Tuesday, April 2, 2013

SELLING AUDITIONS: IS NOTHING SACRED?!



UPDATE 2:30 pm PST April 2:

As of 2:30pm PST we have word that the Casting Directors have taken the audition tapes off the auction block and instead are donating them to The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. You can read the story first reported on Back Stage Magazine here. This addresses the "for profit" issues on these tapes, but donating them to the Academy still doesn't address the privacy issues of these auditions. 

The Daily Variety article quotes SAG-AFTRA as saying “Auditions are not public performances, and under SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements performers are entitled to expect them to remain private,” said SAG-AFTRA General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. "Our collective bargaining agreements include protections for performers against exploitation of audition and interview tapes, which must be erased upon performers’ request. Failure to comply with such a request will result in formal legal action pursuant to the agreements. Unauthorized use of audition and interview footage may also result in claims against producers and casting directors under right of publicity and/or privacy laws.”   

I'll say again: these audition tapes were not meant for public consumption or scrutiny by people outside of the production. Period.

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The casting community has been swirling with outrage the last few days over the news that two of our own are auctioning off several lots of audition tapes they've made through the years in Los Angeles on April 4th. Here's the story.

Personally, I think the audition space is a sacred place and should be treated as such. When an actor comes in to audition, there's an implicit agreement that the work they do in an audition is a work-in-progress and is only meant to be seen by those directly involved on the production in a contextual manner. It is not, and has never been, meant for mass consumption, sale, or distribution for profit. I have been asked countless times for audition footage - I'd never do it - and believe me I've got some doozies! I can only hope, and depend, that actors who come in to audition for me trust my discretion to not sell these work sessions.

I've spent the last few days alternately nauseated and enraged by this. Talks on Facebook within our casting community largely echoed sentiments of disgust and most were appalled. There were a few, however, who felt that by exposing these audition tapes to the public it had educational value and shows the public what we, as Casting Directors, really do. I agree with the "teaching moments" - just wish it had been approved by all concerned and if there's profit to be made...then everyone deserves a piece of that pie.

Casting Director Matthew Lessall suggested that tapes like these should be archived and exhibited in a museum environment. I love this idea! Again, let's get everyone involved to sign-off first and if there's profit to be made everyone should share in it.
  
My contracts say that all work (including lists, videos, everything emanating from my office) belongs to the production and/or studio. Since this is all older footage they seem to be selling, perhaps the contracts didn't have that clause in it yet? One can only hope.

Back Stage Magazine wrote a piece last night about this. The President of the Casting Society of America, Richard Hicks gave this statement:
"Richard Hicks, president of the Casting Society of America, condemned the auction in a written statement to Backstage, saying the organization “does not condone in any way” the sale or distribution of audition videos. “Actors who audition for the projects on which we work should have the reasonable expectation that their creative efforts during the audition process are treated with respect and used only for their intended purpose,” Hicks wrote. “Legal and rights issues aside, there is an ethical understanding among casting professionals that actors' auditions are private.” He added that CSA “has always promoted and expected the highest of ethical standards of our members and will continue to do so.” Jenkins and Hirshenson are both CSA members."

Many of the actors I spoke to were furious and worried about the future in terms of what rights they have over their audition footage. Will this be the new normal? I certainly hope not and judging by the CSA's swift and harsh statement condemning those involved, people will think twice before doing this ever again.

I keep reminding myself that this is (hopefully) a "one-off". This can't happen again. I don't know what the circumstances were that brought this casting team to think this was appropriate. I know there are two sides to every story. As of this time, Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson have not weighed-in yet. I have always held them in such high esteem for the countless movies they've cast so beautifully. I'm trying not to be judgemental but I'm losing the battle. I still can't wrap my mind around this one.

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Marci
 

33 comments:

  1. The museum idea is great! I wonder who thought of that? :0)
    I think/hope that all CDs echo your sentiment.

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  2. Marci, I agree with you 100%. I am shocked by this approach to funding ones retirement plan. Is nothing sacred?

