The Problem: Too many casting people in the business! Especially those who get their money PRIMARILY from actors!

Natural selection is an unavoidable influence on virtually EVERY area of life, and careers are no different. If there are too many of one thing, then the excess either goes away to another market that needs MORE of them or they switch to another career. However, we’re seeing a curious “postponement” of this phenomena in the casting world! There have never been more people in the field of casting than right now, especially counting assistants and associates. But the reason for this interruption of natural selection is that many of them only “moonlight” as casting directors and associates. And the reason that’s bad news for actors is this: Far too many of them are now kept afloat by using the appearance of being a “Gate Keeper” (those in charge of hiring actors for roles) to engage in charging actors for all manner of things related to  advancing in their careers by way of things like “workshops” and “consultancy” services. The way it works is this:

First, casting people restrict access by not making themselves available to actors to meet for free by way of free general interviews which WERE the industry-standard for casting directors to know who was out there as a part of their jobs. And making ourselves aware of who’s out there is required by our clients and one of the things for which they already pay us. Nowadays however, many casting people claim they no longer have time for such requirements. But miraculously, they will find the time ONLY if actors pay for that access by way of things like a “workshop” or a class or a career consultancy session where they’ll supposedly give you advice. (Some charge $500 for this consultancy!) More and more access turnstiles funnel down to cash venues because actors HAVE to meet casting people in order to advance their careers. And the casting people take advantage of that to restrict access ONLY to those willing to pay for it! So the actors pay because there is no other way available to them to meet the casting people they need to meet. It’s illegal but there are many ways to make it APPEAR that actors are not paying for access and instead, paying for some sort of service. Without the casting-person rep, they’d just be just anyone else out there trying to make money off providing something of value to an actor. Just like any acting teacher, photographer, coach or a consultant. And their classes would rise or fall based on the word of mouth by actors who either got or didn’t get, value out of the product. But WITH the gatekeeper identity listed at the start, everything changes. Namely, access to the jobs the gatekeeper casts which is REALLY what actors are paying for. That’s how mere associates and even assistants, generate actor-paid dollars. Without the access to the work on which they assist, their value would be reduced only to their teaching acumen after mere months in the business. If an assistant were to actually “teach” a class, most wouldn’t be able to impart anything significant beyond explaining how their casting director bosses take their coffee!

If casting people did free general interviews like they USED to do in more ethical times and like some of us STILL do, actors would just take the classes, workshops and pay for the consultancies ONLY if they provided a valuable product. And there would be clear lines of identifying just what the actor is paying for in a definitive and ethical separation of “church and state.” But far too often, many casting people only prove themselves to be another huckster out of the MANY scams out there preying on actors who need to make themselves known to the casting people in order to be successful. But most alarming of all these extracurricular activities are the rampant “workshop” scams going on primarily in Los Angeles with roadshows extending into secondary markets like Seattle where I now work. Money taken from actors through intermediaries for graft in the form of a “workshop” in appearance only, that eventually results in work dolled out to those actors who pay. So why do the actors who end up supporting these workshops, do them??? It’s not because they’re trying to gain technique or knowledge, that’s for sure! Because little or none of that is actually imparted to them. And contrary to California state law requirements, there’s seldom a syllabus as to what will be “taught!” The situation is blatant enough that it’s generated comedic parodies like This One.

