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Monday, May 1, 2017

The Pay to Play Scandal with some Casting Director Workshops in Los Angeles

After an investigation begun last year, the Los Angeles city attorney says that five workshop companies and 25 individuals are facing criminal charges for an illegal pay-to-play audition scheme.

The Los Angeles city attorney cracked down on Hollywood's pay-to-play casting workshop scene on Thursday, announcing cases against five prominent casting firms and 25 individuals allegedly involved in schemes that violate the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act, a rarely enforced state labor law.
City Attorney Mike Feuer's ongoing undercover investigation became public in July 2016 after the Casting Society of America told its members in an email that colleagues had been contacted about their participation in workshops.
"I want to underscore what the rules are," Feuer said Thursday morning at a press conference announcing the new criminal charges. "It's unlawful to charge any performer for an audition, even if that supposed activity is disguised as a workshop."
He continued: "I'm here to announce the results of an investigation that began last year into alleged scams. Today we filed charges. I hope the filing of these charges against five casting agencies, these so-called casting workshops and against a number of individuals — more than two dozen altogether — will send notice that any talent scam will aggressively be pursued by this office. And as a result, this will cease. I will name them. Each defendant could face jail time and significant penalties."
Feuer added: "Aspiring performers who pursue their dreams should be treated with respect and never be exploited for profit."
Also at the podium at the press conference was Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, general counsel for SAG-AFTRA. "On behalf of the members of SAG-AFTRA, we're extraordinarily pleased with the action that was taken to handle this problem," he said. "These workshops prey on the hopes and dreams of people that want to work in this industry. No one is more committed to addressing this problem than this office and Mike Feuer. Our members and our future members are the people who are victims of these scams. It's essential to take action. These people's dreams were taken advantage of. These are not people of means. These are people barely getting by. So just to be considered for a job, it's a real abuse."
Feuer offered new details of how the investigation transpired. To uncover the alleged pay-to-play schemes, the city attorney's office used an undercover professional actor, who attended 13 casting workshops. "This investigation was conducted very thoroughly," Feuer said. "It was conducted by an investigator who was actually an undercover informant for this office. This informant attended 13 workshops by five companies. The results were then verified by an independent expert."
The prominent casting workshop companies — Actors' Ally, The Actors Link, The Actor's Key, Your Studio Productions and The Casting Network — were named. (The Actors Link is now known as Ace Studios.) The owners and operators of each of these businesses were charged, as were casting associates who work with them.
When reached by The Hollywood Reporter after the press conference, Richard Hicks, president of the Casting Society of America, offered the following statement: "The CSA fully supports the work of the city attorney's office. Along with SAG-AFTRA, CSA stands in support of treating actors with dignity and respect, and those CSA members who teach should do so only with workshop companies which are fully compliant with both the workshop guidelines and the Krekorian Act. CSA members who teach workshops are expected to adhere to the workshop guidelines and the Krekorian Act. Members who are found to be noncompliant will have their membership status reviewed. CSA has been proactive on this issue, including holding a town hall meeting last year to which it invited all of its members to learn about the guidelines and the law, as well as providing the resources and tools for their operation and management."
The action comes 10 months after THR first brought renewed attention to the pervasive and persistent if previously neglected issue. (While exchanging money for the prospect of employment is illegal in California, there had been no prosecutions against workshops under Krekorian since it was enacted in 2009.)
In the ensuing tumult, one prominent practitioner left his post on CBS' Criminal Minds the day after THR's investigation was published, then later closed his own workshop business; a longtime Vampire Diaries casting director canceled his classes under scrutiny; and the CSA itself set up a blue-ribbon panel to self-scrutinize. By this past September, Will Stewart, who most recently booked parts for Scandal, had sworn off the practice, claiming, "Workshops are dying."
Indeed, a statistical comparison by THR between the same monthlong period at the beginning of 2016 and 2017 found a 46 percent year-over-year drop-off, according to a tally of the total number of offerings enumerated on listings service (Still, that leaves 211 classes.)
The CSA has registered continuing concern about rife noncompliance with its own stringent workshop guidelines, sending an email to its members on Monday (obtained by THR) that reminds them to "provide their own specific lesson plan and not rely on a 'one size fits all' lesson plan provided by the workshop studio." It also enumerated other problems, including advertising that "appears misleading about our members' credits" and the omission of the required disclaimer reminding attendees that this "is not an audition or employment opportunity."

