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Oral sex, lies and videotape (Jack Turnbull's Exchange Rate)

LETTER FROM L.A.: Oral sex, lies and videotape

copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier

   Is the choice between workshops and oral sex?

   If you find something a little distasteful in even suggesting such a thing, read this opening to a letter from a workshop owner:

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20/20 Story
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A few years ago, a young actress was in a play at a theater and invited several casting directors to come to her play. One casting director came and acted quite interested in her and said he would help her get an agent if she gave him oral sex in his car in the parking lot. He called it an "industry referral".

 

   The letter then goes on to say that the… uh.. transaction proceeded as agreed. Then:

 

Fast-forward to today, where that same young actress can attend a paid workshop with the agent directly, and for a small fee, can learn what it takes to succeed in Hollywood, and can perform a scene and receive helpful direction.

 

   If you’re wondering if this is really going where it looks like it’s going, yep. The second activity is presented as a direct replacement for the first:

 

She can do this willingly and without violating her own moral codes. Yes, she pays a fee. But isn't oral sex also a "fee".

 

   And those who would criticize paid workshops as a way to make industry connections? Well, they’re just forcing actors (presumably of either sex) to go back to Method #1:

 

It appears that Brian Ross of the ABC show 20/20 wants to take away that young actresses right to attend workshops for a reasonable fee. Instead, he wants to deny her those rights and go back to the desperate days of the "casting couch".

 

   At this point, you might really be scratching your head. ABC? 20/20? Which would mean you missed the broadcast (11/8/02) in which that newsmagazine did a piece on Billy DaMota’s campaign against paid workshops in California. From the perspective of workshop owners like Jack Turnbull of Actorsite (the author of this letter), this could hardly have been worse. Not only did it take the issue public nationally, it was framed with the full panoply of an undercover expose: hidden cameras, shots of silhouettes through windows, a ‘gotcha’ moment. Workshop employees were seen counting piles of money and urging the undercover producer to buy multiple sesssions. A casting assistant boasted to her ‘students’ of all the people she’d called in from workshops for Once and Again. And it didn’t help that Jeff Greenberg, the CD for “Frasier”, refused to talk to 20/20 after undercover footage showed him teaching a course for which (per DaMota) actors are charged a premium.

   In a word, it made the workshops in the piece (including Turnbull’s own Actorsite) look sleazy. Never mind that it also blew away claims by the workshops’ spokesman that these were ‘educational’ experiences – even the actors shown defending the practice talked of how workshops gave them access to work. The overall impression was so damaging that the specifics almost didn’t matter.

 

Brian Ross personally supervised this 20/20 story (Friday, Nov 8) with what appears to be the intention of putting the workshops, which have helped so many actors in Hollywood, out of business. He made the businesses, which have helped and empowered so many actors in Hollywood, appear to be unethical and dishonest. The ones he investigated are not dishonest or unethical.

 

   Is the last statement true? While I’d agree that some judicious editing and commentary probably darkened the picture here, is it ‘honest’ to claim that your services are primarily educational while continuing to emphasize how many people get hired through them? The fact is that, until the state’s intervention this year, the word ‘education’ hardly ever appeared in workshop promotions, which focussed almost exclusively on the ‘networking’ they offered. Even now, a place like Reel Pros (prominently featured in the piece) posts ‘success stories’ on its Web site.

   Still, though Jack Turnbull is a member of the Los Angeles Actors Workshop Coalition (http://www.laawc.com/), he should probably not be considered a ‘typical’ workshop owner. Case in point: when Phil Brock, a manager, mildly supported DaMota’s movement, Turnbull sent out word that he was DEAD. (Brock’s lawyers immediately repsonded and a settlement was reached.)

So, typical? Hardly. But it’s hard to deny he’s got a gift for… oral expression?.