It used to be that “the hiring powers” in the entertainment biz would take time out during their hard working day to meet new talent. They were called “generals.” It was free. Performers would either have a simple chat, a prepared scene, monologue or cold read for the casting director, director, agent/manager and/or producer. Companies and studios also used to hold their own “generals” with no cost to the participating talent. For years now, there’s been a profitable twist added to the scenario.
If you ask a young actor what a “general” is, they’ll probably tell you it’s someone in the military. Yeah, ha ha, but it’s really not all that funny. Due to many complaints filed, specific guidelines were mandated for “workshops” and “showcases.” But are these guidelines being followed by the “workshops”?
It’s been a “catch 22.” How do performers meet those that hire, if you can’t get in to audition for them? Easy. You can pay for the opportunity. Ask any actor and you’ll find their opinions are split pros and cons about the subject — whether talent is being taken advantage of, or if they are really being given the golden opportunity to strut their stuff for a fee (anywhere from $40 on up per “workshop”). This type of business has been such lucrative venture, some them have been around for years.
What do people do in these “workshops”? To nutshell, it varies. Often the guest of the evening (usually a casting director, casting associate or often a casting assistant) is given your picture and resume and they hand over a short scene to “cold read” with a partner (usually another actor) in front of the guest and other attendees. You have about 15 minutes to rehearse before performing as if it was an audition. Sometimes the guest has commentaries for the performers, sometimes a chat and it’s regarded as a “learning/teaching experience.” If you go in with the attitude that for every experience, there is something to be learned that’s great. But if you’re sole reason is to be there only for the purpose of meeting a particular guest, then that’s were resentment can creep in and your wallet won’t be the only thing screaming. Especially if you didn’t like the material they handed you or who they paired you up with or…or…
There is one particular bold and outspoken casting director who has stepped out and in front of the pack. Someone who’s been swimming against the stream…rubbing against the grain and defying what’s popular. In short, he’s been making waves. A kind of Lone Ranger among the majority of casting directors. Who is this person leading the way in protecting the underdog and demanding not only the unions be accountable to protect its members, but getting the Los Angeles City Attorney involved to help put a stop to the “abuse”? Billy DaMota, CSA. A well-respected casting director and award winning filmmaker, he’s on a mission, confronting the issues head on.
Cliché: So, Billy…your thoughts?
Billy DaMota: I’ve been casting for 29 years, and I can tell you one thing for certain. Actors take workshops to gain access to working casting directors for consideration for acting work on their TV shows, period. Do the actors accidentally learn something in the process? Sure. But if you seriously believe that this is why actors spend $40-$50 to read a 3 minute scene for a casting assistant, you’re smoking some serious crack.
Why don’t most of these casting directors just teach a “regular” acting class?
Get a working casting director to come to a place to teach, and have one or two of the 20 actors get up to use as examples of what or what not to do in a casting session. Great class, lots of learning, but only a few actors actually get up and read (kind of like a real acting class). Nope, you can’t do that because unless everyone can get up for the CD to evaluate his or her performance, the class will be empty. Few want to learn. Most want to simply perform for consideration of a job. That in legal terms, is an audition. No audition? Empty seats. Crickets.
Scenario #2: Big shot Hollywood CD, Mary is your guest. She has been casting for a couple of decades, on HUGE films and TV shows. She has just, three weeks ago, retired and is not currently casting. She has a wealth of knowledge, teaches an awesome workshop where everyone gets up to read and gets extensive feedback and evaluation. But no one enrolls in her class, because they’re not there to learn, they’re there to get a job. More crickets. Every actor and every casting director who participates in workshops knows it.
These are my opinions only. Pay as many casting assistants as you like to gain “valuable knowledge.” Pretend and imagine that you’re doing something noble by asking an actor to pay a casting person’s rent when they can’t pay their own. But don’t talk down to actors – and don’t treat actors like they’re stupid. It’s insulting and embarrassing. The emperor has no clothes, dude.
What about those rules and regulation guidelines?
I didn’t write the law. I didn’t draft the CSA workshop guidelines. But I think they’re important. I’d like my profession to be recognized for the great work we do, not for taking a fee to attend workshops that may make cast our industry in an unfavorable light. I will spread those facts to my colleagues and to others who care and hopefully they’ll pay attention.
DaMota has more to say about the subject. Soon to be published: An Actor Grovels (Exposing the Casting Director Payola Scheme in Hollywood). Join him on Facebook or visit: http://donotpay.org/
Marina photographed by Ricardo Mamood-Vega
Billy photographed by Alan Weissman