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West September 05, 2002

Who Will Sign?
Casting Director Workshops to Receive State-Authored Consent Decree

By Laura Weinert
After months of wrangling and legal positioning, the controversy over casting director cold reading workshops may be approaching a conclusion of sorts this week with the release of a consent decree from the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement. The consent decree will formalize guidelines reached at two meetings in August, in which California labor commissioner Art Lujan, DLSE chief counsel Anne Stevason, and DLSE regional attorney Thomas Kerrigan met with workshop owners, union representatives, the Casting Society of America, deputy city attorney Mark Lambert, and leaders of

The 24 state-proposed guidelines discussed at the meetings were an attempt to resolve the workshop controversy, which flared up in January when the DLSE declared the workshops to be in violation of the law and issued a cease-and-desist order to workshop owners, claiming that their businesses offered a form of paid auditions. Paying to be considered for employment is illegal under state law.

Though it's not clear if or how much the state's original guidelines have been revised since the meetings, the consent decree will make the guidelines enforceable--but only if workshop owners decide to sign on. "If they don't agree to it, it has no teeth at all," said one source who attended the meetings. "It is just a proposal." If they do sign on, violators of the guidelines would face penalties equivalent to those incurred when violating a court order.

The meetings to form the guidelines received mixed reviews from those who attended. Workshop owner Jean St. James, speaking on behalf of a coalition of workshops that have banded together to defend their business model, said the most controversial guideline under debate was one that would forbid CDs to hire workshop participants for a period of 60 days following the workshop.

"We all agreed that was not acceptable," said St. James. "It's also completely unenforceable. If a casting office casts six or seven shows and my agent submits me for a show, they are not going to know if I might have seen the assistant the night before."

The DLSE would not comment on how the proposed guidelines were being modified based on input from the workshop owners. As originally proposed, the guidelines included the following restrictions: CDs may not use material from shows they are currently casting; CDs must conduct one free workshop for every five paid workshops; workshops must consist of at least 50 percent educational content; no headshots and resumes may be submitted prior to or during the workshops, and others.

Casting director Billy DaMota, founder of the anti-workshop lobbying group, was unsatisfied with the tone of the meetings. He felt the August meetings were merely a repeat of the hearings held in July, when workshop owners and participants dominated.

"The meetings were heavily weighted in favor of the workshops," said DaMota. "My impression is that those meetings were not to find a way to make the workshops operate within the law but to allow them to get around the law. I think Kerrigan and Stevason understand the critical nature of stopping pay-for-access workshops, but it seemed as though Lujan--the first thing he said is, 'We want to get this over with and let people get back to business.' It really blew my mind they were going to let those people set their own guidelines."

While workshop owners have yet to see the modified guidelines in the form of the consent decree, St. James seemed pleased with the tenor of the meetings. "Where we ended up going was very positive, very workable," she said, though she wouldn't say whether she would sign the consent decree. "Everyone had wonderful input. We had a great dialogue on every guideline."

Both of the guilds came out in support of the labor commissioner's proposed guidelines.

"Generally, AFTRA is pleased with the changes that are being made to the guidelines, per the Labor Commissioner," said AFTRA's national communications director Jayne Wallace. According to Wallace, for AFTRA the most important safeguards contained in the proposed guidelines were actors' right to a refund if not satisfied, and the ability to pre-audit a workshop to "check it out."

"The 50 percent instructional guideline is still under discussion," said Wallace. "And while we are comfortable with curriculums being somewhat flexible, we maintain that written curriculums or a syllabus should be available. Workshops should not consist solely of readings without individual critique and feedback. And material from roles currently being cast should not be used; work should not be dangled as a carrot to take the workshop."

Also discussed at the meetings were ways to make more free workshops available to actors. Said Wallace, "The Labor Commissioner has instructed CSA, SAG, and AFTRA to set up a mechanism to secure voluntary participation by casting directors and report back by the end of the year."

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