‘Star’ bid for actors plan is revamped

California law calls venture illegal, thesps to have sponsors bid online for their roles

Labor laws? What labor laws?

A well-intentioned gimmick to fill 27 positions in front of and behind the camera of an upcoming film through an Internet auction has backfired, causing original plans to be revamped.

It appears that the backers of the “Who Wants to Be a Movie Star?” project — the William Morris Agency, Blockbuster, Yahoo Auctions, MP3.com and DNA Studio — failed to consider California labor laws before launching the venture Tuesday at a Beverly Hills press conference.

Under the plan, Tony Markes (“Welcome to Hollywood”) is helming the yet-to-be-named project to be produced by Dan Haggis (“Grace of My Heart”) and scripted by Adam Rifkin (“Mouse Hunt”), once cast and crew are chosen via the Web.

But the California Labor Commission quickly pounced on the pic’s producers, saying that selling jobs to the highest bidder is illegal.

Section 450 of the California Labor code says it is a misdemeanor for any employer to “require the payment of a fee or consideration of any type from an application for employment.”

Basically, through Yahoo Auctions, aspiring actors were paying for speaking roles in the pic.

Yahoo Auctions began taking bids for five positions Tuesday, starting at 99¢. As of late Wednesday, bids for the fifth lead actor role had reached $5,000. An executive producer position was going for $1,070. Bidding ends by July 17.

Sponsors to bid

To appease the California Labor Commission and keep Yahoo Auctions as a partner, a revamped plan will no longer allow actors to bid for roles themselves, but have other individuals make bids for them, acting as sponsors.

Additionally, winning sponsors will be entitled to a credit in the pic and the right to select the final film participants.

The California Labor Commission approved the plan late Wednesday.

As with the original plan, actors who appear in the pic will still be paid as if they belonged to the Screen Actors Guild, whose minimum rate for speaking roles in a film with a budget of more than $2 million is $596 per day.

Producers said that fees collected through the auction will be used to further enhance pic’s budget. A budget of roughly $10 million has already been secured through the Motion Picture Bond Co. and other investors.

Blockbuster continues to hold video rights, and Cassian Elwes, William Morris’ head of indie film, is still seeking domestic and international film distribution.

“William Morris’ involvement in the ‘Who Wants to Be a Movie Star’ is limited to the sale of rights to the finished product,” the tenpercentery said in a statement Wednesday.

“The agency is working closely with the entities involved in this deal to ensure full compliance with California labor laws. We expect this matter to be resolved quickly to the satisfaction of the Labor commissioner and all the parties involved.”

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