L.A. City Attorney Ramps Up Probe Into Pay-to-Play Casting Workshops

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

“The letter is scary and threatens fines and jail time” — after a casting director is questioned by a city investigator and reportedly accused of potentially breaking the law, workshop owners and her attorneys ask former students to write character references.

As the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has stepped up its probe into pay-to-play auditions, lawyers for a prolific casting director have launched a crowd-sourced character defense of their client, who has been questioned by an investigator.

Ricki Maslar, who specializes in low-budget films (2013’s Hansel & Gretel Get Baked, 2015’s Secrets of a Psychopath), is a regular teacher at one of the most prominent casting workshop companies in town, The Actor’s Key. In a Sept. 4 email sent to its customers, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the firm wrote:

“We met with the investigator as did many of the other workshop owners. Earlier this week, the City Attorney of Los Angeles sent out letters to a bunch of casting directors accusing them of potentially breaking the law by teaching classes at workshop places around town. The letter is scary and threatens fines and jail time. One of the recipients of this letter was Ricki Maslar, one of our favorite teachers at The Actor's Key, and of course a lovely human. She is freaked out (who wouldn't be?!). Ricki has long been a big part of our studio, as one of our teachers since our inception in 2007. As you may recall, she arrives at class with handouts for her students, and takes a lot of personal time with each of you to give you detailed feedback, in addition to providing a detailed lecture and Q&A period.”

These workshops have been a Hollywood staple for decades, and ostensibly provide an opportunity for actors to showcase their skill in front of a casting professional and receive constructive feedback. But an inquiry published by THR in late March found that the sessions, which had proliferated in recent years, frequently are not educational — and potentially run afoul of the 2009 Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, which specifically forbids workshops and casting directors from charging or attempting to charge an artist for an audition or employment opportunity. The Casting Society of America, which afterward established a committee to look into the issue, warned its members in July to follow its own workshop guidelines, as well as state labor law, shortly after City Attorney Mike Feuer’s probe became public. It’s being spearheaded by his consumer affairs deputy Mark Lambert (pictured above), who has a long history of attempting to rein in workshops.

The Actor’s Key email went on to observe that “the City Attorney is asking [Maslar] to send in character references” and then urged customers to write them, reprinting what it contended to be an excerpt of Maslar’s attorneys’ note to their client explaining the need for notes “attesting to your good moral character,” and the fact that each “letter-writer should be aware that you have been potentially accused of a crime.” An attached memorandum from her legal team at Van Nuys law firm Eisner Gorin offered an eight-point primer on how to effectively pen such a missive.

Neither Maslar, her attorneys nor The Actor’s Key responded to requests for comment. A City Attorney spokesperson would not speak about the ongoing probe but noted that such reference letters are not requested as part of its investigatory process.

Workshop owners acknowledged during a private June meeting that TV casting directors had begun canceling classes at the directive of networks. Scott David, the most high-profile casting director involved in the workshop sector, parted ways with his employer, CBS’ Criminal Minds, the day after THR published its late March story, and subsequently announced he’d separated from the workshop business he co-owned, The Actors Link. In late August, casting director Will Stewart (most recently of ABC’s Scandal) deleted a professional Facebook page advertising his own workshop classes, announcing “workshops are dying.”