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News
West November 14, 2002

20/20 Probes CD Workshops

By Laura Weinert

The controversy over casting director workshops reached a new level of attention with a segment of ABC's 20/20 that aired Friday night, which informed viewers that these workshops are "Hollywood's new dirty little secret" and that the "casting couch" has been replaced by "casting cash." The segment, produced by Jill Rackmill and reported by Brian Ross, sent an undercover reporter to shoot clips of some workshops in action, revealing shots of casting directors and workshop owners pushing the pay-to-audition angle and counting wads of dollar bills. The show's undercover producer said she saw "little teaching" going on--a position that has been sharply denied by the workshops ever since California legislators opined in February that "pay-to-audition" workshops violated state law and issued a cease-and-desist order.

Most controversial was the portion of the ABC-aired segment that showed a clip of Alisa Kasmir, a casting assistant on ABC's very own Once and Again and NBC's Leap of Faith, telling actors, "I brought in so many people, I can't tell you guys--we must have three or four people this season from workshops."

But now that this controversy has reached the attention of a major network news show, have networks and studios--including ABC--taken due notice and come up with a policy on this contested practice of their own employees and/or representatives?

CD Billy DaMota of DoNotPay.org, who was interviewed for the segment, explained that all the networks and studios had been contacted three times to remind them of the law. "We spoke to all the networks," said DaMota, "and they all said they would look into it."

What is ABC's in-house policy on casting directors doing workshops? ABC's department of labor relations did not return phone calls from Back Stage West.

Some networks and studios have sent memos informing CDs of their policies, said CD Jeff Greenberg (of NBC's Frasier), who was also singled out by the 20/20 report. "As soon as we got the cease-and-desist from the studios, everybody I know stopped," said Greenberg. "They sent a memo and the labor board said to not do them and we stopped doing them."

Greenberg said he has no idea whether he will do them in the future. "They are not illegal to do," he said. "There's just a certain curriculum you have to stand by now. I'm just too busy to do them." Though Greenberg claimed the workshops were "only educational," when asked if the workshops were useful to him in terms of casting, Greenberg said, "of course."

Despite whatever action the networks and studios have taken with respect to their employees, CD workshops are still prevalent--proof that not much has changed, said DaMota. "There are still 100 TV shows out there being sold in the workshops," he said. "There are still hundreds of casting assistants and associates doing them. So apparently either they are OK with the studios, or the CDs and assistants are deciding to do it on their own. I think in some cases the studios have said, 'Do what you want after work but don't advertise our name.' "

So has anything changed since workshop owners sat down in September to hammer out a series of guidelines in the form of a consent decree that would allow them to stay in business?

"They have modified their advertising," said DaMota, "but the fact is, most of the workshops still offer the same service they offered before. They've said all along that what they are doing is not violating any laws. The only thing they've done is change the way the advertise their service."

The consent decree sent out Sept. 4, long in the making, was not signed by any of the workshops. An Oct. 14 story in Variety reported that the state is continuing to negotiate with workshop owners, but that the final guidelines reached would include wording that allowed for stronger enforcement. The guidelines would theoretically make workshops subject to lawsuits if they violated the law.


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