I recently submitted for a commercial job through one of the many online resources, and while I was not invited to audition, I did receive an email from the casting director's assistant to "participate in a very special opportunity." This opportunity was the chance to pay $39 -- cash only at the door -- to meet with said CD on a particular date and time.
Now, I've been doing this for a long time, and I certainly do not knock the pay-to-play premise. I have, in fact, made many contacts this way. So I went. The assistant was sort of nice but overall just condescending. I couldn't help but feel bad for the teenage girl there with her mom who was getting bad business advice from the assistant. I met with the CD for about four minutes and read copy. We went over it a few times, and she gave me some good direction, but I mostly left $39 poorer and with a not-so-great feeling in my gut.
Fast-forward a few months ... My close friend just received the same "invitation" after inviting the same casting director to a show he's in. In his situation, they emailed everyone in the cast and said, "So-and-so couldn't make it but sent an assistant who saw some good work. Since we are so busy, we'd like to invite you to participate in a very special opportunity." The same $39 deal. I've reached out to my pool of actor friends and a few have paid to participate in this "special opportunity," but I have yet to hear any success stories. Is it just me, or do I have a right to feel as if this CD is preying on people who submit directly to them? And how fair is this? It's one thing to pay-to-play when the actor himself seeks it out, but when they seek you out, is it not giving the actor a false sense of interest in them specifically?
Yes, you have every right to feel preyed upon. You were. This shockingly transparent moneymaking racket is particularly shameful because, by directly contacting individual actors, this CD is obviously dangling the casting carrot.
But as I've said again and again in this column, these scams would decline if actors thought more of themselves than to participate in the illegal practice of paying for job interviews. I'm saddened by this widespread lack of self-esteem, because I love actors. I think we're pretty spectacular creatures -- a bit wacky perhaps, but spectacular nonetheless. I don't think we should ever pay just to meet someone, especially, as you note, when he or she solicits us, offering "very special opportunities" to part with our hard-earned cash in exchange for a tease.
I urge you to report this unethical tactic to SAG-AFTRA, CSA, and the Better Business Bureau. And spread the word among colleagues. Maybe in time, people will catch on and keep their $39 in their pockets. Rule of thumb: If they ask for money, they're not that into you.