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A Show Runner Weighs In

My friend Bob Frazier has been working in the business for a long time. The phrase “show runner” was first used to refer to Bob when he was running the legendary sitcom, Benson. His site, http://www.showbizhowto.com, is an amazing resource for actors, and I value his opinion. He and I have had healthy and vital discussions about the realities of working in show business, sometimes disagreeing, but most in lockstep, about treating your career like a business. Here’s his take on the business of whether or not to attend casting workshops.

Well, I’ve been getting a lot of email from my subscribers asking me to weigh in on this casting director workshop discussion.

Most of the actors writing to me are asking whether or not I think casting director workshops are of any value.

With that in mind, here’s my ‘take’ on the whole CD Workshop question.

(Before I begin, let me say that I think Bonnie has some of the best career information in the business – and expresses it better than anyone out there, including me. I say this up front because Bonnie is a casting director and some of the things I’m going to say about casting directors – in general – might be thought to be a bit negative.)

As I said to David at dinner the other night (before his website went up); the most important thing actors need to understand about these ‘workshops’ is that casting directors are mostly former actors.

That word “former” is very important inasmuch as it points us to something that a lot of new-ish actors are overlooking – “you are trying to get good career information from someone who did not succeed at a career where they claim expert status.”

This is a huge disconnect when it comes to the idea that you will actually get good career advice at a casting director workshop. (By the way, you probably won’t get good career advice from most acting teachers either – unless they happen to be successful actors.)

What you do get from CD workshops is some ‘face time’ with the casting director in the workshop. (What you get from acting teachers is an ‘outside eye’ – to help you improve your craft.)

Another point I made with David is that there seems to be a large number of actors who think that they are dealing with ‘decision makers’ at some of these workshops – and nothing could be further from the truth.

Do you seriously believe that a television series producer, film director or any combination of producer and director – allows a casting person to decide who is cast in the project?

Believe me, that never happens.

(In fact, Spielberg – famously – is involved in choosing extras for his projects.)

To jump on an analogy that was used earlier – you are not paying to see the CEO … you are paying to see someone in the personnel department (and in some cases you are paying to see an assistant in the personnel department).

Back to the question – do I think it’s worth paying for a casting director workshop to gain access to some casting directors?

Sure, why not?

In many respects, as David points out, it’s advertising, promotion … dare I say, a business expense.

So, go ahead and sign up, pay and go – as long as you realize what is going on in these ‘workshops’ … you are simply paying to be seen by a casting director.

By the way, with that in mind, be sure to check to see if the casting director actually has a current assignment before paying to see her (him) – because paying to be seen by someone without a job is sort of silly.

Now, I know that there will be those who say “you cannot get in to see the decision makers without first getting by the casting director” – and, yes, this is true.

That’s why we hire casting directors – to winnow down the applicants for each acting job to a reasonable number. In other words the real job is to say ‘no’ to a lot of actors – most of whom fall into Bonnie’s on-the-nose category, “What Were You THINKING?”

As I say in my workshops – the casting director’s main job is to keep the crazy people away from Spielberg.

Finally, I agree with David’s overall point – the government should not interfere with legitimate business opportunities, simply because some intelligence-challenged hoopers can’t tell the difference between a legitimate opportunity and a scam.

In fact, a better plan (in my mind) is to prosecute the scam artists using current laws having to do with unfulfilled contractual obligations (what is said is just as important as what the written contract says – ask any car dealer).

That’s the way to stop ‘talent scouts’ from proliferating.

Am I right about all of this? I don’t know – it’s just my opinion based on 50 years in showbiz, enjoying some success as an actor, writer, producer and director.

In the end, you each have to make up your own mind and decide for yourself.

Deciding is the most important skill you can develop if you hope to make a living in the ‘arts.’

(And, yes, that’s another opinion – but I know I’m right.)

Bob Fraser

http://www.showbizhowto.com

Posted in Featured.


4 Responses

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  1. david says

    Sorry David and thanks for making Billy’s points for him,

    but Bob is out to lunch on this and frankly David, you may think he supports your point but I think most people will find that he actually contradicts it, at least inasmuch as actors are concerned. He says workshops are worthless! Bob’s points summarized…”CDs are not decision makers, and you shouldn’t pay someone who can’t make a decision.”

