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West February 28, 2002

CD Workshops Face Legal Challenge

By Laura Weinert
The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement has issued an opinion that casting director workshops constitute a "clear violation of the provisions of section 450 of the California Labor Code" and ordered all such workshops in the state of California to cease and desist. In a letter sent out on Feb. 21, workshop owners were given official notice that they have 20 days to respond to the law enforcement agency indicating that they have complied.

Section 450 of the Labor Code prohibits employers from compelling or coercing job applicants to pay a fee in order to be considered for employment. The opinion, issued by acting chief counsel Anne P. Stevason and contained in a letter authored by the division's regional attorney Thomas S. Kerrigan, states: "The fee paid by actor participants of these workshops is for an interview and/or audition before the particular casting director and has little to do with improvement of the actor's craft. Actors who do not pay these fees are not entitled to participate in the workshop, i.e., to interview or audition. As such, the requiring of this fee by these workshop operators is directly in violation of? section 450 and, moreover, constitutes a misdemeanor under section 451 of the Labor Code."

"We're asking them to voluntarily cease and desist," said Kerrigan. "Casting director workshops, as they exist now, don't give any training, or give negligible training, as the opinion letter says. They're just a pretext to get money for letting people audition in front of casting directors. The section of the Labor Code that's referred to in the opinion says that you can't charge people money for the purpose of getting them work. That's our position and we're going to enforce the law."

Workshops named in the letter include One on One Productions, Reel Pros, In the Act, David Goldyn Casting Director Workshops, Actorsite, Casting Break, the Casting Network, AIA Actors Studio, TVI Studios, SeenWork Company, LA Actors OnLine, Show & Tell, Act Now, and the Aaron Speiser Acting Workshop.

Enforcing the law, Kerrigan said, would mean filing lawsuits against any casting director workshop owners who do not cease operations by Mar. 13. Casting directors would "most likely" not be named as defendants. Kerrigan did say that workshop owners who took "corrective measures" might be spared. But when asked what these corrective measures would entail, he responded, "Well, mostly stopping what they're doing."

Workshop owners who spoke with BSW expressed severe concern over the validity of the opinion. Most believe the DLSE did not conduct a thorough investigation.

"No law enforcement official ever came to my facility to see how things are run," said Kylie Delre of Show & Tell. "No one ever asked me my prices and what I charge my actors. No one ever asked me my success rate. So I think that we need a voice and we need to be represented."

Said Jeanette O'Connor of SeenWork Company, "Has this guy talked to any of us who run these things? I've never heard from him."

Kerrigan did explain that the opinion was largely based on information provided by casting director Billy Damota, of, an organization that has run a yearlong campaign to take the money exchange out of CD workshops.

"Everybody knows how these people operate," said Kerrigan. "I've spoken with other casting directors over the years. Not recently, but in the past. The first person who made the complaint had all sorts of promotional material and even had some tapes and phone messages and things like that. We talked to actors about their experiences. We did not send undercover people into these workshops. There are some things you don't have to investigate because they're so well known."

Workshop owners also hotly contested the opinion's claim that workshops do not include a valid teaching element.

"I will not book a guest if they are uncomfortable giving feedback or redirection," said Delre. "They have to get involved. They have to talk about how their office is run, and they have to give insight into the material they bring. So the actors then know the style of the office and what they do when they audition people."

On behalf of AIA Actors Studio, attorney Matthew C. Thompson of Strook & Strook & Lavan issued a letter to the DLSE and trade publications defending and describing the workshop's practices. According to the letter, AIA's workshops not only include an educational element but are limited to education: "The classes are limited to providing coaching and instruction on cold reading, scene study, the business of acting, audition technique for actors, and other diverse programs for filmmakers," states the letter. "Under no circumstances does AIA promise or even suggest that employment will occur because of attendance at AIA workshops."

Casting director and president of the Casting Society of America Gary Zuckerbrod, speaking personally and not on behalf of the CSA, which has refused comment, also reaffirmed the educational aspect of workshops. "This is like any other industry where a person of status in an industry is compensated for teaching, for imparting knowledge," said Zuckerbrod.

Yet even among workshop supporters, there seems some ambiguity as to whether workshops indeed constitute a situation in which actors are paying for the chance to get work.

"No casting director that I know of is going into these workshops and taking money to audition people for things that they are actively casting," said Zuckerbrod. "They may use sides of things they are actively casting, but they do not go into a casting workshop to take money from an actor with the idea that the money is used as a reimbursement for an audition."

Others had a slightly different interpretation of the CD workshop process. "Everybody knows what a workshop is," said Show & Tell's Delre. "People do get called in and they get work. That's essentially what the workshops are: They are paid auditions. Because I do screen my actors, the CDs know that they're getting really good people. They call in, like, 40 percent of the people I have directly from a workshop and people are getting hired constantly. Now you've gotten the introduction and they're going to open an envelope from you because they know you, where otherwise they wouldn't."

Workshop owners make the case that the key issue here is freedom of choice. "I feel that it's the only thing actors have a choice to do for themselves," said O'Con-nor, "and they have the right to do that if they want to. Nobody is forcing anybody to do anything they don't want to do. How dare anybody tell somebody that they're not allowed to do something for their career that they want to do. You can't take acting classes? Is that what they're telling us? Who are they to say who deserves to be paid for what they do and who doesn't? I can't tell you how many actors are really irate about this."

While some workshop owners are taking a wait-and-see approach, most of the workshops owners who spoke with BSW had begun preparing for legal representation. One source said that a handful of workshops, including One on One, Casting Break, Casting Network, and others gathered Monday to strategize as a group and hire a lawyer to begin conversations with the DLSE.

It remains to be seen whether such communications with the DLSE will cause the legal opinion to be modified in any way. If the opinion stands, lawsuits will be filed and a judge or jury will have to determine whether workshop owners are indeed in violation of the law. The final outcome of such action, said Kerrigan, "would be the law governing the entire state." Kerrigan also said the DLSE, a division of the department of industrial relations, has not ruled out the possibility that it would seek to recover some of the fees paid by actors over the past three years and hold them in a trust fund, to be returned to actors.

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