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  3. This issue has nothing to do with altruism, and everything to do with greed. If the CD that first offered up these tapes for sale had gone to the individuals and told them of her plans, I'm guessing they would have stopped her cold. Now, we're likely looking at possible lawsuits for invasion of privacy and unlawful use of likenesses. The museum idea is wonderful, but how about ASKING, first?!

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  4. What shocks me more, is that this hasn't happened in the past.

    Actors who are unknown and trying to land a role we spend a lot of time doing auditions. These are always taped. Most probably get tossed after a project is cast, but with everything digital these days, that probably won't be the case.

    When someone "makes it" there is always a demand for this type of behind the scenes stuff. Most CD's have been honorable not to release it.

    Since I would guess that most of the "auditions" are actually scenes from copyrighted projects; I would think that the copyright owners or writers would have some legal holding over their material.

    I guess the next thing for actors to take with your head shot and resume will be a "do not release or resell form" that the CD will have to sign.

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    1. As I mentioned in the blog, in our current contracts it stipulates that ALL material that comes from our office while casting the project is property of the production company and/or studio/network. It is not ours to sell. I can only guess that since these are all old(er) tapes, they didn't have that in their contracts. It doesn't excuse it or make it ethical - just a thought.

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  5. Thanks for the post Marci. And I too, love the idea of having a museum piece as long as you still have the consent of the actor (and production company). Kudos to you, Matt Lessall, sounds like you might have participated in that idea.

    But I posed the question to a panel of Casting Directors at the SAG FOUNDATION recently, about who owned the audition footage. The answer came back very quickly, that the studio or production company owns the footage. And even when DVD extras are being put together, the company has to get consent from the actors to use the footage. I wonder if there are legal ramifications for the seller.

    I personally hope this turns into a teaching experience. i hope the sale is stopped and some guidelines are created, because many actors have this exact question. Also, since the auditions are not filmed under a SAG agreement. what does this mean as far as the union guidelines now that it is a 'for profit' video?

    I dunno. I like Jane and Janet. And I can't rush to any conclusions about their involvement.

    But I do want to tell you that I really appreciate your boldness, Marci, on always standing behind your opinions, and not being afraid to discuss them in open forums. I also appreciate that you have have expressed your anger about the issue without condemning any individuals before hearing their side.

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    1. Thanks Seth. You're right, I feel just sick about this, but I'm so torn. I love these ladies. Can't imagine what they were thinking!

      In terms of SAG/AFTRA - we're waiting for them to weigh-in as to the parameters of the contract covering such situations. The production co. is usually signatory to the Union and has to act under those guidelines at all times - as do their employees.

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  6. How do these casting directors think they are going to remain anonymous? Looking up these films, the casting directors are named on IMDB and other sites. Am I missing something?

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    1. The CDs are already identified in The Wrap and elsewhere: Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson.

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    2. David - the original story on The Today show had the auctioneers referring to the CD as a man who wanted to remain anonymous. It wasn't hard to figure out that it is Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirschenson. The Back Stage article openly refers to them. I don't know what they were thinking but I imagine a statement is coming soon.

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  7. I like the museum idea or even a paid place online associated with the CSA you can go to and watch these kinds of auditions where the profit went to CSA and it's members. They are great learning tools & a fascinating unveiling of the process.

    There are name actor auditions on YouTube & I've watched just about all I could find, somehow, someway they got there. When things are given to the masses for free that they can benefit from for better or worse, ethical or not, it's somehow less of an issue.

    I doubt that any household named actor cares if some old audition comes out, the biggest issue here is selling these things for a personal profit. They could have easily been industry leaders by going to the community first and setting up some sort of arena for this stuff.

    Shocked. Appalled. Confused.

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    1. I have spoken to several "household named" actors over the last few days and they care...a lot. Not just for monetary reasons, but because their work in an audition is private between them and the filmmakers. Not meant for the public to view.

