Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Dark Side of Central Casting: My Take

So this is one of those situations where I'm duty bound to speak up. After all, I have a partnership in a film company & am an attorney known for being very much pro-creatives.

A friend of mine was recently terminated from there without ANY due process or opportunity to face his accuser. If you want the details, you can read them in this petition on Change.org

Some background for non-actors & entertainment people:

1. In order to get jobs in the film & TV world or have a true shot at being famous, you have to start out as an extra. The only time you don't is if you personally know or are related to a higher up in the industry who loves you dearly. The exception fits maybe 15% of people at best.

The rest of you slobs are going to have to go through a background casting company.

2. Central Casting is the largest background casting company in this country. They have the most established name & their LA office has been around for eons.

3. Central Casting is very strict when it comes to professionalism among background actors. Perfectly understandable since that's their reputation & companies like mine don't want to deal with a company that doesn't recruit good background people or who brings in folk who are disruptive, rude, etc.

If you act up, Central Casting can & will blacklist you.

4. Being blacklisted by Central Casting means you'd better kiss your dreams of stardom good-bye. People in the business talk & if you've got no reputation behind you or a bad one, you can consider yourself a permanent persona non grata.

Any other information can be found by reading the petition or going back and reading other posts about my experiences with Central Casting doing extra work.

Nearly every single actor I know of in NYC has done at least one background gig through Central Casting. If there's an actor in NYC who hasn't & is new to the industry, I'd be shocked. There are some good things about them but my friend's situation makes it solid that I can't work with them anymore.

My friend was a "Core Background" on a few shows. This means you aren't just any old extra coming in for a day & leaving but the production specifically wants you throughout their filming. When you are specifically wanted for a project, that means you're expected to be available & a production has invested some time and consideration into you. You're expected to show up, be professional & it's not a status you'd get by just phoning it in.

This particular friend is someone whose professionalism is not in dispute. I have gotten a sixth sense on professionalism in my years doing this & considering I introduced him to the CEO of my company (which does not happen unless I think you're going to make me look good & won't waste his time), I know the person who started this little chain reaction is full of shit or Central Casting in LA has royally fucked up & defamed my friend.

Apparently what happened was some wardrobe person claimed some incident happened & Central Casting's LA office was informed.

Never mind that all the events took place in NY and the people at the NY office were just as stunned as my friend to hear about this. He didn't even get a warning or an opportunity to appeal or face this accuser. To my knowledge, he's not even aware of what was said or exactly what the complaint was.

Some facts about film & TV productions:

1. Crew departments can be huge. The heads of these departments aren't always on the set and likely don't work on the mere background actors.

2. I have never personally had issues with wardrobe people. I actually tend to like them since doing that requires a fashion sense & I appreciate others who have that since plenty of people I encounter don't. It's a common ground type thing. More wardrobe people end up complimenting clothes I bring for roles I do. The respect thing has to shine through since I know it's not an easy job & if I'm thinking something looks great, that's a sign of talent.

However, the people doing these jobs are likely not on a first name basis with the executives or producers financing the whole thing. Some are definitely not appreciated or treated with respect.

Considering I once went to use a Lifebooker voucher & the guy doing my hair was a hair person on a cable TV series and has a very impressive track record, I don't think these people are exactly living in mansions or doing lines of coke off the boobs of prostitutes on a nightly basis.

3. Some people in these departments are not seasoned pros or industry experts. Most jobs are obtained in entertainment (especially in the mainstream world) because you were a good PA, not because you were an outsider who had great skills. Being a good PA does not mean you were professional & polite to people; you might have just slept your way into a job or made sure to be nice to the higher ups but treated everyone else like crap.

I do recall that one PA from a gig making disparaging remarks about extras and my comment that he never knows who he might be talking to. That little schooling exercise was fun & if he was smart, he learned not to have those conversations about background folk in their earshot since the next one could be an exec like me. Entertainment attorneys are a bit more respected than a lot of people in the industry, as I've mentioned before.

4. Despite this fact, these people will be believed before any background person in a dispute as far as Central Casting is concerned. Why they don't get that not all these people are saints or have ethics, I have no idea.

5. Productions have budgets & schedules. No sane producer or executive wants their budget & schedule messed up. This is why screening is very important for everyone. Set fights are a pain for everyone, make working that much harder & can lead to going over budget. If we have a team set, we like to keep that going & maintain that status quo until we get done with the production.