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Checklist by Milton Katselas


What follows here is referred to by the students in class as "The Checklist".  It has evolved over my years of teaching as a series of tools any actor can use to help approach their work on a scene. A very successful actress who has been a student of mine for a long time insists she uses this checklist on every gig she gets.  It is not strictly necessary to dwell upon the entire checklist every time you work--any one of the tools may be the one that unlocks a scene for you.
--Milton Katselas, Acting Class,Take a Seat

1. What is the event?
What's going on in this scene? Not the theme. Just what's going on. Have I experienced anything like that? Yeah. And how did I behave? Some ideas there. Okay.

2. Evaluation
Am I on fire? Are the choices hot enough, alive? This scene is loaded. The stakes are high. Am I ready for that, or do I need to assume the position? Okay.

3. Behavior
What am I doing physically in this scene? I can't allow myself just to sit here and say lines. What else can I do to be more alive? Push-ups? Clean the room? Put on makeup? Okay.

4. Physical/Emotional State
Am I drunk? Enough? Do I feel sexy? Am I drugged, in pain? Or am I supposed to be feeling great? Just had good food, feeling exhilarated? Am I really nailing this? And is the state consistent throughout the scene? Is it cold the entire time? Or do I warm up during the scene? How do my emotions vary in the scene? I've got to figure that out specifically. Okay.

5. What happened before the scene?
Did I just finish the New York Marathon? Did I just get fired? Is it raining outside? So am I wet? Out of breath from the stairs? And how does that change now that the scene has begun? Am I tracking that clearly and logically? Okay.

6. Creative Hiding
Can I play part of the scene into the tablecloth? Weep into it? Play with my hat as I woo her? Or play the sunset instead of her eyes? Can I be freer through fiddling with the scarf? Okay.

7. Be a person
Am I like an actor on a stage or am I like a person? My character is a person. Is my behavior coming from the real life of the character? Am I just trying to be emotional, or am I a person trying to control their emotions, as on the six-o'clock news? Okay.

8. Inner and Outer Life "The Cover"
Play the clown for her and pretend the pain inside is nothing? Or play the pain more and less charm? Get more personal and specific with inner turmoil? I know I'll lose her-- feel that? Or play more the social, easy behavior and attitude and let the inner pop out later, surprise myself and them? I need to ensure I'm not "playing the cover" without anything cooking underneath. Okay.

9. Who's the author?
Who wrote this? Woody Allen? Bertolt Brecht? Tennesse Williams? What is this author after? What is his or her specific point of view on life? What is her style? What is his sense of humor? What other works are there by the author? Have I read them for clues? Okay.

10. Improvisation
I'll pretend I'm going to marry Ophelia, and we'll improvise my proposal and see where that takes us. Shakespeare's language is tough-- let me say it in my own words for a while, then get back to the Bard. Let's improvise the first night of our honeymoon, see what that does for the scene. Or just be silent for a while, let hte scene be within us. Loose and easy, don't push for the scene. Okay.

11. Humor
Am I using humor? People use humor all the time to deal with hardship-- am I doing that? Is it too much to suddenly act lIke Noel Coward, as Brando did at the end of Last Tango in Paris? Cover that pain with a put-on, humorous. English accent? Joking with her? Yeah, that can work. All the great performances have humor, they have charm, they have irony. Okay.

12. Trust
So I believe in my choices? Am I having fun? Am I confident in what I'm doing? I know it will be there, I will make it be there. I've got my choices. I understand this guy. Let's go. Okay.

13. Being Personal
Am I personally involved in this scene? Am I telling the right story? Being personal doesn't mean I decide the character is from my hometown. This needs to cost me something: My emotional involvement.

14. Pathology
How sick is this character? How compulsive? Am I giving in to the violence? I have some seed of this in my life. Use it. Expand on it. Remember, he will do anything to possess her. Okay.

15. Objectives
The character wants to be king, don't deny it. Do I want it enough? I know what it means to want something. Go for it. Remember, at any cost, he wants to seduce her, so am I doing all I can to get her? Caution is not my friend. Okay.

16. Specifics
Is this my Hamlet, personal and specific? Do I have the father? Is he real to me? The image of my mother in bed with my uncle-- do I have that? It's late at night. Do I have the specific feeling of late at night; not tired, but hyper? The choice of Hamlet's angry explosion, do I have that nailed? Really? Okay.

17. Use of Objects
Am I using physical objects to connect myself with this environment? Maybe some of my own personal objects will make me more comfortable. Or how about one that has more emotional value for me? Yeah, let me use one of those. Any inner objects I can think of that will help me connect with moments in the scene? Okay.

