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News
West September 12, 2002

Consenting Workshops?

By Laura Weinert
The state-authored casting director workshop guidelines are out at last, though they won't take effect until workshop owners sign on the dotted line. Are there any takers? Not yet. Released last week in the form of a "consent decree" [see page 4] is a series of regulations that may now govern the way casting director workshops are run.

Billy DaMota, founder of DoNotPay.org, branded the guidelines a big win for workshops. "The workshops are no doubt jumping for joy as they read these guidelines and would be crazy not to sign off on them," said DaMota. "The state has allowed the bank robbers to mind the vault, and in doing so, has done nothing to remove the problem of paid access to working casting directors."

While no owners have signed yet, workshop owner and workshop-owner coalition spokesperson Jean St. James stated in a press release that the coalition was pleased with the guidelines, the result of two meetings with state officials, union representatives, and a public hearing. "While the process has been lengthy and costly and the result is not perfect, the collaboration among actors and our unions, casting directors, workshop owners, and state has been very healthy," said St. James in the release. Workshop owners had received a cease-and-desist letter in January with the opinion that they were violating a state law that prohibits job applicants from paying to be considered for employment.

Nevertheless, St. James said on a KPCC radio program last week that she did not yet know if she would sign the decree. St. James would not return calls to Back Stage West.

There is no official deadline for workshops to sign the decree, though state officials say they anticipate workshops will move quickly to further legitimize their businesses in the eyes of the state. While the guidelines are indeed official--one government source said they would be "very resistant" to making changes--the possibility remains for a few last-minute revisions, said the source.

How are these guidelines enforceable? And what's to prevent a workshop from starting up tomorrow and operating without signing?

Said one state source, "We would go to them and say, 'Hey, you're violating the law. You have to sign the consent decree.' "

If signed, the guidelines would function as an "official declaration by a court as to what the rights and duties of the respective parties are." If a workshop violates the law, the guidelines could be used in a court to help prove the violation.

Critics of the guidelines claim they only add legitimacy to a system that remains unchanged and legally problematic.

Said DaMota, "In these guidelines, casting directors, associates, and their staffs--with no requirement for a background in education and no provisions for specific teaching qualifications other than the fact that they are currently employed--may accept fees from actors for providing a 'curriculum,' which is little more than cosmetic."

DaMota was frustrated that the state had not included guidelines he had suggested limiting workshops to ongoing classes of at least four weeks, taught by credentialed casting directors.

"It's inevitable that some people will be unhappy with these guidelines," said the state source. "You just can't go to court and shut down businesses. Courts don't do that anymore. They want to maybe restrict businesses, but a complete shutdown is unattainable. There was a lot of time that went into this and a lot of negotiation. SAG is thrilled; AFTRA is happy."

So is the Casting Society of America, according to president Gary Zuckerbrod, who told BSW that there was not one guideline he found objectionable. "I think the state has done an incredible job," said Zuckerbrod. "I think they are concise and I think they are very fair. The workshops needed some legitimacy and this was probably the best way to legitimize them. What needed to be eliminated was a situation where an actor was paying for an audition."

Another result of the discussions is that SAG, AFTRA, and the CSA are renewing a commitment to work together to provide more free workshops. They have been asked to report their progress to labor commissioner Art Lujan by the end of the year.

"We are looking into planning more events for our members to get in front of casting directors," said SAG spokesperson Illyanne Kichaven. "This is something we've been exploring for quite some time, it's not only come out of these discussions."

The complete consent decree appears in the news item below.


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