An Open Letter to the Casting Society of America (and casting directors in general)
You asked for members' advice on how the CSA can move forward in a
positive, constructive way - 5, 10, 20 years hence and beyond.
Well here's one idea that will not only increase our visibility and
ethical standing as a profession, it will help us in our longtime goal
for recognition by the Academy for the most coveted prize
possible. As a casting director for over 30 years, and a CSA
member since 1992, I hope you'll take this advice in the spirit in
which it is given. My pride as a casting director and my love for
what I do informs this note to you.
Here it is: Casting directors and their staffs must stop
accepting money from actors in so-called "workshops" immediately.
As an organization we must stop rationalizing this practice as
"training" or "education" or "demystifying the casting process".
Paying a casting assistant or associate to demystify the casting
process is like paying a hooker to be a better juggler. We all
know that if that casting person were unemployed - not working on a TV
show - that their "classes" would be empty, no matter what kind
of training or advice is offered. We all know why actors pay and
why CDs are paid. It's a conflict of interest, plain and
simple - no matter what we call it.
As I write this in May of 2015, even with recent new laws and CSA
guidelines, even after a quarter century of casting director
"workshops", actors are for the most part still paying for little more
than a showcase opportunity in front of a working casting director, and
more likely a member of that casting director's staff. Casting
people are still accepting fees for providing this "service". The only
real difference in the workshop racket is that casting associates are
being paid a lot more today than ever before to watch actors perform
for them, and actors are paying more for that access. Actors are
still subsidizing many in the casting industry in Hollywood.
It’s not hard to understand why.
Law enforcement has for the most part failed to do its job in making
certain that hundreds of reported violations are investigated and that
the law is enforced to the extent it should be. But other than
just the law, SAG-AFTRA has neglected to enforce guidelines created to
protect actors - Rule 11, Section 47 and Article 15 - and the union
continues to allow its members to pay for job interviews in workshops
across the Southland and the Casting Society of America has basically
turned a blind eye to the problems the workshops present, saying they
have no say in the behavior of its members. "It's not job to
police our members". I have heard this a half dozen times from several
CSA presidents. If not us, then who? Will we be singing the
same tune when workshops and casting directors - including our members
- are prosecuted for violating the law?
All the rules and laws in the world cannot stop a scheme which the
casting community has actively engaged in for over 25 years, and
continues to condone, support and encourage. And as we’ve seen, whether
we would like to admit it or not, such is the case with casting
director workshops today.
And it is a scheme - one which must be recognized for exactly what it
is in order for the laws, rules and regulations to work, and in order
for the studios and networks to do their job implementing and enforcing
employment policy. And most importantly, the CSA must see
the scheme for what it is - however legal and innocuous it may seem -
and recognize that this is a big reason that our profession is not
regarded with the level of respect we so rightly deserve.
Too many casting directors care more about their ability and that of
their staffs and colleagues to earn a handy second income by exercising
their right of “free trade” -- as it has been referred to by CSA board
members in the past -- than they care about protecting actors. Most
casting directors who do workshops, and many who do not, are still
promoting single session, two hour workshops as "education" and
"training" when they know full well why workshops exist and flourish.
There's a pathological need to rationalize their behavior, to justify
making a buck off the back of actors. It's embarrassing to admit the
truth of their actions, so over the years they've made up convenient
reasons - in collusion with the workshop industry - to continue getting
paid by the actors, actors who are the reason casting directors have a
Casting directors and associates who have done even a handful of
workshops know they're wrong. They must. But they just can't
stop. Maybe it's because as blatant as it is to neutral
observers, casting directors continue to find reasons to deny behavior
as wrong. As Upton Sinclair once said, "It is difficult to get a
man to understand something when his salary depends on not
While there are dozens of workshop providers today, and hundreds of
casting assistants and associates doing business with those workshops,
to be fair, most casting directors and most CSA members don’t do
workshops and are generally unaware of the way these events
operate. But that’s not an excuse for ignorance. Over the years,
the powers that be at the organization which was created to set a
standard in the casting industry have said it's not their job to tell
casting directors how to behave. Huh? It’s the undeniable
responsibility of the Casting Society of America to protect the
professional reputation of the organization and at the same time
support venues where actors can gain access to the casting community –
without paying a fee. Failing to do so simply makes the CSA's
Mission Statement irrelevant.
