The REAL Story Behind The “Pay To Meet” Casting Director Workshops!

Nobody with any sense should rightly have a problem with a casting director legitimately teaching a class. After all, we routinely audition actors and have input into who works and who doesn’t. So we know a lot about choices an actor can make and many other points that would be useful to actors when they attend auditions. And many (though not all) of us are actually great teachers so we should be free to do so! But only as long as it’s held as separate from other available avenues to meet and present acting talent to casting directors in the course of their work AS casting directors.  It’s the part where they mix that poses the problems we’re seeing and that recently resulted in charges being made against 25 casting directors and workshop owners by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. And the reason it’s taken relatively long to finally charge people, is that the intent to obscure what’s REALLY going on at these “Workshops,” is hidden behind the facade that an actual “Class/Learning” situation is going on instead of a meeting between a casting director and actors. It’s a job requirement for the actors to meet CD’s to get work. And if they were just saying “Come and pay money to meet this casting director!” Then EVERYONE would know that’s not ethical! So they dress it up as if someone is actually teaching at these things. They aren’t! At least not enough to actually warrant the class to begin with. It’s kinda like paying for a massage….but you really wanted the “happy ending” they don’t blatantly advertise that they actually provide! (if you’ll pardon the graphic but accurate analogy!) Sure, some actual massage probably goes on! But that’s not the REAL purpose the customers come in and pay up! Is it? And it’s also a given that the massage doesn’t have to be good enough to actually compete for your business with ACTUAL massage places who just provide the massage without the “ending!” When actors are serious about learning their craft, they turn to REAL classes to accomplish their goals toward expanding their abilities. They do workshops so they can meet and do business with casting directors.

The fact is that it’s a REQUIREMENT for an actor to meet casting directors and to make them aware of their abilities in order to pursue work. PERIOD! Just like having to have a headshot, it’s NOT optional. And EVERYBODY knows this! When casting people fully understand this and then knowingly restrict access to ONLY the paid meetings that happen in “workshops,” they’re engaging in a monopoly and using that monopoly to get cash for something that should be free to the actor. Because this dirty little secret is hidden behind the “beard” that’s presented in the appearance of a teaching situation, doesn’t make it any less of a monopoly. The Sherman Anti-Trust laws were instituted when companies did the same thing and restricted things like food and other necessary items and services to only those who paid the price they could set without reasonable competition in an unfair hegemony. The fact that a casting director may not set an exorbitant rate to meet them, doesn’t make it any less of a monopoly when they are a gatekeeper of the work the actors want to access through the only avenue now available to them. An avenue otherwise restricted by the casting director who allows no other ethical and free means for actors to meet them because they’re now supposedly “too busy.” Because this practice has been allowed to flourish unopposed for the last 20-something years, a whole generation of casting directors have come up under it and they now consider it “business as usual!” But for those of us who remember the days when this would have been absolutely and unequivocally unethical, it’s an obvious conflict of interest. When I last discussed this situation with Joe Reich one of the three founders of the Casting Society of America, he too lamented what had become of the ethics of our profession when this scourge took root as the now de facto way for CD’s to meet actors and vice versa. And to establish a higher standard of ethics, artistry and professionalism were the very reasons he and Mike Fenton and Al Onorato started the organization in the first place.

