L.A. City Attorney Files Charges Against 5 Casting Workshops in Pay-to-Play Scam
After an investigation begun last year, the Los Angeles city attorney says that five workshop companies and 25 individuals are facing criminal charges for an illegal pay-to-play audition scheme.
The Los Angeles city attorney cracked down on Hollywood's pay-to-play casting workshop scene on Thursday, announcing cases against five prominent casting firms and 25 individuals allegedly involved in schemes that violate the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, a rarely enforced state labor law.
City Attorney Mike Feuer's ongoing undercover investigation became public in July 2016 after the Casting Society of America told its members in an email that colleagues had been contacted about their participation in workshops.
"I want to underscore what the rules are," Feuer said Thursday morning at a press conference announcing the new criminal charges. "It's unlawful to charge any performer for an audition, even if that supposed activity is disguised as a workshop."
He continued: "I'm here to announce the results of an investigation that began last year into alleged scams. Today we filed charges. I hope the filing of these charges against five casting agencies, these so-called casting workshops and against a number of individuals — more than two dozen altogether — will send notice that any talent scam will aggressively be pursued by this office. And as a result, this will cease. I will name them. Each defendant could face jail time and significant penalties."
Feuer added: "Aspiring performers who pursue their dreams should be treated with respect and never be exploited for profit."
Also at the podium at the press conference was Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, general counsel for SAG-AFTRA. "On behalf of the members of SAG-AFTRA, we're extraordinarily pleased with the action that was taken to handle this problem," he said. "These workshops prey on the hopes and dreams of people that want to work in this industry. No one is more committed to addressing this problem than this office and Mike Feuer. Our members and our future members are the people who are victims of these scams. It's essential to take action. These people's dreams were taken advantage of. These are not people of means. These are people barely getting by. So just to be considered for a job, it's a real abuse."
Feuer offered new details of how the investigation transpired. To uncover the alleged pay-to-play schemes, the city attorney's office used an undercover professional actor, who attended 13 casting workshops. "This investigation was conducted very thoroughly," Feuer said. "It was conducted by an investigator who was actually an undercover informant for this office. This informant attended 13 workshops by five companies. The results were then verified by an independent expert."
The prominent casting workshop companies — Actors' Ally, The Actors Link, The Actor's Key, Your Studio Productions and The Casting Network — were named. (The Actors Link is now known as Ace Studios.) The owners and operators of each of these businesses were charged, as were casting associates who work with them.
When reached by The Hollywood Reporter after the press conference, Richard Hicks, president of the Casting Society of America, offered the following statement: "The CSA fully supports the work of the city attorney's office. Along with SAG-AFTRA, CSA stands in support of treating actors with dignity and respect, and those CSA members who teach should do so only with workshop companies which are fully compliant with both the workshop guidelines and the Krekorian Act. CSA members who teach workshops are expected to adhere to the workshop guidelines and the Krekorian Act. Members who are found to be noncompliant will have their membership status reviewed. CSA has been proactive on this issue, including holding a town hall meeting last year to which it invited all of its members to learn about the guidelines and the law, as well as providing the resources and tools for their operation and management."
The action comes 10 months after THR first brought renewed attention to the pervasive and persistent if previously neglected issue. (While exchanging money for the prospect of employment is illegal in California, there had been no prosecutions against workshops under Krekorian since it was enacted in 2009.)
In the ensuing tumult, one prominent practitioner left his post on CBS' Criminal Minds the day after THR's investigation was published, then later closed his own workshop business; a longtime Vampire Diaries casting director canceled his classes under scrutiny; and the CSA itself set up a blue-ribbon panel to self-scrutinize. By this past September, Will Stewart, who most recently booked parts for Scandal, had sworn off the practice, claiming, "Workshops are dying."
Indeed, a statistical comparison by THR between the same monthlong period at the beginning of 2016 and 2017 found a 46 percent year-over-year drop-off, according to a tally of the total number of offerings enumerated on listings service Workshopguru.com. (Still, that leaves 211 classes.)
The CSA has registered continuing concern about rife noncompliance with its own stringent workshop guidelines, sending an email to its members on Monday (obtained by THR) that reminds them to "provide their own specific lesson plan and not rely on a 'one size fits all' lesson plan provided by the workshop studio." It also enumerated other problems, including advertising that "appears misleading about our members' credits" and the omission of the required disclaimer reminding attendees that this "is not an audition or employment opportunity."