L.A. City Attorney Investigating Casting Workshops Amid Pay-to-Play Controversy (Exclusive)

Mark Lambert - H THR 2016
Mark Lambert, photographed by Damon Casarez for THR on Jan. 22, 2016, at City Hall in Los Angeles

Casting group announces that an investigator working for City Attorney Mike Feuer has called "several casting directors and associates," urges all members to attend special town hall about the issue being held tonight.

The Los Angeles City Attorney's Office has initiated a probe of television's proliferating pay-to-play TV acting auditions, according to the Casting Society of America. In an email to its members July 15, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the group noted that an investigator working for City Attorney Mike Feuer “has called several Casting Directors and Associates to talk about their participation in workshops. We have confirmed this with the Deputy City Attorney.”

Mark Lambert, the deputy city attorney who’s long focused on the challenges posed by workshops (and played a role in drafting a California assembly bill passed by the legislature in 2009 to better keep wayward businesses in line), did not return a request to comment, nor did Feuer. Nearly 15,000 individuals have signed on so far to support a petition imploring Feuer to “hold these companies accountable for their actions.” It was launched in April by actor and lawyer Jared Milrad, after THR published an investigation into the pay-to-play issue.

Long a questionable if marginal part of Hollywood’s casting system, workshop classes, whose educational value is often doubted, have grown far more pervasive in recent years, emerging as a key aspect of the industry’s de facto human resources policy while overall production volume has ramped up and budgets have been trimmed. More than two dozen companies offered more than 450 sessions in a month’s span during the most recent pilot season.

Exchanging money for the prospect of employment is illegal in the state. Yet there have been no prosecutions by the City Attorney’s office since the 2009 legislation, known as the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, was enacted the following year.

The CSA’s Workshop Committee, established in response to THR’s findings, had already scheduled a members-only town hall at 7 p.m. Monday in Burbank to discuss the situation, as well as review compliance of its workshop guidelines in tandem with its attorney, Adam Grant of Alpert Barr & Grant. After observing that the City Attorney’s probe would be discussed at the event, the email reiterated, “If you are in Los Angeles we strongly encourage you to attend the meeting.”

Prominent on the committee are CSA president Richard Hicks and veteran casting director Marci Liroff (Mean Girls), whose candidly blistering critique of some practices in the workshop sector were revealed in a memo obtained by THR late last month. The makeup of the announced committee itself has, since its start, been the subject of skepticism, as some members have benefited financially from workshop participation themselves. Meanwhile, in an email to THR on July 15, Bob Rumnock, an employee at the Culver City-based workshop ITA, pointed to Liroff’s advertised one-on-one coaching and online “audition bootcamp classes. “It seems to me that actors paying the casting person directly would be considered an even bigger violation than paying a school, workshop company, etc.,” he wrote. “Kettle-black??”

Since THR’s first story appeared in late March, the most prominent practitioner of casting director workshops lost his high-profile job on CBS’ Criminal Minds and shuttered his workshop business. Other workshop owners have bemoaned a drop in class enrollment among their struggling actor clientele, in part because casting directors, associates and assistants are under new pressure not to participate from television networks, who faced questions about complicity during THR’s inquiry.