What makes it even worse, is that it’s just as much of a requirement of casting directors to meet actors as it is for them to meet us! When we go to compete with each other for projects, we discuss our ideas for casting strategies on various actors, whether to cast “names” or unknowns in certain roles, who to cast as “first into the boat” and why and whether or not we have a good feel for the actors out there who might be off the beaten path. Actors the director wouldn’t know about unless they hired a casting director who had gone out and “bird-dogged” them out in some small play or showcase or even a general interview. That’s why you sometimes heard casting directors in the old days brag about having “discovered” someone. They were talking about just basically doing their jobs and hitting the bricks and finding talented actors! A job for which we’re already paid by our clients and which is required of us. Charging the actors as well is “double-dipping.”
Engaging in the illusion that serious teaching and learning is going on at these workshops is just that! Illusion! A casual perusal of the “endorsement” comments posted by actors on many of the workshop’s websites, speak not about the great “breakthroughs” or learning opportunities they paid for. They speak solidly about the caliber of the CD’s they were able to meet and the cache’ and number of the shows and movies they cast. Regardless of what the workshops present as a “teaching experience,” access is what they’re REALLY selling and everyone knows it. Especially the actors who pony up! Some workshops presenting CD’s even list the movies and shows they’re ABOUT to cast in clear violation of the CSA Workshop Guidelines! And this isn’t by accident as it’s the REAL bait that gets the actors to sign up and workshop owners and CD’s know this. When Scott David lost his job on “Criminal Minds” and actors were upset and started a social media campaign to get him re-instated, they boldly endorsed him not by saying what a great teacher he was or how much they learned from him. They endorsed him by saying how “ethical” he was about following through on HIS part of the bargain by giving jobs and auditions to the actors who paid to take his workshops!! They must have thought this was in some way “helping” him! But I doubt it gave the producers of “Criminal Minds” pause to think they had made a mistake in thinking that the actors that he was bringing to them were the only the best of those who were willing to pay to meet him as opposed to the best actors he could find.

No one who opposes the workshop “pay to meet” scams is opposed to casting directors actually and legitimately teaching! What we’re interested in is a separation of “church and state” so that things go back to the way they were AFTER the casting couch was exposed and eradicated….. and before the workshop scams took hold. Free general interviews and attendance at plays and showcases or even sitting around and spending time watching self-tapes submitted by trained but unrepresented and unknown talent. Things that CD’s and associates now say are things for which they no longer have the time! I suggest that they can find that time by abstaining from doing a couple of workshops each week and hitting the bricks “old school” by being available for free general interviews and seeing work out of the office. When they ethically grant free access to the actors to meet them? Then they can teach all they want! But then a minimally-experienced associate has to find a way to compete with serious acting teachers out there when actors are now paying for actual learning instead of just access. If they can compete in that head to head kind of meritocracy? Then great! More power to them!

I teach a two-day workshop that supplies a syllabus, provides over an hour’s worth of video of each participant with multiple takes and re-directs in front of the class. It’s limited to 10 participants to maximize the value to them and requires an enormous amount of energy on the part of the students and myself. But even more importantly, I post the following disclaimer in BOLD, highlighted letters right on the class website and on the enrollment form so there’s no question about whether you’re paying for a class or to meet me: “”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.” So if you take this class and pay to meet me in the course of my work as a casting director? Then you’re a fool! But if I restrict access to meeting me only to the class and you pay for it? Then you’re a victim of extortion. And it’s that simple!

Casting directors and the CSA can try all they want to “seek to preserve and enhance the educational value of casting workshops” …as stated in the press release of the CSA’s Workshop Committee. But as long as casting directors restrict access to meeting them ONLY to the paid workshops, they’re going to be dogged by a beast of their own creation by extorting money from actors for something that’s a necessary requirement for BOTH CD’s and actors. They should know better! Especially those who are members of the Casting Society of America, an organization who’s very existence was SUPPOSED to represent a higher professional, artistic and ethical standard by which their members supposedly abide.

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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.

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for this article. I send out two or three requests for general meetings to casting offices each week. I have been lucky to get three meetings in the past twelve months. Most requests get a response of silence. Do you have tips for an actress on how to be successful asking for general meetings?

    • The reason the workshops fill up is because the current practice by many casting directors is to avoid the free generals so that actors are forced to pay to meet them in the workshops. As I said in the blog posting, this is by design to fill the classes. All I can say is to keep trying as not all casting directors are doing this. Some of us still meet actors for ethically for free in the course of doing our jobs. And some of us are working to try to remove the scourge of the “pay to meet” workshops so casting directors go back to meeting actors in free generals. But if actors decide to abstain from attending the workshops to starve them out of existence, that’s really going to be the most effective way to get casting directors to go back to meeting actors for free again as it’s a requirement of our jobs to know about actors that are available. Money is what made this thing grow into a problem and starving them will make them stop too! Whether it’s likely to happen or not, it’s by far the best way to end them.

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