When I started my career over 31 years ago, it was rare that an actor ever wrote a check to a casting director and NEVER to an associate! There were fewer of us and the vast majority made our living actually casting productions for the producers who paid us legitimately for services rendered. Occasionally, some would teach though they did it when their schedules allowed and the format clearly resembled formats being used by those other teachers who ONLY taught and didn’t cast. And casting directors who taught, were available for free in general interviews if actors didn’t take the classes. Although we’ve always been considered “gate keepers” by the actors, it would have been an obvious ethical and legal infraction for us to charge actors outright for access to the work. About the time I left Los Angeles in 1988, that scenario started to quietly change. Casting directors stopped being habitually available for general interviews which created a scarcity “bubble” just like during the housing boom before the mortgage crisis of 2008. A “deferred” kind of bribery started to come into vogue wherein a workshop company who was a “middleman” (I prefer the term “pimp”) presented a casting director in the guise of a class but without the actual teaching. And most importantly to the actors who pay, these workshops provide a private, one-on-one audition with the casting person with minimal feedback and no re-direction and subsequent reads like in an actual class. And workshop businesses have sprung up to accommodate this turning it into a multi-million dollar business. And just like a pimp, the workshop takes in the cash from the actors and since it’s illegal for a casting director to take headshots away from a class, the workshop does it for them and then gets them to the casting person digitally! But the most important reason why this sham continues to flourish is that the CD’s then provide an audition or two to the participants of the “workshop” and the word goes forth to stock the pond for future “workshops.” There are even third-party on-line forums who let actors know which CD’s, associates and assistants, end up hiring from the workshops so actors can target the ones who hire most. This results in that CD’s classes being filled regularly which commands a higher rate of pay to that CD.

Nowadays, there are MANY casting people who engage in this scam and irresponsibly use their status as “gate keepers”essentially to charge actors for all kinds of things! In fact, it’s now become the de facto way for new actors to meet casting people and now actors are actually being advised to do so by their agents and other industry advisers! Natural selection advances those true teachers who’s work merits more students filling their classes. And if you teach and you’re not very good at it or you don’t provide value for your students, they don’t come back or recommend you to other actors and you don’t last long. Not so with casting “workshops” and most ESPECIALLY those run by associates or assistants who’s “teaching” acumen has virtually no track record. This is the dirty little secret that allows for a mere associate’s presence at a workshop to fill a class! Many times, it’s actually their bosses who do the workshop and command top dollar. And since there’s no actual teaching going on at these things which are basically illegal, paid auditions, it’s obvious that if they stopped casting and just “taught,” no one would take the classes because the actors aren’t paying for the instruction because it’s practically nonexistent. What they’re really paying for is access to the casting director’s projects. Although some provide a preliminary lecture, it usually involves a listing of upcoming projects they’re casting and how they like actors to prepare before coming in to audition. Just like a general interview. Many times, the actors skip the “lecture” part entirely and just show up for the one-on-one read with the casting person! And even though people pretend it’s a “class, everyone involved knows otherwise!  Our clients pay us to know who’s good out there as part of the skill set we bring to our work and it’s part of how we compete with each other for casting projects. And we’re already paid by them to accomplish this going into the projects we cast. Just like real estate agents are required to have their finger on the pulse of the available homes out there in order to attract THIER clients. But that’s all changed with the workshop “pay to meet” scams. And it’s changed even other aspects of the business. If fact, many talent agents are taking a page from this book and are now charging actors to meet THEM in workshops too! In each workshop, you’ll hear someone state the standard disclaimer that participation is no guarantee of work which is usually met by chuckles from the actors. Even though there are strict, legal guidelines preventing language designed to imply that employment will result from taking these “workshops,” the language used to bait the hook by the middlemen/pimps, clearly flies in the face of these requirements as you can see Here.

No one is saying that casting directors shouldn’t teach or that they don’t have a truly valuable perspective for helping actors. Given the thousands of auditions we host, we have a unique perspective unavailable to others who don’t have this experience. On the home page and syllabus of the workshops I occasionally teach, I post the following: Disclaimer: This seminar is for actors who are serious about breaking through barriers and improving their audition technique. If you are considering this workshop because you would like to better acquaint me with your work, I would instead encourage you to contact me for a general interview which I do free of charge as my schedule permits.” You’d have to be an idiot to pay to meet me when you could do if for free!