So why is this an issue for me? Many reasons. This will require wearing a few hats.

As an actress, don't really like the idea that someone's jealousy of my career, my looks, what I had for breakfast, my coat, whatever is going to lead to false complaints against me. That impacts my ability to get work.

While this isn't a personal concern to me these days since I've already done enough extra work to get my learning experience about being on set & can't do it anymore due to being recognized by people, it is a very real concern to other actors who aren't natural redheads or in the position I am. How are they to get experience on a set or learn about that experience firsthand? How are they going to pay their bills since Central Casting doesn't make you work for no pay & their checks are actually good?

As an attorney, this sounds a hell of a lot like carte blanche to defame others at your leisure. There is no accountability to these crew members or from Central Casting for sabotaging someone else's career. This sounds like a system rife for abuse. Oh, and the actor's union (SAG-AFTRA) has apparently been aware of it for about 10 years but still refuses to do ANYTHING about it (sort of furthering my union hatred & definitely not enticing me to join it). My friend wonders if the union's refusal to actually, oh, ADVOCATE for him has anything to do with a recent decision he made to go Fi-Core.

Going "fi-core" is something these unions hate since that means you can work on both union & non-union projects. You don't get to vote or use union protections if someone messes with you but you are treated as though you were union for payments, insurance & in working. Personally, if I join SAG-AFTRA I would go Fi-Core. Hello, entertainment attorney?! Hello, film exec?! I'm intimidating enough on my own & have my own attorney contacts. Don't need your little union & you're not going to sell me on something I don't need. This is not even the first story I've heard about the actor's union not being as great as people make it out to be.

If Central Casting can have policies against sexual harassment, they certainly can have a system where a crew member having a bad hair day or who's irritable from having no sleep the night before can't go getting people blacklisted without sufficient cause. Other unions don't let you fire someone without cause; in fact, they make it next to impossible to get rid of bad apples.

As a film exec, however much I might like & adore you as a person crew member you have no business making decisions on talent hiring/firing at any level. If you are a crew PA, you have even less right to do that. You are NOT the director. You are NOT a producer. This is NOT YOUR job!!!

You are supposed to direct those concerns & complaints to the director/executive in charge. Then, THEY take care of hiring/firing. Would you be permitted to fire a lead actor on the spot for any reason you felt like? Not on any film set I know of or was ever involved in. The producer outranks you. The director outranks you. This is reality so step off!!

Why, Central Casting, do you wish to convey this executive level privilege onto mere crew members and support staff? THEY are not dealing with the cost of the filming, accounting for budget overages or the costs involved in replacing the core background folk they have decided to unilaterally banish.

Dear crew member: If you want to be able to hire & fire, go be a producer. See how hard that job is. Try raising the money, being accountable to a network/investors/other money people, creating and enforcing budgets, learning about the financial rules and tax incentives, securing the insurance, handling the legal matters, etc. You'll find it's not nearly so easy as doing the crew tasks & you'll be facing a LOT more responsibility.

I think about my company's films & plenty of people involved as crew in those projects are not people we'd want to give talent hire/fire privileges to. We don't know them well enough to assess if they'd make the choices we would. We don't know if they have a clue of how to manage people or make a set run properly.

Also, why in God's name would you WANT hire/fire privileges if you're just a crew member? We don't need you getting stressed out over that stuff; we want you to focus on the task you were hired for & let us handle it. Some of us are pros at dealing with conflict.

As someone partially responsible for it, you don't want to volunteer for those tasks. You're getting off far easier not having to be the person in charge, especially with a larger production.

A good exec or producer would investigate these charges before going to Central Casting. I'm not sure if any such person was involved but in my friend's case, they apparently were not. This was some "gotcha" from the LA offices. My friend doesn't even know what show this was on.

So, aspiring actors beware: even if you're a sweetheart to everyone & don't cause any trouble some hating jerk with a mean streak can vanquish you just for existing and for any old reason they invent. Central Casting won't have your back & SAG-AFTRA won't have your back even while you pay them thousands to join their "union."

This was my friend's first offense & he wasn't even given a warning. He got instant termination.

If you find that state of events bullshit, even if you don't know this guy personally, you should sign that petition. There's a principle at work & if it could happen to him, it could happen to anyone. That includes you & your friends.

14 comments:

  1. It happened to me too. I've been permanently blacklisted for no apparent reason. Its a beauracy.

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  2. I have been core on many projects and now I have had nothing for a year almost I can fit all kinds of roles go out of the way to bring plenty for them to choose never missed a call but did have a run in with a PA now zip and I worked along side the best what is there to do?

