Casting Workshop Companies Hit Back at L.A. City Attorney Probe

Downtown Los Angeles - H 2016
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In a coordinated campaign, the embattled sector claims actors’ consumer rights are being infringed and reminds clients "you are the CEO of your own business.”

Hollywood’s embattled casting workshop industry, facing a probe recently initiated by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office into proliferating pay-to-play audition practices, has quietly banded together to mobilize a grassroots effort to fight back.

Several of the most prominent workshop companies sent coordinated messages through their digital mailing lists to their clients, imploring them to sign a appeal (surpassing nearly 300 supporters at press time) and otherwise resist a growing movement to curtail abuses in the sector. By contrast, another petition, urging the City Attorney’s Office to investigate, launched in April after The Hollywood Reporter published an examination of the labor issue and has so far netted more than 15,000 signatures. Meanwhile, the Casting Society of America called a special town hall last month to remind members to follow their detailed rules related to interacting with these businesses.

Culver City-based ITA decried City Attorney Mike Feuer's inquiry, which is being handled by his Consumer Protection Division deputy Mark Lambert, who has long focused on the challenges posed by workshops. “Rather than meet with workshop owners to explain the law and make sure we follow it, the City DA sends letters with threats of $10,000 fines to casting directors who participate,” reads an email sent to a mailing list on July 30 and later obtained by THR.

Strikingly similar language appeared in the letters of The Actor’s Key in Burbank and ACE Studios in North Hollywood. (The latter business had been known as The Actors Link until it rebranded after the departure of partner Scott David, a veteran casting director with CBS’ Criminal Minds who parted ways with the show shortly after THR’s story was published.) The talking points insist the “classes,” whose educational value has been sharply questioned, are, as The Actor’s Key put it on July 27, “completely optional,” and ultimately a consumer choice that shouldn’t be infringed upon.

Both companies repeat an identical mantra in their entreaties: “YOU are the CEO of your own business. As the CEO, you should be able to make your own decisions about what is best for your career.” Critics counter that the widespread growth of the “classes” — 450 sessions offered in Los Angeles in a month’s span during the most recent pilot season — not only often skirt the law, but also coerce vulnerable and struggling actors to spend money to participate in their labor market.

The owner of ITA, actress Jean St. James, helped spearhead the Los Angeles Actors Workshop Coalition in 2002 to represent the scene’s interests when California’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement first issued guidelines related to, among other things, advertising. Her son, Silicon Valley’s Martin Starr, supportively tweeted out the plea on July 29: “Please sign this digital petition to stop LA Attorney’s office from wasting our taxpayer money. Thank you!”