One of the driving forces behind AB 1319 and preceding legislation is a casting director, Billy Da Mota. He is as vehemently opposed to paid casting workshops as we are in favor of the actor’s right to choose to attend them. Here’s why we stand in direct and complete opposition to his stance.
I encourage you to read Billy’s website, donotpay.org, and in particular, watch the 20/20 video (if for no other reason, to see that most of the content of that story is aimed at modeling and representation scams), and then read his note and the Archives. It lays out very clearly his thinking when it comes to actors attending paid casting workshops.
In a nutshell, he considers it nothing more and nothing less than evil payola for casting directors, and a paid audition for actors. Period. We couldn’t disagree more.
He acknowledges that there are educational aspects to the workshops, but that CDs, assistants and associates should volunteer their time and do them for free.
Respectfully, we unequivocally assert that Billy Da Mota (nor the State of California, for that matter) has no business dictating to professional, well informed actors what they can and cannot spend their money on, including paid casting workshops.
Here’s his note, with inline commentary:
So-called Casting Director “workshops”
have a long and sordid history in Hollywood.
Although DoNotPay.org is officially no longer in business, we
have created an archive which includes a timeline history to help
you understand the Casting Director Pay-to-Play scheme that
has lined the pockets of unscrupulous casting directors and has
plagued Hollywood for nearly 2 decades.
NOTE: We completely reject Mr. Da Mota’s histrionics throughout this piece, including the notions above that CD’s have been perpetrating a pay-to-play “scheme,” suggesting that CDs in Los Angeles have been engaged in systematic fraud worthy of a RICO prosecution, that anyone’s pockets are being lined – not at $150 a workshop, a pittance in the LA economy, that casting directors are unscrupulous or that actors are victims of this imaginary scheme.
Read the archives…
then come back to this page for savvy advice
on how you can help make a difference.
A Note From Billy DaMota
It’s been a while since we’ve taken a look at the issue in depth, so let’s revisit some of the facts regarding paid Casting Director “workshops”…
Right now, over 200 CDs and their staffs are paid to meet actors in CD workshops. That’s TWO HUNDRED. These casting “professionals” represent almost every network and cable TV show produced – from ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, Showtime, HBO and more – and are accepting a fee to meet actors to consider them for acting work on the shows they’re currently casting.
NOTE: This is all true, just as a teacher accepts a fee to “meet actors” and teach them acting, said teacher possibly being well connected to agents and managers, or I accept a fee to “meet voiceover students” and teach them voicework, or Mr. Da Mota accepts a fee from productions to use his judgement to decide which actors to bring in and which to reject when he chooses his audition pool. These workshops absolutely are looking for new talent for their shows. And actors willing and able to pay those fees are looking to show those CDs that they are ready for the possibility. NO ONE considers these to be a guarantee of an audition or a job.
So there is no misunderstanding – DoNotPay.org applauds and encourages casting directors who teach – real teachers, providing ongoing classes with a real curriculum or lesson plan. Our efforts have always focused on the one night, single session so-called casting director “workshops” – where as many as 24 actors perform scenes for working casting directors or assistants, often with little or no feedback. These are not classes. This is not education. These are paid showcases. And that’s just not right. In fact, the practice of charging actors for a meeting or reading violates state and local laws.
NOTE: We reject this premise wholesale. I’ve never attended a workshop, now over 200 over the last four years, where there hasn’t been an inordinate amount of feedback, adjustments, taking the performance again, direct conversation between the actor and the casting person about their current skill level, their accomplishment that night, and what they might need to improve, as well as cogent, insightful answers in a setting where all can feel safe, about the way casting works in their particular offices. I want to know details, right from the horse’s mouth. An example: it’s nice to know that if I’m booked on one medical procedural, I probably won’t even be considered for another, or that most CDs prefer not to shake hands with hundreds of actors a day so as not to get sick. I want to know what each of my customers’ wants and needs are so that I can take notes and adjust my performance for them and their project – just as any other salesman would tailor his pitch to individual customers. We strongly reject the notion that these are not classes – they are. This IS an education. And while we accept that the law can be interpreted the way Mr. Da Mota chooses, we remind the reader that this is precisely the kind of ambiguity we seek to change.
Where are all of these casting “professionals” when SAG and AFTRA come calling for help for their members? At a hearing with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement during the workshop debates a few years back, former AFTRA rep Jean Frost said on the record that she had sent out 75 letters to various CDs and their staffs – asking them to donate just one evening of their time to see AFTRA talent in their new showcase program. Out of the seventy-five requests, a single casting director responded, Jean told the room. I have heard similar stories from those who run the SAG casting-related events.