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  3. I was blacklisted from Central Casting, based on false accusations. The SAG lawyer said that Central Casting is notoriously difficult to deal with and there's not much they can do except make requests. It's bullshit because CC controls 65% of the Film & TV industry and they blacklist people at will. A friend was blacklisted, for life, for not having proper wardrobe. Central Casting needs to be dismantled. I want to sue them.

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  4. Taken from an upcoming article:

    Background Actors are the "Blue Collar" of the Acting profession and the backbone of the business on a day-to-day basis. Most of these people live paycheck to paycheck, simply making ends meet from week to week, and trying to pay their bills on time. The consequences of these sudden "Termination" actions carried out by Central Casting have been less than glamorous for such folk, and can instantly mean the prospect of not being able to put food on the table for their children, or not being able to make their rent.

    "I was also blacklisted. I contacted the SAG Background Representative, Terri Becherer, who seemed sympathetic at first. I spent weeks and weeks of trying to patiently to follow up with her every now and then while I struggled to stay afloat this financial quicksand I suddenly found myself in. The "I will call you back" Call would never come. One day, after I reviewed my file at Central and found it rife with errors or fabrications, I called her. She was completely stoic. It was not the same person I had talked to before. She might have either been threatened or paid off, I'll never be sure; but the marked difference in her persona was too stark to go by unnoticed as she carried the conversations with short answers spreckled with Yes and No and there is nothing we can do and Central is not willing to change their stance. She said she had talked to Allen Kennamer, VP Central Casting, and the man behind all terminations; and he had refused to give the situation any further thoughts. What surprised me most was why she had never bothered to call me the entire time after this conversation she reportedly had with Mr. Kennamer. In the end, I was left with no choice but to move away, give up my SAG membership, and leave the business completely."

    It wasn't always like this. Background Actors had their own union called the "Screen Extras Guild" (SEG), up until 1991, when a deteriorating Health and Pension fund forced the Background Union to accept a charitable hand by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and be absorbed into SAG's framework. While certain facilities were secured as a result of this merger, others such as proper representation, were completely lost forever. As the 90 year mark nears since Central Casting's inception in 1925 - set up by the Studios to gate-keep the deluge of "extra girls" in the wake of the Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle rape scandal - much has changed in the entertainment industry. The one thing that has continuously fortified is the level of Central Casting's autonomous power while largely remaining a monopoly; and what has continuously devolved for the worst is SAG's stance on the policies surrounding its Background Actor members' welfare, and its lack of assembly to counter the measures taken by Central Casting.

    "Terri Becherer should resign as SAG's Director of Background Actors. The only time we ever hear from any of SAG's officers is during election season, when the prospective office-seekers drop by our filming sets in hoardes to rally votes from us Background Performers, the largest working group, albeit the lowest earning, within the Union. Behind the scenes, the powers at Central Casting laugh at SAG. There is nothing else left to do and no deals can be made with Central Casting at this point. Its just too late for all that."

    "I think its time for Central Casting to close its doors. Enough is enough."

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    Replies
    1. I think your website is being hacked. I tried to post a comment and a personal email of mine showed up in this comment space. I am an actor.
      BTW, I think many of the comments you make are, unfortunately, on point.
      No one benefits by false accusations and unfair labor practices. It is a step in the wrong direction for art and humanity.
      If someone has a grudge, they should think about how their job might be affected before placing a complaint for a frivolous reason. It is an unfair labor practice and they might be the next one standing in the unemployment line.
      If Central bases it's decisions on hearsay, they had better go to the set and see what is actually going on with the people they send to the job. There is more than one side to every story. They might be getting rid of a person who they have never met and perhaps be liable themselves for unfounded dismissal. This is not in the spirit of creating good working conditions and creative collaboration for making great films and television shows.
      It show business, and it's also art and jobs of real people who giving there best.

      Delete
    2. hi mike, how were you able to review your file? I would love to see what central has in my file, did the union get a copy for you, or did you have to petition for it?

      Delete
  5. They have a monopoly on background casting and suspend and or terminate permanently without a review or giving "employee" a chance to explain their side of the story.So if say someone from crew or casting is having a bad day or has a personal issue with you outside of work that is all it takes for you to lose your job.

