you feel like a f—ing four-year-old kid.… Nobody is twisting your arm to be here. You are all adults making your own decisions: A. How to spend your money; B. How to create your passion and how to get into this world.”