      Yes it could be a VERY good learning tool if EVERYONE involved in the audition (producers/studio/actor/writers/director) signs off on it.

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  8. I completely agree with everything you said. The audition room is sacred. It's like having a small dinner party with your close friends & having someone who is a complete stranger crash the dinner party. I don't know, I just feel like it's an invasion. If selling auditions were to become legal, actors would be even more nervous in the audition room. Thank you for writing this blog post!

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  9. There's very clear distinction between the breakdowns and the audition tapes in question: Breakdown Services holds a valid copyright on every breakdown they publish. Actors violate that copyright when they reveal or sell that information. That's a federal offense, and it's been successfully litigated by BDS.

    Second, it's the production companies, not the casting offices in question, that are directly hurt, and the storytelling process that suffers, when actors share information about auditions and projects they are working on. The distance between the audience and the production is closer than it's ever been, with details leaking left and right, disrupting the presentation process.

    Certainly, the casting offices are hurt secondarily if the project they are working on suffers and gets cancelled because of these acts, but you're not going to get back at casting directors that sell audition tapes by blabbing about projects.

    Just because you can, or you think it's useful, to reveal information like that, you're only hurting yourself and your prospects for current and future work if you tweet, post, share or sell that info.

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  10. and David...nothing like burning bridges! Janet and Jane ( who I know well and are the top of their field) are not stupid....and what is the big deal? AND THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE BREAKDOWN FACTORY.

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  11. Rumor has it that this auction will be cancelled due to legal action. Let's see.

    I'm not sure what you mean, Anonymous, about burning bridges. Like you, I'm just making my voice heard. You obviously have a bone to pick with BDS, but that's you, not me.

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  12. Actually you are right in the fact BDS is hysterical in their pursuit of breadown hackers! I can remember the paper form years ago in secret post office boxes- what a riot- as for the audition brewhaha its as I said much ado about nothing...people sell this stuff everyday- a sacred audition room? come on guys- ITS AN AUDITION not an operating room...as for bridges...you know of what I speak and if you don't...well, all's the sadder.....anyway its been fun while having down time on set. BEING CALLED TO THE TEMPLE OF THE SET NOW! CHURCH OF THE HOLY SITCOM

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    1. Hey Anonymous, you have down time on the set? Still doing extra work, I see.

      Your post is rude and way off base. The Breakdown argument is a good one. Breakdown makes sure that private information that Casting Directors trust them with, do not go out to people who are not authorized to receive them. If Casting Directors wanted others to get the information, they would post on Craigslist. But they don't, do they?

      I suggest next time you start writing, you re-read before you post. Then maybe you won't come across as rude, arrogant, know-nothing, and just completely wrong.

      Then again, maybe you might. Pay attention on set. The 2nd AD is probably calling you.

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    2. All right you two....am I gonna have to separate you?! Take it outside or I'm gonna have to delete everything.
      Play nice in my house!

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    3. Jealous much Tim? Never done extra work and if you have ever worked on set- you know there is plenty of down time- sound like a bitter little pill dude. And YOU sound like you've never worked a day in your life. I've worked for most casting folks in LA- Even Marci, and I am expressing an opinion- and to, one you don't like and that is your right. Sorry marci- but when they start with the extra work- which by the way there is nothing wrong with- they use THAT as a put down and THAt i resent.

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    4. AND, sorry Marci, the Breakdown argument brought up originally has NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SALE OF AUDITION TAPES...it was totally off topic as introduced by XVII!( and dude, been in the vusiness for 35 years- most stuff is cast long before most agents see it in the breakdowns)

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  13. I'm glad that the CDs are finally doing the right thing. I just wish that they didn't have to be pushed and shamed into doing it. I would love to hear the CDs' side of things and why they thought they should sell them (and what they were planning to do with the profits).

    I would hope that all my auditions would remain private unless I had given permission to use it. I remember when I've interned in casting offices in the past that I even shredded Polaroids (I know I'm dating myself). Everything was private and when it was done being used, it was destroyed.

