L.A. warns casting companies on fees

Authorities send cease-and-desist letters

Los Angeles authorities are warning the city’s largest background-casting companies to stop charging actors to apply for work as extras, a violation of California labor law.

City Attorney Carmen A. Trutanich has fired off cease-and-desist letters to 14 casting companies, including Entertainment Partners, which owns Central Casting, the largest such outfit in L.A. The letter cites Central Casting’s $25 fee for photographic/electronic image processing.

California prohibits talent companies from charging actors to apply for work.

Ron Cogan, VP of marketing and communications with Entertainment Partners, told Variety that the fee is optional and required only when applicants choose to take photos at Central’s office. He said he had not seen the city’s letter and could not comment further.

Mark Lambert, deputy attorney in Trutanich’s office, said the results of a private investigation have determined otherwise, and that the practice of charging illegal fees is widespread.

“We’re hoping to achieve industrywide compliance,” Lambert told Variety, explaining that the threat of being blackballed may keep some would-be thesps from filing complaints.

Terri Becherer, director of the Screen Actors Guild background actors department, added that a shrunken job market has seen more people signing up for fewer openings.

“We find it particularly egregious for background actors to be charged fees to even have access to employment,” Becherer told Variety. “They are certainly the lowest-paid people on the movie set, and they are particularly vulnerable.”

Becherer described the 14 companies contacted as the “most active” background casting agencies in Los Angeles. If found in further violation, the companies could be subject to as much as $10,000 in fines and up to one year in jail per offense.

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