In La La Land, Emma Stone plays aspiring actress Mia, who finds herself demoralized as she faces one failed audition after another.
What the movie doesn't show is something that has gone on for years in the real La La Land -- aspiring actors like Mia scraping together $50 or so to get a quick audition for a minor role in a film or TV show. It might be a network show like Criminal Minds or Big Bang Theory -- and with luck, you might get one line, but it could move you closer to getting SAG membership.
However, paying to audition is illegal. Last year, Gary Baum of the Hollywood Reporter conducted an investigation into this practice, which has taken root in sessions known as casting workshops.
These workshops are supposed to be educational, teaching actors how to audition, but Baum tells us, "In practical terms, it is really just an audition." And not just any audition -- one that you're paying money for -- often $50 a pop. If you go a couple times a month, it can cost well over $1000 a year, which is a lot of money if your main gig is a barista or waiter.
It might seem sensible to say, "If you don't have the money, simply don't go to the workshops." But Baum found that the workshops had become so pervasive and commonplace, they had become the cornerstone of how a struggling actor breaks into the industry.
Earlier this month, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer filed criminal charges for the first time ever against this practice, naming 25 people involved in running five alleged pay-to-play workshops.
We reached out to several of those facing charges but none responded to our requests for comment. We did see an email, sent to clients by one of the casting workshop operators charged by the city attorney. It said its practices are legal and that actors should be free to spend their money as they see fit.
We sat down with Baum to learn more about his investigation and what possibly happens next, and with casting director Billy DaMota, who tells us why he has been long-opposed to pay-to-play casting workshops.