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Are Casting Director Acting Workshops Illegal?

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Are acting workshops illegal? A new report exposes the dark side to Hollywood's hidden economy.

If you are an aspiring actor, then you will always see acting workshops by prominent casting directors. These casting directors promise to give you hands on attention and tips to help improve your casting directors - only for a small price of $500 a session. These are not auditions, as the actors are told, they are "Workshops," which give an aspiring actor to show their skills to a casting professional and get constructive criticism. And while many of the acting classes are expected to provide acting tips, it because aspiring actors are indirectly paying the same people that are supposed to be hiring them. A new report by The Hollywood Reporter's Gary Baum (New Hollywood Economy: Pay-for-Play Auditions for Actors Gain Dominance) investigates the hidden and sometimes illegal Hollywood economy: Acting Workshops where the only way you can act is if you "pay-to-play". Workshops have been a part of Hollywood for decades. But, as the demand for more and more TV shows, movies, web content and other scripted material, production offices have decided to eliminate in-house casting departments and instead casting directors hold "workshops" as a way to find new talent for TV shows and programs. This results in a "gig" economy (emphasis my own).

The result is a gig economy in which temporary labor pays to be "taught" by independent contractors, who in many cases are staffing programming for media corporations.

Cost-conscious networks and studios offload a burden once held by productions to cast their shows onto the labor market itself.

Millions of dollars previously spent on casting have been cut from balance sheets, and tens of thousands of aspiring actors have been stuck with the bill.

"They're now so pervasive — more than two dozen companies offer more than 450 sessions in a month's span during pilot season — that many in the industry presume the practice is entirely aboveboard," Baum argues.

""They're now so pervasive — more than two dozen companies offer more than 450 sessions in a month's span during pilot season"

These acting classes are linked to nearly every broadcast show. And many new actors are paying $1,500 a year on two or three workshop classes a month in hopes of landing a day-player role that pays only a little over $600 for one day's worth of work. In fact, casting director Dea Vise argues that "Half the people that are on network television today paid for their job interview — the one-liner roles." But, it's important to highlight the fact that exchanging money for the possibility of getting a job is illegal thanks to The Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act of 2009, which outlaws workshops and casting directors from charging or attempting to charge an artist for an audition or employment opportunity. However, since the law was passed seven years ago, there have been no prosecutions.

"Half the people that are on network television today paid for their job interview — the one-liner roles."

This problem is so wide spread that the actor's union, SAG-AFTRA and the Casting Society of America are worried about the workshops. But, they are left powerless unless city officials act or even prioritize the issue. But, is it the casting director's fault? According to Baum, the reason why workshops are so popular because TV networks and studios have cut their casting department forcing casting directors to work as independent contractors, which leaves them little to no time to find new talent in theater productions, short film festivals or at your local acting troupe performance. Add the fact that video auditions are so efficient, casting directors don't have to leave their living room to cast a TV show or movie. Nowadays, a single casting call for a small role can yield 3,000 digital submissions in a few hours, actors are forced to do whatever it takes to stand out.

A single casting call for a small role can yield 3,000 digital submissions in a few hours, actors are forced to do whatever it takes to stand out.

According to diversity advocates and economic scholars, workshops negatively impact the less advantaged as they are unable to afford these workshops. "The opportunity costs are already very high in this business, and these workshops aren't helping," says Professor Nelson Lichtenstein, director of UC Santa Barbara's Center for the Study of Work, Labor and Democracy. Observes National Hispanic Media Coalition president Alex Nogales: "It's pernicious, and it's predatory. This is why you're supposed to have oversight." You can read the full and damaging report into the dark world of acting workshops here.

What do you think of acting workshops? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below!