The following is an article by actor, teacher and author, Ed Hooks, published in the January edition of Casting Connection, an actors' resource organization in San Francisco, regarding DoNotPay.org and our efforts. Thanks to both the Casting Connection and Mr. Hooks for allowing us to reprint the article here.
Click on the Casting Connection logo to visit their site. Ed Hooks' website address is at the end of the article.
actors & crew
Career Strategies for the Actor
By Ed Hooks
As part of my monthly column, I will try to answer your acting career questions. Simply send me an email and be as specific as you can about what is going on. If your issue involves a particular agent, casting director or other industry professional, I will protect your identity.
An astonishing and very welcome new Web site, dedicated to the proposition that actors ought not have to pay to meet casting directors, has appeared on the Internet at http://www.DoNotPay.org/. Sponsored by actor Roggie Cale and LA casting agent Billy DaMota, this site is a must-see for anyone trying to break into the acting business. I’ve surfed it carefully and whole-heartedly applaud its contents, and as I read each page, I found myself mumbling at my computer screen, "Right on! Yes! Absolutely! Cool!" There is plenty to think about on this site and, even better, it provides the actor with things he can actually do to help end the practice of paying to meet casting agents. There are efforts underway to change state law, for starters.
It’s beyond shameful the way the casting industry has managed to set up a tollbooth between aspiring actors and the roles they crave. What started as a sometime thing has become pervasive. A new person comes into acting and almost immediately is advised by fellow actors and, unfortunately, respectable talent agents that the casting workshops and showcases are the way to jumpstart their careers. It rarely pans out that way. Claims of success are over-inflated — just try to verify some of them and see how far you get.
Like your mama told you, if you want to understand the motivation for something, follow the money trail. When it comes to actors and their quest for roles, the yellow brick road is in fact a green brick road. In the first place, there are far more actors than there are jobs, creating an imbalance in the chain of supply and demand, and any basic economics book will tell you that this situation creates an environment ripe for exploitation. In the second place, most casting agents do not make as much money as you might expect for the casting they do. In fact, they can often make more money by charging actors for access to their agency than they can from actually casting. In the third place, there is a steady stream of newbies. After an actor has spent a few thousand dollars on these functions and gotten nothing for it, he often catches on to the reality and stops writing the checks. But his seat in the workshops is filled immediately by the newest batch of actors just getting off the bus and dreaming of stardom, and every new actor thinks he is the one that is going to beat the odds.
These workshops and showcases are so widespread in the industry now that it appears virtually impossible to pursue an acting career without participating in them. A new actor manages to meet a talent agent, and the agent advises that he do the workshops. Why? Because the agent is currying favor with the casting agent, feathering his or her nest in the hope that, when the all-too-few acting jobs are actually being cast, the casting agent will be so grateful he will call that particular agent for some submissions. It’s politics, and the unsuspecting aspiring actor is the one paying for it.
Agents often do it, too, and for the same economic reasons. The difference is that Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has a rule (16g) specifying that franchised talent agents cannot take money for meeting actors. They cannot allow their names to be used in the promotion of workshops. That is why you see ads touting the presence of "A Major Talent Agent." If SAG didn’t enforce rule 16g, you would see the agent’s name.
SAG also has a rule in its theatrical contracts specifying that producers cannot charge SAG members to be considered for roles. What you have in the casting director workshop syndrome is a trickle-down thing. Producers farm out their casting jobs to freelance casting agents, and the freelancers do the workshop circuit. SAG can go after the producers when these violations occur, however, by the time SAG complaints to the producers work their way down to the casting agent, the movie in question is cast and has become history. In other words, SAG may want to shut down these workshops, but they are chasing a moving target due to the nature of the industry.
WHAT IS AN ACTOR TO DO?
The workshops are a self-fulfilling prophecy. As long as actors are willing to write the checks, casting directors, agents and workshop entrepreneurs will cash them. What actors need to know is that if they stop writing the checks, it will actually be good for the industry. Take away the workshops, and the casting agents will have to make a living from actual casting. Go back to that economics lesson again and follow the money. If they have to make it from casting alone, it will cause competition where it ought to be, in casting excellence. The most talented casting agents will survive and prevail, and the ones that can only make money from the workshops and paid-access will fade away.
I’m tossing my hat in the air with a resounding "Hooray!" for Billy DaMota and Roggie Cale and their Web site "Do Not Pay." This is a fight for industry integrity and excellence, and it’s a worthwhile fight. For sure, these guys are swimming upstream, which is all the more reason they deserve our support. DaMota’s fellow casting agents cannot possibly be happy with his efforts, and I suspect he is under a lot of pressure to shut the site down. I hope my readers will help him out and get involved. Check out http://www.DoNotPay.org/.
-- Ed Hooks
To learn more about Ed Hooks, visit his website at http://www.edhooks.com.
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