18. Arbitrary Choices
Kazan says, "Character is revealed through contradiction." What inner struggle is my character going through that might be revealed through an arbitrary choice? Some kind of illogical choice that actually fits the truth of this guy? Okay.

19. Moment to Moment: Belief
Can this scene be tracked? Am I responding to things moment to moment? Am I really listening, taking the time to respond as a person would? Am I discovering each moment as it happens? The more I experience, the more I'll believe, and the more I believe, the more I'll experience. Okay.

20. Moment to Moment: Alternatives
The script says my character leaves his wife. But have I explored the opposite? That he stays? Maybe he tries to stay, but at the last second he can't. Real people go through tough decision making before choosing the way to go. So as an actor, I need to go through that process, even though the final action has been determined by the author. I have to participate in the process. That needs to be part of my performance. Okay.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Growing up with coach Susan Batson

The acting coach who played the most significant role in my life is Susan Batson. I began working with her in 1979, I was 14 years old. I used to take the bus or the subway from Hell’s Kitchen to the Upper West Side. She lived in an apartment with two floors, the door opened onto the top floor, which was very small, had a kitchenette, wood floor and a spiral staircase that went to where the bedrooms were. Her son Carl was down there from time to time and on occasion would poke his head up from somewhere on the spiral stairs, asking Susan for something.

I did not know Susan’s story, but I knew that she worked very hard and I felt that if I wanted to work with her I needed to match her or try. This meant black coffee was always on the small stove. She smoked then, one cigarette after another. I think one thing she responded to was that I spoke with gut-level honesty. We drank black coffee and worked for hours.

I was a working actor by 14, a member of SAG, AFTRA and EQUITY. I brought audition after audition to Susan and we broke them down. I learned how to break down a script into beats and actions from Susan. Her script technique was largely influenced by Harold Clurman, whom she had worked with. Once we broke down the material, I got on my feet in that small space and dove in. Then she gave me adjustments. She was selfless with her time, she gave me whatever I needed, and then she refused to charge me a penny. She was known back then for giving away her time, and it would take her many years to change; today, a one hour session with Susan is over $500.  But as a teenager I decided never to leave without atleast giving her something and the most immediate need she had. I would go to 72nd Street and buy her a carton of cigarettes, return to her door and place them in her hand. Years later I would pay her back in a more significant and long lasting way.

While I attended the High School of Performing Arts on 46th Street, I returned to Susan’s apartment again and again to work on jobs that I booked, auditions that I hoped to book and to grow and evolve as an actor.  We had a shorthand way of working and we went deeper and deeper into the work. She held classes off and on. I remember once she gave me a scene from American Buffalo and the other actors in the class were all older than I was, they started tearing at me, they felt I didn’t have the junkie “in.” Susan stopped their attack and she started to speak to them about how to give notes. She talked about my age, about the gut-level commitment I was bringing and told them to appreciate what they were seeing. She knew that I came from a difficult childhood and that acting was saving me, keeping me afloat and giving me hope. She asked me questions about my choices and we discussed where I needed to go.

It was also at 16 that I got a call from Susan asking me if I could step into a Huck Finn scene with an actress who was auditioning for the Actors Studio in a week. I remember our first rehearsal was on a Sunday night in the main space at the Studio and no one else was there. It was my first time in there and it was the perfect setting. I looked around and vowed to myself to return. 

Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Charles "Chuck" Gordon asked me if I wanted to stage manage a play he had written and would direct. Susan Batson was starring in it. We rehearsed in a space above the Police Department on 54th Street and 9th Avenue. I decided to tape record every rehearsal so I had capture everything Chuck said. He liked to talk and his talks were profound. We spent weeks in rehearsal. I watched Susan start to create her character, working from sensation and erupting in a version of a Louis Armstrong playing his trumpet, but from the soul. The entire rehearsal process was like a workshop for me, and in fact, that is all that it was, because the work ended when rehearsals ended. I do not remember why, but I believe it had to do with Chuck. But watching Susan work the process of character creation has never left me. 

At 17 I got an audition for the Broadway production of John Pielmier’s play, “The Boys of Winter.” I arrived at Susan’s early. I was in full Vietnam era military uniform with weighted backpack. There was a great Army/ Navy shop on 42nd Street off 9th Avenue. I walked everywhere and was hot and my uniform was sweaty by the time I got to Susan’s. She opened the door and immediately accepted my clothes, my state of mind and my world. I was in character and she knew how to work with me. Strangers would stare or glare at me. Susan automatically knew. She always knew.