    Union can't help because the system is broken and powerless. Union has no contract and therefore no bargaining power with casting agencies even though they are the ones who decide who works or does not. Highly unprofessional company that runs like a criminal lawless organization.

    Their review system is only called as such to comply with labor laws but its is a farce and does not change or affect their decision which is always one sided and controlled by a committee....which is actually one person by the name of Melissa Leisure in LA office.mleisure@CentralCasting.com

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  6. I'll keep my name anonymous, but I too was fired from Central days before Christmas a few years back. I don't believe I was blacklisted from the industry but I do feel a certain show I worked on that I had a problem with was the main reason I was terminated with no explanation. I'll admit I wasn't the greatest, and respectable BG extra out there but I was Centrals go to guy if they called and they called quite alot. I'll also admit I had problems with production mostly wardrobe and one time a medical guy that had a nerve to punch me in my arm while I was getting lunch. Central can be your bread and butter but it could also be your downfall if your not careful around production. Yes Central owns 90% of the film and TV shows out here but don't let it discourage you that you can't work sometimes with another agency. There's plenty of agencies and companies that work with other production companies. I've worked on a few but Ive seen such a drastic change in my income that I had to step back from working. Sometimes these things blow over or left behind but if you have a large rap sheet with bad reputation the industry will find even if your just a BG extra. But don't let being fired from Central be the end all of your dreams. If your talented and have a great look who cares what you did while you were an extra, sure you got your feet wet being on set 300 times but it's just a BG part not principal and you can still get hired if you hustle hard enough. Take it from me I was Centrals golden boy and now I'm still Sag/Aftra and still hustling principal gigs. Good luck and just let Central go if you got canned, there's plenty of other work out there.

    JW

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  7. I would suggest that it is time for a Class-Action lawsuit against Central Casting and perhaps SAG/AFTRA as well. When it comes to getting their attention, only hitting them in the pocketbook will work

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  8. I was terminated for talking to Cuba Gooding Jr. People vs. O.j Simpson, no appeal or anything,elitist b.s

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  9. I was terminated for talking to Cuba Gooding Jr. People vs. O.j Simpson, no appeal or anything,elitist b.s

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  10. I got a part in westward, and central didn't have the decency to call and tell me my part was cancelled,I waited and waited,no work they treat people like shot, didn't even break us for lunch, but we had to watch cast and crew eat in front of all background,rudest thing I ever saw!!

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  11. I was terminated for talking to Cuba Gooding jr.the last day of filming people vs. Oj Simpson, the conversation was good, took a picture with him, someone ratted me out,embarrassed me on set, so all this after the final day everyone was taking pics eating in front of all the background, like pigs sat for a hour starving as these people ate in front of us.
    Melissa says I crossed the line, yeah isn't there labor laws about lunch breaks?
    Its b.s I worked 36 shows in a month and a half.
    No appeal or anything

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  12. My name is laura ann tull and I am probably going to die because of what Central Casting and the extras casting did to me. I was sexually assaulted by Jeremy Gilbreathe. I am a lawyer too but i do nkt have the personality to be one. O was trainrd in college as an actor. I lost my breasts in 2005 while working on sets. I now have emails stating Eric Dane thought i was weird. I tried to file a complaint with the union SAG and they had the police put me on a 3 day hold and let the members think I was arrested. I found out i have an incurabe autoimmune disease. I have nodules on my thyroid that may be cancer. I am going to finish a program at SMC in film production with a GPA of 3.6 amd not be able to get a job or care. I had cancer and when i did i said i would rather die of it than have a future where i can not be an actor. I meant it. I was the kind of person who helped others. I did not care about being featured. And I looked out for danger. I made 20000 a year for 5 years and worked on ever lot. In 2008 i was tripped so bad i could not bend my legs for a week. Workers comp paid for 5 weeks of PT and I went to back to work on sets only to be terminated from all agencies with 8 months. I show up at Grays at the gate and told im on a list. B
    Now I find out I terrorized some woman and i was escorted off set. Both are lies. The Union did not believe ai had a law degree and since 20l2 refuses to let me take classes at AFI or Cap yet i spent the last 4 months paying 200 a month for acting classes & i have done workshops with working actors and casting worksjops with union casting agents. I need a lawyer to sue Grays, Twitter, Sag Aftra, & ABC. You see since 2014 i have been trolled & abused on Twitter & twitter lets the attacks slandering me stay up. I have told my troll they are pushing me to suicide but they do not stop.

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