(NOTE: Although he offers no evidence to prove his assertions, we’ll accept that Billy is telling us the truth about SAG’s experience, but we in turn assert that sending a postal letter is hardly the best approach to get a casting director’s attention when they are inundated with headshots, resumes, postcards and more on a daily basis via the mail. Email or the telephone would likely be a more effective means of communication. In addition, SAG- and AFTRA- sponsored workshops would be wonderful for the Guild and Federation members who might be able to attend them, but what about the members who don’t get in, or the far more numerous non-union actors and/or unrepresented actors who, one might conclude, need exposure to casting directors even more than do union actors. We do encourage, as part of our best practices guidelines, that CDs be required to give one evening of their time every 60 days to SAG, AFTRA or non-profit sponsored casting workshops. But…we are also left wondering why Mr. Da Mota is so upset that those CDs are not responding to the offers made and leading those Guild and Federation workshops if, in fact, they are not valuable or educational as he claims above. We ask plainly of Mr. Da Mota to clarify if in fact workshops do indeed have value, enough to complain that they are not led for free, or if in fact they have no educational value. They cannot be both at once.)
Right now, there are a set of state workshop guidelines in effect – guidelines which the workshop industry begged the state to create so that they could stay in business. But most workshop companies haven’t bothered to follow these guidelines, and since they were agreed to years ago, there have been hundreds of violations. That’s right. Believe it or not, workshop companies are still breaking the law. Yet the Labor Commission, which promised to follow up and prosecute all violations has done absolutely nothing to investigate violations or enforce the guidelines.
NOTE: Those guidelines keep changing, and while some are reasonable and effective, some are downright ludicrous. The idea that an actor can no longer give a casting director their headshot and resume (one of the new requirements in AB 1319) is absurd. In no other industry is an individual prevented from providing a potential purchaser of that individual’s products or services, a business card or brochure that details the depth of experience, quality of work and beauty shot of their product. Actors’ headshots are their business cards, and their resumes are their brochures. Far from protecting actors from “unscrupulous” casting directors, AB 1319 is preventing actors from meeting and influencing the very people that could be key to their careers. This smacks of abridgment of an actors’ right to freedom of speech, freedom to congregate, freedom to conduct commerce and freedom to pursue happiness in their personal and professional lives.
Right now, there is a new law on the books, introduced on January 1, 2010 – California law AB1319 – “The Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act of 2009″ – which was created to help protect actors from businesses which charge a fee for auditions. Workshops which charge actors such a fee are considered Advance Fee Talent Services, which are now prohibited in the State of California.
UPDATE: As a result of our efforts to bring attention to the issue of paid access, SAG has put in place the Casting Access Project, which provides actors with FREE ACCESS to working casting directors in accordance with Section 47! Click here for more info.
NOTE: This is the very law we seek to alter to allow actors to choose between the free workshops Mr. Da Mota considers acceptable, and the paid workshops that we believe actors should have the right to choose to attend.
But the road to the free opportunities the Casting Access Project provides has been a rocky one. The workshop companies – who hate free competition – have an incredibly powerful lobby and have effectively kept this program from being implemented as fully as possible. In fact, at the state hearings dealing with the pay-for-access workshop issue, then-CSA president and workshop industry patsy Gary Zuckerbrod slammed SAG Section 47. At the same hearings, the attorney representing casting director and CSA Board Member Katy Wallin (Wallin owns a workshop company which paid other casting directors at the same time she served on the CSA Board) vowed to the Labor Board panel to fight on Wallin’s behalf all union efforts to implement Section 47. Wallin went on to serve as the vice president of the CSA – helping to create policy for the only organization representing film and TV CDs in America. Despite these roadblocks, the Screen Actors Guild and the SAG Foundation were able to establish this free and very successful program. Kudos to both organizations and to the casting directors who have graciously given of their time to support CAP!
NOTE: I am familiar with most of the casting workshop companies in town. It is a bald faced lie to claim that have any lobby whatsoever, let alone an “incredibly powerful” one. They are mostly small businesses, run more akin to mom-and-pop family businesses, with none owned by major corporations. There is no lobby, nor organization of any kind to which these companies belong. I’ve watched the email traffic between many of them as they ask very basic questions about what is and what isn’t compliance with AB 1319, and so far, every casting workshop company has settled on slightly difference actions to attempt to become compliant. As far as the CSA is concerned, whatever axe Mr. Da Mota has to grind with them or Mr. Zuckerbrod is moot – the CSA is advising their membership that the law is just fine, and have declined offers to join with befreetochoose.org in our efforts to get the law changed. We further believe that, given the letter sent to casting workshop owners by Mark Lambert, Assistant City Attorney for LA, their members may be at risk for misdemeanor violation of AB 1319 should they conduct workshops incorrectly, and that the CSA should be more concerned about this issue. Finally, it is nonsense to claim that the efforts that led to AB 1319 being signed into law earlier this year resulted in the Casting Access Project – that effort by SAG, which benefits SAG members, but, unfortunately, no one else, has been around for years.
Right now, the CSA continues to support paid workshops by its failure to inform its members of those workshop companies which have consistently violated the state guidelines and whose misleading and false advertising continues to reflect negatively on the entire casting profession.
How successful can the CSA expect to be with their new union when they allow those among their ranks to charge other union members (actors) for access to their offices? And how can the CSA expect casting directors to be recognized for the Academy Award when they represent the only profession in the entertainment industry which has a handful of members who consistently exploit actors and abuse their power to line their pockets?
