Posted: Sun., Feb. 24, 2002, 4:00pm PT

Cold-reading events illegal, state warns

Workshops face civil suit if they fail to stop charging fees

By DAVE MCNARY
 

California regulators have warned more than a dozen operators of "casting director workshops" in Los Angeles that they are breaking the law by charging actors to audition.

The Department of Labor's Standards Enforcement Division has warned the operators in a "demand for compliance" that they face a civil suit if they do not stop offering the so-called cold reading workshops for a fee.

"This practice, long condemned by responsible critics of the industry as oppressive and exploitative of actors, constitutes a clear violation of the provisions of Section 450 of the California Labor Code," said regional attorney Thomas Kerrigan.

The workshops include One on One Prods., Reel Pros, In the Act, David Goldyn Casting Director Workshops, ActorSite, Casting Break, The Casting Network, AIA Studios, TVI Studios, SeenWork Co., LA Actors Online, Show & Tell, Act Now and Aaron Spieser Acting Workshop.

The order came a month after Anne Stevason, acting chief counsel for the Division, issued a ruling that found the practice was in violation of state law banning payment in exchange for applying for employment.

"It is my understanding that the organizations that maintain these workshops require a fee from all actor participants who attend, ranging typically from $25 to $50 per person per session," Stevason wrote. "The actor participants attend the workshop on an appointed date, meet the particular casting director provided by the organization and perform for him or her in short scene subject to announced time limits. There is little or negligible instruction provided to the actor participants at these workshops, whose sole or primary purpose in attending is to find work in TV or films."

Stevason also said the casting directors typically receive a $100 to $150 fee for participating. Her opinion was issued in response to an August request by casting director Billy Damota, who founded and operated the donotpay.org Web site to publicize the issue of "pay-for-access."

"In no other industry do those with the power to hire or recommend prospective employees routinely pocket money from those same job applications," Damota said. "But in one of Hollywood's dirty little secrets, that's exactly what happens every day. Actors have paid out millions of dollars for these illegal opportunities."

Damota said he was "heartened" by the state's actions, adding the organization plans to continue pressing the Screen Actors Guild and Casting Society of America on the issue. SAG's Rule 11 explicitly bars making inducements to prospective employers but SAG member Dea Vise contends staff has been reluctant to pursue action in this arena due to the popularity of the workshops and the press of issues such as the 2000 strike and negotiations.

Vise recently filed a formal request that the Guild initiate a class-action suit against the workshop operators but no official response has emerged yet. She noted that the inaction has come at the same time that SAG is asking members to obey Rule 1, the ban against non-union work, on overseas productions.

"How can we ask members to obey Rule 1 and give up work if we aren't enforcing Rule 11?" she asked.
 
 

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