Crime & Justice

LA City Attorney charges casting workshops for pay-to-play scam

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer speaks to the press during the inaugural National Prosecutorial Summit, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014 in Atlanta.
Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer speaks to the press during the inaugural National Prosecutorial Summit, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014 in Atlanta.
Branden Camp/AP

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Five actors’ workshops and more than two dozen casting professionals have been accused of participating in pay-to-play schemes that prey on aspiring performers.

The complaints announced Thursday by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office accuse The Actors Link, The Actor’s Key, Actors Alley, Casting Network and Studio Productions, and 18 casting directors and their associates and assistants of charging for auditions and failing to use contracts.

“As the entertainment capital of the world, Los Angeles continues to attract thousands of aspiring performers from across the world. Unfortunately, pay-to-play casting schemes often exploit their dreams, purely for profit,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a written statement. “My office will continue to crack down on those who would take advantage of performers desperate for work.”

The criminal prosecutions come after a year-long undercover investigation by the city attorney’s office and an exposé last March by The Hollywood Reporter. Feuer appeared today on The Frame to provide details about the charges:

A professional actor worked under our direction as an undercover informant. He attended at least 13 so-called casting workshops that were conducted by a number of separate businesses. He also consulted with representatives of these businesses and had discussions about increasing chances of getting cast by a director. Following that extensive undercover work by this informant, we had the results of that actor's work reviewed separately by an independent expert witness. Following that review we brought the charges that we've announced today.

Casting workshops in California must be for instructional purposes and must make it clear that they cannot guarantee employment, according to the city attorney’s office.

Reached by email, the Casting Network told KPCC each of the companies listed "met with the city attorney's office voluntarily in 2016 to show them our business practices and not once were we told we needed to change procedures to comply with laws."

"We also all comply with the guidelines set forth from the Casting Society of America regarding workshops," the company said.

The individuals charged face up to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine. They are scheduled to be arraigned by late March.

"The sad truth is actors will actually lose," The Casting Network said in its email. "Actors rely on workshops to learn about industry protocols that are not available to them elsewhere."

Two actors who said they had taken workshops through The Casting Network told KPCC they disagreed with the city attorney's decision to file charges against the company. Both said the workshops had helped their careers and they did not feel they were victims of a scam.

Ben Solenberger called the rules protecting actors "absurd."

"Just like any business, whether you're a politician or a brand name like Coca-Cola, you have the right to market to your consumers," Solenberger wrote in an email to KPCC. "And like these companies, I need to pay to advertise my product to the people who can buy that product. The product being me."

Brandon Morales said the charges against The Casting Network were part of a larger "perception problem" plaguing the entertainment industry.

"If you perceive [the workshops] as 'I'm marketing myself, my face, to professionals — I, Brandon Morales, am here' — [then] I'm being prepared," he said. "It's just a whole process of the business if you're perceiving it correctly."

KPCC has reached out to each of the other companies and several actors that work with them. We will update with any responses we receive.

This story has been updated.