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Casting Workshops Legal, but CA Labor Code Applies to All 'Talent Services'

City-of-los-angeles-logo-seal Earlier in the year Los Angeles Deputy City Attorney Mark Lambert (of the Consumer Protection Section) sent letters to casting directors and a number of "talent service" companies emphasizing the "new laws regulating the talent service industry (known as The Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act of 2009)," which includes detailed definitions addressing the talent services industry under California Labor Code 1702.

The law protects actors from a variety of scams and questionable business practices (including "pay to play" schemes), but there has been concern that some legitimate businesses and innocent casting directors will be adversely affected as well—and questions from actors about whether or not the law will prevent them from meeting casting directors as easily as in the past. 

So it's important to note that workshops are not illegal, although workshops do have to comply with the specifics of the law in order to stay legal. And calling a workshop by any other name does not prevent the business from being targeted by the attorney's office.

Although the attorney's letter notes that these "laws affect a broad range of businesses," the emphasis seems to be on "casting workshops," which has led to some confusion: Some casting directors and actors may now be avoiding casting workshops, having misunderstood them to be illegal; and some businesses are opting to call their workshops by other names (schools, classes, lessons, seminars, coaching, intensives, programs, showcases, sessions, networking groups, casting events, etc.).

When I contacted the L.A. City Attorney's Office to double-check this, Lambert confirmed, "It is irrelevant what a talent service calls itself." For instance, "A talent service does not escape scrutiny by referring to itself as a 'seminar' rather than a 'workshop'. The Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act defines talent training services as follows: Labor Code 1701(j): 'Talent training service' means a person who, for a fee from, or on behalf of, an artist, provides or offers to provide, or advertises or represents itself as providing, an artist, directly or by referral to another person, with lessons, coaching, seminars, workshops, or similar training as an artist." The phrase "similar training" is perhaps especially important, since it covers a wide range of similar services that might not be specifically mentioned in the labor code.

Thus, what actors and casting directors need to keep in mind is that the word "workshop" is not a warning sign of a scam. But the way a talent service advertises itself and conducts its business can push it into illegal territory.

To stay legal, all talent services (including workshops, classes, etc.) in California should remember the following:

  • A $50,000 bond must be filed with the California Labor Commission. (This is probably the biggest hurdle for small businesses).
  • Casting directors cannot accept headshots and resumes from actors at a workshop (or seminar, class, etc.). Even if part of the class involves having the casting directors review and offer feedback on actors' resumes, the resumes must be returned to the actors by the end of the class. However, actors can leave their contact info with the business, so casting directors can track them down later if desired.
  • Advertisements promoting a workshop (or class, seminar, related event, etc.) can list a casting director's current and past credits, but cannot state that a casting director is "currently casting for" a project (which could imply that actors attending the workshop will be considered for a role in said project). Nor can testimonials be used that imply that actors have ever been cast as a direct consequence of attending a class, workshop, etc.
  • Advertisements, websites, and other promotional materials must be very clear that the program/workshop/event/class is for educational purposes only and is not an opportunity to get cast, audition, be pre-screened for possible future auditions, be considered for employment, or interview for a job or role. It's strongly recommended that all advertisements and related materials include a clear disclaimer to this effect. CSA's recommended disclaimer language includes, "This workshop [or seminar, etc.] is a learning experience. It is not an audition or employment opportunity. When the workshop is over, the casting director [or associate or assistant] teaching this workshop will not be taking home nor be given access to your headshot, resume, or any of your other promotional materials."
  • The majority of the class (or workshop, seminar event, etc.) must be educational in nature, and not simply a showcase of actor monologues or readings from script sides. Although readings and monologues can be used for educational purposes, the focus of the class must be the educational component (feedback, critiques, examples, lecturing, lessons, curriculum, etc.) and cannot in any way imply that the actors are auditioning for possible future gigs.

Also, Lambert's letter notes, "An 'Advance Fee Talent Representation Service' is illegal. California Labor Code 1702 states: 'No person shall own, operate, act in the capacity of, advertise, solicit for, or knowingly refer a person to an advanced-fee representation service'." Including, any "individual, company, society, firm, partnership, association, corporation, limited liability company, trust, or other organization," requesting advanced fees for representation. In simpler terms: No person or business (including agents, agencies, managers, casting directors, schools, workshops, etc.) can charge upfront fees in exchange for representation or promises of work

Links & Resources:

* The L.A. City Attorney's Scam Prevention Letter Sent to "Talent Service" Companies - Updated May 3, 1020 (PDF)

* The L.A. Attorney's Letter to Casting Directors and Workshops - Updated April 21, 2010

* "Casting Director Workshop Guidelines 2010" - endorsed by CSA and the Teamsters (PDF)

* The Casting Society of America (CSA) Guidelines for CD Workshops, Updated May 2010 (PDF)

* The Actors Voice: "The CD Workshop Issue," by Bonnie Gillespie

* "But What About the Kids? A new California law aims to crack down on scam artists," by Daniel Holloway

* "Casting Workshop Crackdown: L.A.'s deputy city attorney targets violators of new law," by Daniel Holloway

* "L.A. cracks down on 'pay to audition' scams: City attorney sends warning letters to talent services,"  by Dave McNary

* BizParentz Foundation: "Advance Fee Talent / Krekorian Scam Prevention Act" 

* Be Free to Choose: "Mark Lambert's Letter to Casting Directors"

* Be Free to Choose: "Casting Society of America Casting Workshop Guidelines"

* "The Krekorian Scam Prevention Act," by Gary Ploski

* "Crackdown on the High Price of Fame," by Reva Hicks

* Playbills vs. Paying Bills: "Casting Director Workshops," by Ben Whitehair

* DoNotPay.org - An archive of articles about the "casting director payola scheme in Hollywood"; legal battles since 2001.

— Luke Crowe, National Casting Editor, Back Stage

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Check out DoNotPay.org for a history lesson on the workshop issue.

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