The CSA can scratch its head, and wonder why every main-title profession, including editors, cinematographers, and even costume designers and makeup artists are considered for the coveted Oscar yet casting directors are left out of the mix. They can be puzzled by the lack of respect casting directors are accorded in the entertainment industry by producers, directors and actors. But all they have to do is look as far as their own members, at the greedy and self-serving behavior exhibited by a small number of them, and the inappropriate manner in which all responsible casting directors are portrayed by the workshop industry.
NOTE: If Mr. Da Mota is attempting to shame the CSA into action, taunt them with the lack of an Academy Award honor for best casting (a process any truthful casting director will tell you is a partnership between the choices presented by CDs and choices made by producers, writers and directors) by berating them for supporting the choice to lead and participate in paid acting workshops, we wonder what other less potent admonitions he may have tossed aside in that quest. Much more importantly, the CSA should promote paid casting workshops, as well as have guidelines for its members to volunteer for union, non union and other educational opportunities in which its members should be required to engage.
That’s basically it. Kinda like a State of the Workshop address. Today, actors have fewer and fewer opportunities and much less access to acting work and are paying more than ever to get their foot in the door. Things will never improve until the workshop companies are taken to task by the state of California for their violations, when the Guild has honored its commitment to its members by making certain Section 47 is fully and faithfully enforced, and when the CSA finally takes the initiative to make certain that all its members behave in a professionally responsible and ethical manner.
NOTE: Although Mr. Da Mota claims “that’s basically it,” it’s not. Far from it.
We assert that as actors, we make up one of the largest economic forces in the Southern California area, and that we are just as much in busines for ourselves, sole proprietors, as any other business. We should be treated the same way – with the same rights to engage in best practices in business as our producing partners, allied crafts and services, manufacturing, service and yes, even political operatives. A fundamental operation of business is to spend time and money to market its goods and services, meeting and educating potential buyers of those goods and services, leaving behind marketing materials and samples to try and convince those buyers to give us a try, to give us an order, to give us shelf space, and to let the consumers of those goods and services have the opportunity to enjoy them.
If we were not actors, but rather plumbing supply salesmen, lawmakers would never try to prevent us from individually, or at conventions or golf outings, meeting the hardware buyers at Home Depot or Lowes, give them our business cards, show them our pipes and wrenches, leave behind catalogs, brochures, even samples of our faucets and drains for real world inspection, get feedback on our line of offerings, maybe even take them out to dinner or or a show or baseball games,. And should those buyers go to the product managers of those companies and encourage them to put our products on the shelves in those stores for consumers to purchase, well, we’ve been successful.
But we ARE actors. Our tools may be different, but successful actors will tell you that our process is essentially the same.
Our jobs? Not plumbing supply salesmen, but rather, acting in television, in film and on stage.
Our products? Not a line of hardware, but our faces, bodies, voices and the ability to make people laugh, cry, feel and think – as actors.
Our conventions? Not hardware conventions, but ActorFest, Showbiz Expo, Act Now, Reel Pros, SSLA, Actors’ Key, AIA, and dozens more.
Our buyer’s assistants? Not Lowes employees, but casting directors, associates and assistants.
Our buyers? Not Home Depot product managers, but producers, show runners, writers and other final casting decision makers
Our marketing materials? Not business cards and brochures, but headshots and resumes and postcards.
Our samples? Not faucets and drains, but auditions. Yes, auditions with material that’s relevant to their current needs: the shows they cast.
Our buyer feedback? Not requests for different colors and finishes, but feedback-driven adjustments to our auditions.
Our dinners and events? Not baseball games, golf outings or $1000 a plate political fundraisers, but casting workshops and tickets to our plays.
Our consumers? Not the people who need to buy a new faucet, but the viewers of TV and film.
Our success? Not huge sales of our plumbing supplies, but our bookings, our ratings by our consumers, and our credits.
Mr. Da Mota, Mr. Lambert and Mr. Krekorian would be hard pressed to disagree with any of that, yet their new law seeks to abridge our rights to engage in that very business process, all in the name of protecting us poor defenseless actors against “unscrupulous” and “scheming” casting directors looking to line their pockets with literally dozens of dollars an hour – with a law that is truly useful in discovering and bringing to justice the true bane of our acting existence, individuals preying on unsuspecting newcomers and parents of children who dream of stardom and take their money by the tens of thousands. Respectfully, Mr. Da Mota’s paternalistic page is shameful and full of distortion, lies and misrepresentation.
We call on Mr. Da Mota, and Mr. Krekorian to join with us, professionals all, and change this law to affirm the right of casting workshop companies, casting directors and actors to congregate and meet, to exchange business material and offer more choice to the production community through discovery of new talent, ready to succeed in show business.
I don’t blame actors for paying for access. It’s nearly impossible to meet a casting director any other way. But if actors don’t want to pay, they must organize – and mount a revolution. They need to create a powerful lobby which can make their voices heard on a large and collective scale. They need to stand up and be counted. They need to take their careers back. They need to demand that the access to those who can hire them be free of charge – and not limited to those who pay for the privilege.
NOTE: We couldn’t agree more.
You can read the rest of Mr. Da Mota’s note at his website. Please do, to be completely informed, and tell us what you think in the comments below.