Fees Please, Ad Mad

The subject of whether actors ought to attend paid casting-director workshops remains a heated and highly controversial one. Not surprisingly, The Working Actor received a variety of responses to my recent column titled "Fees to Meet You" (June 11), in which I agreed with J.M. that in many cases actors should "stay away from those things." Here's what other folks had to say.

Dear Michael:

I am so surprised at you! I found it utterly offensive to read the complaint by this so-called actor. Gone are the days when you can just mail everything off and hope that representation or a CD falls into your lap. I'd like to recommend a book, One Less Bitter Actor by Markus Flanagan. Maybe it can give J.M. a sense of clarity.

Let's look at the facts: We already pay for headshots, transportation, postage, etc. Paying to attend CD workshops is part of the game now. I've been in New York for 13 months, and TVI Actors Studio, Actors Connection, and the Network have definitely bolstered my career. CDs and agents have to have a vested interest to bring you in.

What you should have told J.M. is: Go hard or go home, and stop whining! This is show business in the 21st century, and I did say show business, didn't I? These industry types have to meet you and get a feel for your personality. I got my manager through a showcase at Actors Connection, a one-shot deal I gladly paid about $200 for, and my management team works hard for me. My manager introduced me to an agent from a top-tier New York agency, and I now freelance with that agency. I was also cast in my first feature film because a CD was looking through Actors Connection's files and brought me in to read. It was the best money I ever spent in my life.

I'd like to tell J.M., get your business savvy up! Deal with these realities, and if you can't, you're in the wrong business. I also monitor for the Network and have a blast doing it. I meet network types, agents, and CDs all the time. This, I dare say, is necessary, and not evil. At the end of the day, it's all about networking. I think a bigger problem is the rampant nepotism in the business. Having to pay $25–$200 for an intensive or a seminar should be the least of J.M.'s worries.

It's untrue that those industry types have a low opinion of actors who pay to be seen. If that were the case, I wouldn't be signed exclusively with my manager. Talent and drive is why I have been successful thus far. It is not a racket. If you get signed or freelance, these same people work for you for free until you book a job. That's the poetic justice. Enough said.

TLO, New York

Dear TLO:

Thanks for sharing your take on things. I'm always shocked by the enthusiasm and passion with which actors defend their right to pay for meetings and interviews, but I recognize that yours is a popular view and therefore well worth sharing in print. I'm glad for all your exciting success.

But once again—and this seems to need frequent repetition—the question isn't whether these pay-to-meet situations can lead to positive results. It's whether they're legal or ethical and, if not, whether we ought to contribute to their continuance. This is, of course, an individual choice, and like you, many people aren't troubled by the ethics or legalities. And as long as actors are comfortable paying agents and casting directors for interviews, the practice will continue to thrive. So, not to worry. You'll be able to continue bolstering your career this way.

Dear Michael:

I am a Back Stage reader and have been an actress for some time. The letter you received regarding casting workshops was very profound, and I am in full agreement with J.M. Your response was fair and honest, saying that actors do get taken, though a few casting directors are good teachers and really care. I never go to these workshops, even though here in Los Angeles they seem very popular. When actors talk to me about them, they're always hopeful of getting a job. When I say otherwise, they get very defensive and say, "Well, it was in Back Stage. It must be legit."

Which leads me to the reason I'm writing. Why does Back Stage advertise these workshops in the first place when you know that for the most part they're just bilking actors? It seems a little hypocritical, don't you think? After all, Back Stage is sending a message to actors new and old that these workshops have value, and that's the wrong message to send, and actors continue to get ripped off. Very sad.

CN, Los Angeles

Dear CN:

As with most things, there's more to this than you might think. I forwarded your question to National Editor-in-Chief Jamie Painter Young. Here's her response:

"Back Stage's editorial department does not endorse the advertisements that run in our publication. However, Back Stage does try to run display advertisements and casting notices from legitimate companies, and should we receive a valid complaint pertaining to an advertiser, Back Stage takes proper measures to respond. When appropriate, Back Stage will pull an ad or casting notice should supporting evidence lead us to that conclusion.

"However, on the subject of casting director workshops, there are numerous workshops that are considered legitimate and that many actors find value in participating in. The larger issue of whether casting directors should be charging actors for such workshops and whether actors should financially support this business is one that is an ongoing debate. Should an actor choose to pay to attend a CD workshop, that is his or her personal decision. Back Stage recommends that, when possible, the actor research the casting director or company presenting the workshop in question and that the best way to find out about legitimate workshops is by referral from fellow actors."

Besides being our official policy, it's one with which I agree. The publication does its best to weed out proven scams and such, but casting director workshops don't fall into that category. Not by a long shot. With some being legitimately educational, some being strictly pay-to-meet, and so much debate over the whole issue, rejecting all CD workshop advertising would be unfair and improper. So, as the saying goes, "Let the buyer beware."