L.A. City Attorney Completes Pay-to-Play Audition Prosecutions: "We Made an Impact"

Casting Workshops 2- H 2017
Courtesy of Gary Baum

“This is a fantastic outcome,” says Mike Feuer of the "drumbeat" of guilty pleas his office accepted after casting pros broke a California state labor law.

Fifteen months after announcing a sweeping crackdown against pay-to-play auditions, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has completed his prosecutorial effort against more than two dozen offenders. The mix of acting workshop owners and casting professionals accepted plea deals for violating California’s Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, which had previously been rarely enforced. One additional defendant was found guilty in a jury trial and another saw her charge dismissed.

The prosecutions followed the publication of a March 2016 investigation by The Hollywood Reporter into the then-pervasive practice in which casting directors and their typically low-paid assistants frequently staged paid auditions with aspiring actors, under the guise of educational classes. Two years later, the sector — which had grown to more than two dozen local firms offering more than 450 sessions in a month’s span during pilot season — has drastically constricted.

Feuer and his consumer affairs deputy Mark Lambert, who prosecuted the cases, spoke to THR at the City Attorney’s City Hall office in downtown L.A. after the completion of the final pleas. He attributed the pay-to-play scene’s evaporation to “the drumbeat of results,” observing: “The idea of these cases is not to be punitive for the sake of being punitive. We’re trying to stop a problem. The idea is to change behavior and this is a fantastic outcome. We made an impact.”

Lambert sought to highlight the “public spirited approach of our two volunteers,” actor James Runcorn, who compiled undercover video of activities at the workshops, and casting director Stephen Salamunovich, who wrote a consultative report on the findings. “Without either of them, this wouldn’t have worked,” Lambert added, noting in particular Runcorn’s bravery as a whistle-blower: “To take on this role, and to risk being a pariah among other actors.”

When Runcorn’s identity as the City Attorney’s undercover agent surfaced and circulated during a Casting Society of America meeting in February 2017, THR has learned that a former CSA official shouted not to hire him and other colleagues present in the room vocalized their agreement. Current CSA president Russell Boast declined to address this incident — nor why none of the nine CSA members who accepted guilty pleas over the past year have yet been removed from the organization, despite current CSA bylaws describing such lawbreaking as a terminable offense.

Runcorn, a married father of six boys who’s since moved out of the state and begun working as a pastor, saw the investigation as a moral imperative. “I was willing to do what it took,” he said. “I would rather be in this position, hated and never working again as an actor, knowing that some people won’t be taken advantage of.”

As for Salamunovich, a CSA member himself, he noted of the findings he reviewed: “You can’t meet with a casting professional or any teacher for six minutes — one and a half of which you’re reading for them — and have anything approaching a pedagogical experience. Somehow that became allowable. Hopefully not anymore.”