There are many unscrupulous companies trying to take advantage of actors. Don’t believe it if it’s...too good to be true.
You’ve seen them: those ads stapled onto telephone poles and plastered all over the pages of those throwaway neighborhood newspapers. They promise the moon, the stars and a shot at the big time, but rarely deliver even a pinch of stardust. “Audition for Bob! casting director of the hit TV show…” “Read for Bill, superstar talent agent at…” “Jim, personal manager of top actors, such as Steve and Susan, will be looking for new talent…” For those struggling to get a break, these meetings may seem to be the way to get that long-sought meeting with the big guys, the chance to be seen by casting agents, to work with directors, to be spotted by managers and agents. Sadly, most of them turn out to be a waste of time and money, if not an outright scam calculated to separate you from your hard-earned money.
There are certainly many legit companies that offer a chance to meet and read for casting agents and directors in a classroom setting; but be aware that if any fee is charged for these sessions, your participation may be in violation of SAG-AFTRA Rule 11 or California Labor Laws.
SAG-AFTRA Rule 11
Section 11 of the SAG-AFTRA Rules and Regulations states, in part: It shall likewise be deemed conduct unbecoming a member for any member of the union, directly or indirectly, to give or offer to give any money, gift, gratuity or other thing of value to an employer, or prospective employer, to any officer, agent, representative or employee of such employer or prospective employer, or to any employment or casting agency representing an employer, or prospective employer, or to any of their officers, agents, representatives or employees as an inducement to secure employment. This rule shall not apply to prohibit the payment of lawful commissions to motion picture agents holding franchises from SAG-AFTRA.
If you are asked to pay a fee or give any form of compensation to audition for a casting director, producer, agent, manager, or anyone else that has any input into the hiring process, please contact Terri Becherer, Director, Background Actors at (323) 549-6809 to report the incident. This includes workshop-style situations where a casting director watches your scene or monologue, offers no meaningful critique or feedback, and is presented as someone looking for actors for “current and upcoming projects.” This becomes a paid audition, which is against SAG-AFTRA rules.
California State Labor Code prohibits employers or potential employers from demanding payment for employment opportunities; you should contact your state labor board to inquire whether they have similar laws. The Hollywood office has notified the California Labor Department about violations of this section, and Guild members should likewise not hesitate to contact their state or their SAG-AFTRA Local regarding violations. The more people that stand up and protest these practices, the more likely it is that action will be taken.
Now, there are certainly legitimate classes offered by casting directors and producers. The difference is that these classes are in fact ongoing, “traditional” acting classes, during which acting instruction is offered rather than being simply a one-time paid audition. California recently set guidelines for casting director workshops to distinguish the legit ones from those that, for a fee, offer only a vague hope of being remembered for some future role. California members can get a copy of the guidelines by contacting the California Labor Department, Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, Department of Industrial Relations.
Here are a few examples of what SAG-AFTRA considers to be paid auditions:
Don't Pay Reality Shows
- Reality shows have taken over the television airwaves and with them yet another twist on the This-Is-Your-Big-Break-If-You-Have-$50 theme. Typical of these new schemes is a company that faxed the Guild recently asking staff to contact our members to urge them to audition for a talent-search program geared towards actors. The come-on was that those chosen would be seen by millions, including, it would seem, casting directors, producers, agents, and managers. And all for a small fee that is refunded should the actor make it past the first cut. A good deal, right? When the Guild attempted to contact this company to clarify the set up, we did not get a response: no call, no email, and no letter. We can only conclude that this was an attempt to get money from actors—one that may have netted the company a hefty amount of money from those who sent in their application fee. Also, be aware that some of these reality shows are made under AFTRA contracts for which you may or may not have to become an AFTRA member. Check with the SAG-AFTRA membership department before accepting work.
Don't Pay Fees
- Another example of questionable practices are seemingly legit background casting companies that advertise for inclusion in a national database of pictures to be used in future projects that film in various parts of the country, generally where SAG has no background jurisdiction and where filming is rare. These companies charge a fee to be listed in their databank, and tell you that they will let you know when filming is coming to your area. SAG has been notified about such companies putting ads in papers in places like Montana and Virginia. Some of these companies will tell you that you must send in money to “hold your place” in the film. Some of these companies may even hold interviews and auditions for films, but you have to pay an up-front fee to register for the interview. One company recently solicited headshots from actors in Atlanta and Minneapolis – the pitch was that they were going to cast in both cities for a Hollywood film. For a $25 fee, actors were given an appointment date and time to try out for the movie. Problem was that the Atlanta auditions were canceled and the Minneapolis auditions turned out to be a total sham. Those who went not only did not get seen for a part, but they lost $25. Again, some of these are in fact legitimate auditions for films, but it is always a good idea to contact your local SAG office to find out.
Don't Pay Producers
- Every so often we hear of a producer that offers a role in a film to anyone who will contribute money towards the financing, anywhere from the starring role if you finance the whole thing to bit parts for those who do not have lots to give. If you see ads for such projects, please contact Gavin Troster of the Hollywood office at 323/549-6809 to report such a practice.
Don't Pay Casting Agencies
- We all know that casting online is the wave of the future. Pictures and resumes posted on-line. Casting submissions entered with a keystroke. Resumes revised with just a few clicks. No more messengers. No more cutting and stapling. No more running all over town. Can’t be bad, can it? Well, actually, yes it can. Certain casting agencies are charging agents, managers or talent fees to post headshots and resumes online. Or worse yet, they are charging for every revision to a resume or photo. Some even go so far as to electively make their services available to a selective group, thus limiting performers’ access to casting sessions. Screen Actors Guild is fully aware of these abusive trends and is taking action with state labor commissions to examine these business practices. However, changes take time. In the meantime, be very careful about illegal fee practices. Know all the facts before parting with your money.
If you have any questions regarding the legitimacy of workshops or auditions, contact your SAG-AFTRA Local or Terri Becherer, Director, Background Actors at (323) 549-6809.