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Hitting the spot; guerilla commercials

LETTER FROM L.A.: Suspense suspended; AOL says “You’ve got non-union work”; The Marked Marquee
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier

The suspense… suspends. Still no final word from the Labor Commission on the fate of the cold reading workshops. But now might be a good time to review the OTHER side of the issue – that is, leaving aside whether or not paying to meet people who control access to work should be illegal, taken on its own terms, does it WORK?

Billy Da Mota of did poll a number of actors before actively campaigning to ban these venues. Here’s what he found (and reiterated recently):


“what we found was that as far as success rates go,

  • about 1.6% of the actors who take workshops get work. Most of that work is in the form of supporting roles.
  • The percentage of casting assistants who do workshops is right around 90%. About one out of ten casting guests are the actual casting director.
  • three of LA's busiest casting companies UDK, Liberman-Patton and Junie Lowry Johnson have a combined total of about 20 employees (mostly assistants and associates) who do workshops. Only one of these employees is a principal.“


He goes on to say that the actual ‘pull’ of assistants varies. Some can call people in. Others are simply secretaries with no role in casting and frequently (in my experience) no knowledge of acting either. It’s worth noting that workshops have often reassured attendees that “today’s assistant is tomorrow’s casting director”, implying that a year or two from now you’ll be glad you met these people. But the same workshops are now opposing one proposed guideline which would prevent casting directors who teach from calling in any ‘students’ until a number of months has passed. So maybe it’s NOT so useful to meet someone who can’t call you in right away.

Overall it seems clear that the great majority of those who pay for these workshops in expectation of getting work aren’t. To be fair, a part of this simply reflects the casting process. Even with the (theoretically) pre-auditioned attendees of workshops, not all will get called in and not all who get called in will book. But it’s also been pointed out that as workshops evolved from an informal activity among actors to a big business, it’s become more and more necessary to ‘fill the slots’ (most places I know have two guests running a night, several nights a week.) Since real casting directors often won’t do these, assistants – with or without clout – have become a mainstay. Not to mention other guests, such as indie producers, directors and even actors who work a lot (but can’t call anybody in).

Which is to say, even if you accept that it’s reasonable for actors to pay for ‘access’ to those with clout, they may not always be getting what they pay for.

True confession: I use AOL. What’s more, I own stock in the company (a sure thing, I thought, when I bought it. Sigh.)

I am also a union actor.

Imagine my dismay then at learning that AOL has been casting for NON-UNION commercials:




If you are an AOL user (with a valid AOL username!!) and interested in being considered for this national commercial please call your agent- and ask about the AOL PROJECT.”


Are there union actors who are ‘real’ AOL users? See above. Enough to cast a union commercial using actual AOL users? One would think. Does AOL have enough money to pay union rates – and residuals?

Hm... Let’s wait until the latest financial news to answer that one.

If you see a lovely old movie theater out here with a fancy old marquee, it’s probably a bookstore. Or a bank. Some of these gorgeous relics are still in use as theaters (Westwood has several), but far more have surrendered before the March of the Multiplex. However, the Aero Theatre on Montana Street seemed magically protected from this wave, perhaps because the street itself has such an individual character. And the intimate Aero seems an integral part of its genteel arty tone. Now however comes word that “The Aero Theatre on Montana, which has been the local theatre for Westside since before WWII, may be forced to close its doors permanently unless we all do something about it.” This from an invite to a benefit screening of ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ to be catered by Wolfgang Puck.

Can a $20 showing and some gourmet food save this bit of local color? If only Frank Capra were directing….