The Casting Society of America is an organization supposedly dedicated to higher standards of ethics and artistry in the profession of casting. And to be a full member, requires significant demonstration of those standards before it’s granted. Because some of us genuinely care about actors and about the ethics of our profession, a few of us in the CSA have been standing up to our peers who either promote and or engage in these “workshop” scams. And we’re now quite unpopular with those peers as you can imagine. And none of us is more vocal than my friend and colleague, Billy DaMota who’s been leading the fight the longest and most vigorously of any of us. In this 20/20 episode, you can see actors not even realizing his advocacy on their behalf, complaining that he’s trying to remove an opportunity for them! But what they don’t understand is this:  If these scams were eradicated and actors could once again meet casting directors without having to pay to do it, then they could have the same opportunities of access…..only for free! The way it’s always supposed to have been when casting directors didn’t take the equivalent of bribes from actors like when I was coming up through the ranks. Casting directors have ALWAYS been required by our clients to be aware of who’s out there and especially, who’s good!!! And that requirement won’t suddenly disappear with the eradication of the workshop scams. Casting directors will always have to do their jobs and scout out the best new talent. But we’re already paid and hired by our clients to do this necessary part of the job. We shouldn’t be “double-dipping” and charging the actors just to meet us as well! And when we’ve mentioned this problem on the CSA’s Facebook page, we’re met with either silence and apathy or hijacking of the issue into divergent directions meant to derail the conversation. Why? Because when casting directors are working on a project, they need associates and assistants with whom they have a working rapport. And since they can’t afford keep them employed between projects on a full-time basis, they’re only too happy that their associates can make part-time cash from somewhere else, in between those projects so they’re available to their bosses on a project-to-project basis. And since even associates can now join the CSA as “associate” members and WITHOUT having to go through the same requirements that full members like myself had to go through, they use their CSA initials after their names to further legitimize their appearance at scam workshops and for better promotion by the workshop “pimps.” So there’s no easy way for the public to know who’s just an associate using the CSA suffix after their name and who’s a long-term, pro using them, having satisfied the REAL requirements of full membership. Historically, when we’ve taken on this issue with presidents and officers of the CSA, their official position on this is that they just post workshop requirements and standards and that’s as far as it goes. They say “it’s not the the CSA’s job to police their members!” An ironic position for a group who’s mission statement speaks to our supposedly standing for the highest professional standards of the industry! Standards though should obviously include it’s members NOT using their positions as gatekeepers to break the law! A fact that seems to have slipped the association’s collective awareness when the scams in which their members and associates engaging, are clearly brought to their attention. Members or associates engaging in these scams are neither disciplined, expelled or refused membership upon application. Presumably and in the absence of any better reason for this lack of action, the CSA seems more interested in collecting dues from their members instead being concerned about their ethics or lack of it! No matter WHAT our mission statement says!

But just recently, a Report in the Hollywood Reporter called attention to this problem and the CSA appointed a “Workshop Committee.” Unfortunately, membership in that committee was only offered to a few select people and Billy DaMota, the foremost authority on the subject was not invited. Further disappointing those of us wanting to see a meaningful address of the situation was the groups’ stated purpose in the press release to  “seek to preserve and enhance the educational value of casting workshops.” Increasing the educational value of the workshops is certainly nice. But the real problem will never be addressed until casting directors once again make themselves available for the necessary meeting of actors without actors having to pay for it.  PERIOD! And anyone thinking otherwise is engaging in illusion.

The bottom line is that casting directors and their associates wouldn’t have jobs if it wasn’t for the actors. When all is said and done and everyone and everything else superfluous is removed, all that’s absolutely necessary to the process is this:  The story? and the actors who tell it! When actors get and understand that the clout and the power lies with them to starve these scams out of existence, the situation will change. Here’s hoping the actors take on their own power and indeed change it!!!

 

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About Stephen Salamunovich CSA

Stephen Salamunovich CSA is a 31-year veteran, award-winning casting director who cast somewhere around 4000 projects in Los Angeles and the Pacific Northwest before leaving the profession in 2016. You can find his biography in the "Stephen's Bio" tab of the "About" button of this website.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Stephen,

    I happened upon this article and am so glad to see someone perfectly articulate the problem at hand. I will be sharing with my other actor friends as this has gone on far too long. Here’s hoping a major change is just around the corner and these exploitive practices fall to the wayside. Thank you again!

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