"CSA Mission Statement
The Society shall be dedicated to:
~Establishing a recognized standard of professionalism in the industry;
~Enhancing the stature of the profession in the industry;
~Freely exchanging information and ideas among members;
~Providing the opportunity to honor the outstanding achievements of our members;
~Providing members with professional support and resources."
So what happened to the goals that the organization set for itself 30 years ago?
Until 2010, the CSA had consistently refused to restore the teaching
guidelines it removed when I was on the Board of Directors in
1996. They did this in the name of "free trade", citing the
original guidelines as "too restrictive". It’s a good thing that
the CSA has finally recognized that there is a problem and has created
new guidelines - in large part because of the passage of recent
California law, AB1319. Hopefully, the CSA has started down the
path of making changes which will protect actors as well as promote the
high professional standard which the CSA was founded to uphold. But
it's high time they saw the workshops for what they are, and do
something to change them, rather creating guidelines to regulate
nothing more than a well-entrenched Hollywood racket.
The casting associates of Los Angeles (especially those who do as many
as a dozen workshops a month at $250 - $400 a pop) will not like my
advice or suggestions here - but it's time for the CSA and the casting
community to recognize casting director workshops as exactly what they
are: a way to charge actors for access to a casting office for
consideration for work. The emperor really has no clothes at this
point. Actors know it; talent agents and managers know it - it's
time for casting directors to hop on the "get-real" bandwagon.
There are reasons to be hopeful. Even though the abuse goes on
and new workshop companies seem to pop up daily, I’m encouraged by the
awareness I’ve been able to generate over the past few years.
Actors know more about the scheme than ever. DoNotPay.org has
generated over a million hits and more people view the archives
daily. The new CSA guidelines have helped to check some of the
abuse. The new law has put workshops on notice and most have at least
posted the required bond with the state.
However, the workshop issue is more than just following rules or the law.
It's bigger than 20 actors in a room paying to get in the good graces
of a casting associate or assistant. There’s a much more profound
lesson to be learned from the entire casting director workshop story,
if we choose to heed it.
It’s a lesson about human nature, about our true selves, about greed
and power and selfish ego. It’s about brokering our ethics. It’s what
we allow ourselves to do, and where we draw the line, the way we
rationalize our behavior to make a few extra dollars. It’s about
how we invest in ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, how we respect
ourselves. It’s about neediness and insecurity and fear. It’s
about self-esteem – or the lack of it. It’s about the way we
believe we can selfishly accept a paycheck at the expense of those who
have provides us with our living.
In Hollywood, the credo is often “dog eat dog”. In the casting
director workshop scheme, in a sick, symbiotic relationship, casting
directors and actors feed off each other to get what they
want. And what they want is not necessarily a bad thing --
it’s how they choose to get there. It's the exchange of money
that changes the dynamic.
Workshops leave many victims in their wakes. Casting directors
undermine their credibility and accountability when they trade their
professional reputations for a paycheck. Sorry if you don't
like hearing that, but being on the forefront of the issue, I hear this
from actors - thousands of actors. Respect from professional
peers slips away and the CSA's longtime dream for Oscar consideration
slips away with it. Actors lower themselves to beg and
grovel, spending money they don't have to vie for a part – not
necessarily for fame or wealth, but for acceptance. But what
satisfaction can there be in paying for that acceptance? And all
of those actors and casting directors who have chosen not to play in
the ethical mud pit tend to get muddy nonetheless. We all benefit
– or become ill – by each others actions. It's the law of the
connected universe and it's never been more relevant than Hollywood in
Actors paying for a workshop is not investing in their careers; it’s
offering a bribe. It’s not earning what they get; it’s buying
what they believe they deserve. It's selfish and hurts other
actors. And it shuts the doors tight to any real opportunity that
doesn't include writing a check.
Casting directors, accepting an "honorarium" to meet and audition an
actor does not enrich you. It doesn’t make you a fuller, more
informed casting director. It makes you corrupt when you abuse
and exploit your power as the gatekeeper to acting work at the expense
of actors. It's a shameful way to run your life and your
The casting profession is at a turning point. It can, by way of
our professional organization – the Casting Society of America -- take
the initiative to change the way we are perceived by our peers in the
entertainment industry or it can continue to tailspin into the ethical
quagmire that is the casting director workshop scheme in Hollywood
today. We can prattle on about how "we can't police our members"
or how "we can't take legal action." That is not, nor has it ever
been what I have suggested. But we can change - individually -
how we approach actors and the workshop dilemma.