At twenty I auditioned for the Studio and was accepted. A french documentary was filming me and the only other actor accepted that year- Burt Young. Being a member of the Studio allows me a place to work and to watch others work. 

When I was 23 I was in Los Angeles and I got a job on a show called “thirtysomething.” Susan was in New York. There was no internet. I would FEDEX my pages to her and we would work by phone. She broke everything down for me and gave me strong choices. When the first episode aired, my character made a splash. The Network offered me more episodes and later offered me another show to star in.

Susan taught me history. She never gave a lecture about it, she didn’t have to. Susan was and is history, and she is more relevant today than ever.  As an actress she had first worked with Uta Hagen, then Harold Clurman, then her time as an actress working at the Actors Studio with Lee Strasberg, and then he had her teach for him. The magic stardust of her work followed her when she entered a room. You could sense it, practically see it.

Susan taught me professionalism and a work ethic. The work came first. Serve the work. If you are feeling something, make it available to the work. You have a life problem, make it available to the character. You don’t make it all about you, you always make it about the work. Give it to the work. Anything I told Susan was for her to help me use in my work. It would have been a sign of amateurism to insist that I was most important and that my complaints or issues were the point of what we were doing.
Instead it was like my instrument was a garden and by making all I had available to the work, something could and would grow from there.

Somewhere along the line, she quit smoking. I had already been paying her real money for years by then. What frustrated me most was that it seemed no one knew about Susan. Now, she had worked with Lily Tomlin for years, and loads of New York actors as well. But I wanted Susan to be known as the genius she is. Until that could happen, she was the best kept secret. There was nothing I could do on my own to assist in that way. The time wasn’t right.

When I was 30, I got a call from my manager. I was living in L.A. and my manager was also managing Nicole Kidman. My manager said Nicole and her then-husband Tom Cruise were looking for a “real” acting coach. They were going to make a film with Stanley Kubrick.

My manager said he didn’t know any coaches and he needed the real deal asap.  I knew that Susan would be shocked by getting a call from Nicole. I knew that Nicole would have her mind blown to meet and work with Susan. 

Susan went to London with Nicole and Tom. To this day Nicole and Susan work together on every project Nicole has. Susan started working with Juliet Binoche and more and more celebrities- Oprah, Chris Rock, Common, Zac Ephron, Kim Kardashian, Naomi Campbell, Sean Combs and more.

The universe had come together and all at once I had been in the right place to give back to Susan- she is no longer a secret. Susan and Carl have worked so very hard to build what they have: their studio and their brand. Susan is one of the greatest acting coaches alive.

 There was a time when I was in L.A., teaching for Susan and she came out there. I used to pick her up every morning in my brother’s little 4 cylinder manual shift Nissan pickup. We would drive from where Sunset starts in Santa Monica and take it all to way to Hollywood. Each morning I would ask her acting questions, I rarely had the chance anymore to simply ask acting questions and I filled our time this way. What did she think about this, what did she think about that. There we were, the same two that started in 1979 working and talking, we were older now, but it was us again. I loved that time.

Once I saw another teacher take a class from Susan and then teach her technique in his studio and he called it his. I was furious. I was about to contact him when Susan said to me, “This art is infinite. There is room for him and for all of us in this art.”  She wasn’t petty, she was focused on serving the work. She continues to teach me lessons. And Carl, her son has helped me through so much, always in the art. Carl is a master teacher and he has always felt like a brother to me.

I did a scene at the Studio in L.A.  Martin Landau and Mark Rydell were moderating. The scene before ours had gone terribly wrong. I was outside the door, so I didn't see it. But you could hear that something was wrong. By the time we were allowed in to set up, we got ready and let her rip. The Studio suddenly filled up, the floor was full of actors ready to watch. There was little room to move and I knew I would have to deal with them on my exit out the front door. Our scene ignited and we lived the relationship and the world of the playwright, it was a great feeling. Afterwards, Martin Landau said "This is the kind of work we should be seeing at the Studio." 
It meant a great deal to me. The culture of the Studio is something I learned how to take part in primarily because of Susan's teachings. She continues to offer these teachings and she is at the top of her game. 

If you get to work with Susan or Carl, you will never forget it. It's been 38 years since I first got the chance. 

Carl Ford and Susan Batson