    All he does say in their favor is that ‘in the name of capitalism and caveat emptor’, they should be allowed to continue…simply because we as actors should know THEY DON’T WORK!!!

    If capitalism is the only excuse you can come up with to allow something…you are basically saying that morality doesn’t enter the equation and that people should be free to spend their money how they see fit, regardless of whether they think they are buying something different from what you are selling (even if you let them believe it) and the government in particular shouldn’t interfere in someone’s ability to make a buck, regardless of how unethical it is.

    Sorry, but are we as humans/actors supposed to investigate everything and everyone to make sure they are ethical or is that what rules/laws are for? He even goes as far as saying that just because someone is stupid enough to believe that a CD workshop might actually help them, is no reason to protect them…sort of the ‘fool and his money’ argument…

    So thanks Bob, you pretty much cleared it up for those of us with morals and who want to be treated morally. Shall I paraphrase Bob’s wisdom?…”It’s OK to sell a product that doesn’t work, so long as you can market in such a way as people will buy it!”

    And does this summarize for you David, why workshops should be allowed to continue? I don’t think that’s going to get you very far with the government or anyone else, EXCEPT casting directors.

    Are you a lobbyist for them, and if not, why not?

  2. David H. Lawrence XVII says

    No, Im not, nor do I have any desire to be, a lobbyist for casting workshop owners. I want the freedom to choose to take paid casting workshops, to elevate them in the eyes of the law away from the modeling/representation scams that the law was intended to handle, and to change the perception of casting workshops from the simple sound bites of “CD payola” and “paid auditions” to professionals meeting, teaching and networking with other professionals. Bob and I agree on most things – this is one area where we have disagreements: I’ve found tremendous value and success in paid casting workshops, as have thousands of other actors. I believe that paying a casting director to teach a class, and in the process, meet potential candidates for auditions is no less amoral then going to ActorFest and doing the same thing.

  3. david G says

    If workshops are OK, then why not everything else? Why not allow an agent to charge their clients a fee to rep. them? It does cost a lot of money to run an agency and they have a more legitimate claim to an actors money than a casting director who is already paid to do their job. I love how everyone on this site uses ‘freedom’ as their justification. If someone is being scammed and they don’t know it, they would probably feel the same way. While actors are protecting these workshops, how do you know that the CDs are not sitting around at their CSA meetings laughing behind the backs of actors who lighten their own wallets to fatten those of CDs. People decry the ‘casting couch’ as immoral, but at least you had a real shot at a job then. What’s the difference between sleeping with and paying someone for a shot at work…except in the sleeping with case, there is always a job specified, whereas with workshops, it’s the ambiguous suggestion that perhaps you’ll get a look. The irony in all of this is that it is the actors and not the casting directors who are sticking up for workshops on this forum, and yet it is the CDs who benefit financially. They must know not to rock the boat when they have a gravy-train going.
    Seriously, why do actors care about someone else’s job so much? Why aren’t they asking CDs to call them in more legitimately for real roles, rather than fighting to allow them to charge us for a non-audition. I’d rather pay for a ‘real’ audition than a fake one, so why don’t we fight for ‘paid’ auditions since they would be a lot more beneficial than the charade of ‘educational’ workshops?

  4. David H. Lawrence XVII says

    Actually – booking a role on a SAG project pays far more than the CD makes for the workshop. Even a one-day costar will soon be over $800 for the day, and a top of show pays $7000. I’m pretty sure that CDs don’t sit around CSA doing anything, let alone laughing behind the backs of actors (they’re pretty much stuck in their offices) – and are you really asking what the difference is between sleeping with someone for a job and meeting them along with 20 or so other actors in an educational setting, performing a scene? You seem fairly familiar with the mechanics of sleeping your way into a job – which I’m sure is untrue. Much of what you conclude is predicated on iffy assumptions, and the sleeping your way to a job and “CD workshops are paying the casting director twice” are two examples. I firmly believe that the actor that is ready to work professionally (and Bonnie hit the nail on the head when she said that most can’t recognize when they AREN’T yet ready, raising the noise level for the workshop environment and also making generals that much harder to get) can’t have a better situation than to work in a casting workshop and learn from the CD at the same time. That freedom is threatened when a Deputy City Attorney creates a “litmus test” for a law that cuts to the heart of our typical relationship with casting personnel, the headshot/resume.

    I do appreciate you weighing in. Have you taken any workshops? How have you found work with other approaches?



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