Certainly, the path to professional respect and credibility can be
filled with obstacles. However, a roadmap in the form of simple yet
strong and enforceable standards is, in theory, so easy to negotiate –
and to follow. The CSA need only take the initiative and do what it
must to protect itself and the casting industry. It has been
handed the opportunity on a plate a number of times. It’s time for the
casting profession to embrace the opportunity – and accept the
responsibility -- to change. The key to longevity is flexibility.
The casting profession has adjusted to survive in the past and must do
so again – now more that ever – to maintain its credibility and command
the respect it deserves from its peers.
I believe that the ethical compass for the casting profession has a
True North. It's time to move in that direction instead of
allowing money to pull us off our paths.
At a time when meaningful industry recognition (read: Academy) and
respect is so close we can taste it, shouldn’t all casting directors
behave in a manner which is above reproach? Shouldn’t all who
cannot operate in a manner which adheres to the standard set many years
ago be excluded from the great gains of those who play by the rules?
Can the CSA count on its board of directors to make the decisions which
will benefit all members instead of kowtowing to special
interests, allowing them to continue to direct the policy of our
profession as it has for so long? When over the years, so many members
of our own Board of Directors have either done workshops or have staff
who have done them, it’s hard to envision an organization where common
sense and the insight to pioneer real change will prevail over the lure
of special interests. Many of those who are charged with creating
policy for the CSA have been compromised. The casting community
and the workshop industry have formed an undeniably unhealthy
relationship, forged strong over nearly 30 years.
The casting director workshop industry is poised to undermine the years
of progress the casting profession has made toward commanding the
respect they deserve, and achieving the recognition within the industry
they so strongly desire. The only real possibility for altering this
course will come when all of those casting directors who don’t engage
in workshops see the dangerous direction in which the casting
profession is being led -- and decide to do something about it.
These professionals must speak up and demand a change. That’s
what I have decided to do, with this note - and by my actions
personally. After 30 years as a working casting director, that's
just how important the casting profession is to me. I can only
hope that other casting professionals who read this feel this way
and will follow my lead.
Right now, workshops own the "casting access" business, lock, stock and
barrel. It's time for casting directors to step up to the plate and say
enough is enough.
No matter what the Labor Commission, the City Attorney's office or
state laws decide, and no matter what CSA guidelines are presented
which will allow workshops to continue, the problem will not go away
until casting directors take the reins and make it go away. It's time
for casting directors to stop acquiescing to the workshop industry.
They've proven they don't care about us, and we owe nothing to them.
Every casting professional must admit there's a problem and vow to
tackle it head on before it's just too late. And that point is vaulting
toward us at warp speed.
If you are a casting director and agree that actors should never have
to pay to meet you and read for you, please voice your opinion, and
then call the SAG Foundation to sign up for the Casting Access Project
and call SAG-AFTRA to donate time to their speaker program at the SAG
Conservatory. Look for other venues that offer you the
opportunity to meet actors for free. They're out there. And
encourage you staff to do the same. If they have time to be paid
to meet actors in workshops, often a dozen times a month, they surely
have time to open their doors, and their hearts.
Actors, talent agents, talent managers and casting directors have all
been royally screwed by the workshop industry. Many of the day player
and co-star roles are being cast directly out of workshops. Access to
most TV casting offices by the majority of rank and file actors is nil
-- unless you decide to pay. It's time for a change; not just a
cosmetic one, but a permanent change which will benefit all actors, not
just the few who have supported a system which pays the workshops and
CDs millions of dollars each year and denies free access to casting
directors for the majority of the acting community.
It's not "free trade". It's not "being compensated for your
precious time after work". It's not "effective networking".
It's charging actors for access to our offices. It's a clear
conflict of interest. And it's just plain wrong.
We are at a tipping point. Over the past ten years the foundation
has been laid. The violations from the workshops are glaring and
everywhere. And it's casting directors who can make a difference.
Now is the time to take action.
Thanks for listening.
Billy DaMota CSA