Casting Group Reverses Course, Supports Accused Members in Pay-to-Play Audition Scandal

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The Casting Society of America, now under new leadership, won't talk about its striking turnaround from a recent vocal alliance on the predatory labor issue with SAG-AFTRA and the Los Angeles City Attorney's office.

In a shift, the Casting Society of America has leaped to protect a faction of its members who stand accused by the Los Angeles City Attorney of the predatory labor practice known as pay-to-play auditioning, in which ostensibly educational casting workshops are alleged to be misused as job interviews.

The professional organization sent out an email blast March 24 informing members of the launch of an online Casting Community Defense Fund. Organized by longtime NCIS casting director and CSA member Jason Kennedy, the fund's stated goal is to raise $45,000 for the collective legal fight against the misdemeanor charges announced in February against “eighteen of our casting colleagues,” including fellow members Scott David, Becky Silverman, Ricki Maslar, Nancy Foy, Ty Harman and Peter Pappas. (Court proceedings are ongoing.)

At press time, more than $18,000 had been donated, primarily by 50-plus CSA members, led by current president Matthew Lessall, former president Richard Hicks, vp Russell Boast and board members Nancy Bishop, Marci Liroff and Amanda Lenker-Doyle. The latter two helped lead last year’s CSA Workshop Committee, which was purportedly established to rein in improper behavior among its membership.

In February, Hicks, then still president, told The Hollywood Reporter shortly after City Attorney Mike Feuer’s indictments were announced, that “the CSA fully supports the work of the city attorney’s office.” Now, however, he did not reply to a request for comment about his apparent change in stance. Neither did his successor or the rest of the current CSA board. (The city attorney wouldn’t address the organization’s involvement in the matter.)

Liroff has in the past voiced clear disapproval of workshops: “I don't support them, I don't believe in them, I believe it's a 'pay-to-play' situation,” she said in 2011. “I don't know, in any other situation, where a person pays for a job interview.”

On March 27 Boast contextualized his own support of the Defense Fund on the Casting Directors for Actors Facebook group, which tallies more than 60,000 members: “I personally know many of the accused and they are the good guys, the ones who have worked selflessly and tirelessly to see others succeed for little return. For a small donation, let’s help our misunderstood community get back to doing what they do best, helping others realize their dreams!!!”

THR asked representatives of the CSA’s board whether they had reviewed any potentially disclosed evidence that had made them confident that the accused members were indeed innocent. In addition, board members were asked whether any of these same members had had their memberships temporarily rescinded, as in keeping with the organization’s code of conduct bylaws. (“Any member accused of violating any provision of law…may have their membership revoked.”) Brandon Shaw, the CSA’s publicist at Fifteen Minutes, which works on crisis communications issues, responded, “we will not be participating in this story.”

Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, general counsel for SAG-AFTRA, was not reticent. “None of us [at the union] are involved in the individual cases,” he said. “We’ve taken no specific positions on this issue because we haven’t seen the evidence. The city attorney believes strongly that violations have been made, and the court system will determine that. We support real and effective enforcement of the law.”