Pay-to-Play Audition Critic Says Casting Group Is Trying to Kick Her Out

Courtesy of Dea Vise
Dea Vise

The Casting Society of America wants whistleblower Dea Vise out. “They’re circling the wagons,” she says of the organization, which has yet to revoke memberships of colleagues recently indicted of labor violations.

Dea Vise, one of the rare outspoken casting director critics of Hollywood’s pay-to-play auditioning scene, faces the revocation of her membership in the Casting Society of America. She believes it's retribution by the embattled professional organization, which has shifted its public posture to a defensive crouch since its new executive board took power in February, shortly after a faction of its members, their employees and business associates were indicted on state labor violations. (The group has since put its weight behind fundraising for the defendants’ legal costs.)

On April 16, Vise posted an online fundraising appeal to raise $1,000 for an attorney to represent her at a special April 25 meeting at which the CSA will determine her fate. (The amount was raised, and the appeal ended, within 24 hours.) She was notified of the situation two weeks earlier by mail. In a letter republished on the fundraising page, the organization’s attorney Adam Grant wrote that “the CSA National Board believes you may have acted in an unprofessional or unethical manner,” going on to state that the group was “concerned” about her recent postings relating to a pair of high-profile casting director colleagues, Sheila Jaffe (Ted, the Fighter) and Carmen Cuba (Stranger Things, The Girlfriend Experience), “as well as postings in which you appear to encourage others to support a class action [lawsuit] against other members.”

She had posted a link and description of text pulled from a Westwood-based law firm specializing in litigating unfair competition cases of employment law. It is seeking members of a class to move forward in winning civil claims against the five casting workshop firms that Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer is criminally prosecuting under California’s Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act.

Vise has been a casting director for two decades, working mostly in independent films, as well as currently on ABC’s In an Instant, alongside her business partner Billy DaMota, a fellow CSA member and pay-to-play auditioning activist who has, however, been notably less outspoken since the issue reignited following a Hollywood Reporter  investigation into its growing pervasiveness a year ago.

“Nine [other] members are being prosecuted for charging actors for employment opportunities in the State of California,” DaMota tells THR. “It doesn’t appear that these members are being reprimanded, although our CSA bylaws state that those members who violate the law face revocation of their membership. Instead, the CSA has promoted a fundraiser to help raise money to defend those charged. It’s not hard to see what’s happening here.”

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for the CSA would only offer that "we've said all we have to say regarding workshops at this time."

On Jan. 28, Vise had posted on a private CSA Facebook group, inquiring about the legitimacy of Jaffe’s decision to run a $5,000 charity auction on luxury “experiences” platform IfOnly, benefiting the ACLU of Southern California, in which a hopeful could audition for her for 30 minutes “for a speaking role for one of Sheila Jaffe’s upcoming contingent projects.” Vise ended up in a combative exchange with the CSA’s administrator Laura Adler, as well as one of the heads of the CSA’s Workshop Committee, Marci Liroff (Mean Girls), over ethics in philanthropy and casting. (The back and forth, compiled as evidence by the CSA and then sent to Vise, was shared with THR.)

“No matter what arrangement there actually is, this makes us look like we sell access,” Vise wrote at one point. IfOnly’s website explains to prospective altruists that 5 percent of donations go to charity and 15 percent to the company, “leaving you with 80 percent of the list price.” 

IfOnly’s vp finance, Spencer Hill, stressed that such arrangements don't apply to select charitable auctions yet acknowledged that these nuances are not made clear in the site's terms of service agreement. Still, he emphatically denied any suggestion that Jaffe benefited from the auction: "The auction that you’re referring to would have been entirely benefiting the charity. So Sheila never once has garnered a single penny.” Jaffe's attorney reiterated that her client did nothing improper.

In the Cuba incident, Vise relayed on her personal Facebook page March 24 that her colleague “doesn’t do general interviews with actors for free” based on a report that Cuba’s assistant “hung up on an actor who called today and asked what their policy is on general interviews.” (The evaporation of general interviews, in which casting directors meet actors not to read for a particular role, but just to derive an overall sense of who they are, is considered one of the driving factors of the growth of the pay-to-play sector.)

Vise tells THR she checked herself into local medical facilities on two occasions earlier in April after receiving the CSA’s revocation notice, the result of her familial dilated cardiomyopathy, a genetic form of heart disease. “It can flare up under stress,” she explains, before turning back to her conviction that she’s been targeted: “When is free speech not free speech? I’m not saying horrible things about these people. I’m just saying what they’re doing. You’re shooting the messenger. Why would you go after someone who brings this up and not go after people who have been charged by the City Attorney? I feel like they are circling the wagons.”