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  14. crack down on actor showcases...ot former CD's running showcase nights- bilking actors of hundreds of dollars- with terrible scenes, horrid food and nobody but a c agent in the audience- NOW THAT IS SOMETHING TO SCREAM ABOUT

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  15. This just issued:

    SAG-AFTRA Statement on Casting Tapes Auction

    LOS ANGELES (April 2, 2013) -- SAG-AFTRA considers the right of performers to control the use of their image to be of utmost importance and we vigorously protect those rights. Our collective bargaining agreements include protections for performers against exploitation of audition and interview tapes, which must be erased upon performers’ request. Failure to comply with such a request will result in formal legal action pursuant to the agreements. Unauthorized use of audition and interview footage may also result in claims against producers and casting directors under right of publicity and/or privacy laws.

    "Auditions are not public performances, and under SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements performers are entitled to expect them to remain private. SAG-AFTRA, on behalf of our members, has requested that Julien's Auctions discontinue the sale of these private tapes, and they have agreed to do so immediately," said SAG-AFTRA General Counsel Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

    ---

    I would imagine the CSA feels the same way.

    David

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  16. I for one am glad that the casting directors chose to halt the auction. I have had some pretty embarrassing commercial auditions in the past, and would hate to think the casting Directors would ever post publicly.

    But...I guess until there are formal rules written it's something we should all be thinking about. Hopefully this will spark debate amongst more cds and continue the dialogue

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    1. we know Tim- we've seen them on America's Funniest Videos- JUST KIDDING.....lets all lighten up- its not life and death here right?

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  17. Excellent article. I've been watching this story unfold with a kind of horrified interest. Curious how far it would go, and now I am happy to learn it has a happy ending.

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  18. Marci, thank you for your leadership in this issue! Like you, I respect Jane and Janet (and love their book) but couldn't imagine what they were thinking in this instance.

    My perspective is a tad different: I see some of the auditions being of children and it concerns me that a child who bared their soul in front of a stranger (CD) could be exploited later by having their childhood audition tape shared with the world when they are say, 22 and applying to law school. Especially when the child, as a minor, could not have given permission.

    To me, this is reminicent of the "headshots on eBay" scandal of 2005 on West Wing (the FBI was involved). At that time, it was determined that submissions were JOB APPLICATIONS and thus it was illegal to sell them. Seems to me that the audition tapes would then be job interviews, and also illegal to sell. I'm glad SAGAFTRA stepped up to the plate, and that the name actors did as well. We owe them (and you, Marci!) a debt of gratitude for stopping this before it became an epidemic.

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    1. Well, to be fair, I didn't stop anything. I just spoke up, like everyone else.

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  19. This brings back memories of casting directors selling actor's headshots on ebay...sigh.

    As an actor, I can see the positive educational value in these tapes and the museum idea is a great one too, but as you already stated, consent from all parties should absolutely be mandatory and if there is profit involved everyone should get their share.

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  20. Dear Marci,

    I really enjoy your blog and it's great to hear insights from someone who has so much experience within the industry. I'm an English actor, currently on tour in Italy until Mid-May. I was wondering if you could please give me any advice on how an English actor should go about working in the US? Is it best to audition for US roles (when they do come up) in the UK, without an O1 VISA, or to take a chance and move over, if possible?

    Many thanks for your time,

    Aron Wood

    Online Resume - www.spotlight.com/3333-5618-7766

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  21. “The protection of our members’ rights with regards to their image, specifically regarding the sale of audition tapes, is of great importance to us,” says SAG-AFTRA’s Pamela Greenwalt. “SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreements have built-in language that speaks expressly against the exploitation of audition and interview tapes. The union will zealously pursue any producers or casting directors who use taped material in any way other than to determine a performer’s suitability for a project or who refuse to comply with a performer’s request for a tape to be erased, depending on the contract. When a member enters an audition, it’s important to know the union has his or her back. Members who are concerned about the security of their auditions can contact SAG-AFTRA to learn more about their rights and protections.”

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