Public hearing held on law, auditions, fees

HOLLYWOOD — Moving toward resolving the dispute over casting directors accepting fees to see actors, California Labor Commissioner Arthur Lujan conducted a public hearing Tuesday on the hot-button issue.

Attended by more than 100 industryites, workshop operators and casting directors continued to grouse over government intrusion into what they contend offers value in such areas as demystifying the audition process and networking.

The Casting Society of America and the Los Angeles Actors Workshop Coalition proposed guidelines that included the explicit requirement that participants be notified that workshops do not represent a guarantee of employment and the assertion that the workshops do not represent an audition as defined by the Screen Actors Guild.

“Casting directors do not wish to take advantage of actors,” asserted Gary Zuckerbrod, prexy of the Casting Society of America.

But advocates of strict state enforcement alleged the proposals do not go far enough and would allow the workshops to remain in violation of the law. “The proposals are a blueprint for continued abuse no matter what other benefits they offer,” asserted casting director Billy DaMota, who founded and operates the Web site donotpay.org to publicize the pay-to-audition issue.

Regulators stunned the industry six months ago by asserting the “pay-to-audition” practice was in violation of state law banning payment in exchange for applying for employment. The state then issued cease-and-desist orders to more than a dozen Los Angeles workshop operators.

The volatile all-day event, held at state offices in suburban Van Nuys, was the latest step by the state’s top labor official in deciding whether to allow continued operation of the controversial “cold-reading” casting workshops.

San Diego-based thesp Jay Pearson told the hearing that the workshops make it possible for him to further his career while living outside Los Angeles. “I’m very thankful that this opportunity exists,” he added.

“They are an outstanding venue for learning the business,” asserted veteran casting director Eddie Foy. “Do not take this away from actors.”

DaMota also insisted that hundreds of casting directors, coordinators and associates have accepted workshop fees in exchange for conducting auditions in recent years. His appearance provoked hisses and heckling from workshop operators despite Lujan’s calls for courteous behavior.

Looking for middle ground

Execs repping SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists noted that SAG’s national exec committee and AFTRA’s Los Angeles local board have endorsed Lujan’s efforts to seek compliance with the law. SAG assistant general counsel Vicki Shapiro acknowledged that SAG members hold wildly varied opinions on the issue and expressed hope that Lujan can find a “middle ground.”

Jean Frost, director of AFTRA’s agency department in Los Angeles, suggested that Lujan institute a 30- to 90-day period in which casting directors would not be allowed to hire a thesp who had attended a workshop with that c.d. But Zuckerbrod asserted there is no conflict of interest in those directors making such hires immediately.

Lujan opened the hearing by asserting his office was exploring the possibility of new guidelines that would allow the workshops to remain open while still complying with state law. He indicated the department would issue a ruling following a 10-day public comment period but gave no timetable.

The hearing also was attended by Thomas Kerrigan, regional attorney with the Dept. of Labor’s standards enforcement division, and Anne Stason, acting chief counsel of the division. Kerrigan had indicated previously that there are no plans to change the state law.

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