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:
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
She can do this willingly and without violating
her own moral codes. Yes, she pays a fee. But isn't oral sex also a
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
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.)
Hardly. But it’s hard to deny he’s got a gift for… oral expression?.