Henry Ford pioneered the Industrial Revolution and Ray Kroc championed the fast food industry by contesting the status quo. An independent Los Angeles film company is similarly challenging a longstanding Hollywood tradition: free auditions.
And just as Ford and Kroc faced controversy when they dared to be different, the Global Stage Project is drawing both praise and criticism for its decision to charge a $20 fee to actors and other performers who want to appear in The Game of One, a science fiction/fantasy film.
Auditions as Business Expense
Julie Austin, who runs a Los Angeles-based site called IndieSponsor, says she doesn’t think the concept of free auditions will disappear but also sees the value of paid ones. She teaches artists how to run their careers like businesses and says entrepreneurs in any industry face expenses.
“In every creative industry, there are always going to be costs involved in getting in front of decision makers,” Austin says. “Whether that means traveling to Hollywood or moving here, which is very expensive. Just because someone pays for an audition or pays to take a class with a casting director doesn’t mean they don’t have talent. Competition for actors is enormous, but talent will always rise to the top.”
Paid Auditions Prey on the Untalented
Halie Rosenberg, a Detroit-based talent scout, is among those in the entertainment industry who say that paid auditions prey on people without talent.
“I’m in favor of any process that will yield the widest pool of potential talent available – to that end we audition talent remotely via Skype and video all the time, for free. If someone works in casting, it’s their job to find the right person for an opportunity, Rosenberg says. “They’re being paid to do so by a producer or client, so I’d consider it to be not only ‘preying’ on those who would be unlikely to land a role, but also ‘double dipping’ to charge the talent.”
Rosenberg, of Productions Plus, also says that a producer who skirts the talent scout process either lacks industry connections or doesn’t trust agents to do their jobs.
Global Talent Search Demands New Approach
Neither is the case, says the producer of “The Game of One.” He is a Hollywood veteran who well understands the traditional audition process. But, he says, he is looking for non-traditional talent from around the globe and believes that successful casting demands a new approach. He is looking for multi-cultural talent across a wide age range — teens to 70s — and one leading role will go to someone who can play a 13-year-old girl. He doesn’t want to restrict his choices to someone whose parents can afford acting classes, coaches and the price of living in or traveling to Los Angeles. His ideal lead could be someone who’s never acted before and who lives in Nepal or Zimbabwe.
Audition Fee Includes Showcase
The $20 fee includes a review of the performer’s work, promotion of the submission on Facebook and a permanent back link from “The Game of One” website to the performer’s. Dancers, musicians, artists, computer programmers with gaming experience and costume designers are also being asked to submit samples of their work to the website. Actors do not need to have previous acting credits and musicians and dancers can have backgrounds in a far-reaching styles, including Native American, South American, Japanese, New Age, rave, ballet and techno.
The producer of “The Game of One” anticipated criticism of his fee-based approach to finding talent for his big-budget film. He’s not surprised that agents and talent scouts object to his approach — their fees depend on landing roles for their clients — but says a $20 audition fee is better for actors than paying agents 10 percent of their earnings.
Steven Lowell, who has worked for voice-over casting websites for 7 years and in the entertainment industry for 14 years, says technology has changed the business model for performers. Actors can find and book auditions online and pay a fee for the service. Actors, in some way or another, have always paid for auditions, he says.
“Auditions have never been ‘free.” Nothing is ever free in this business. Some just may market it better to create the perceived value that something is free,” Lowell says. Actors pay for commuting, clothes and head shots, for example. Paying for these things does not guarantee an actor will get a part any more than paying for an audition will.
Lowell says it’s up to performers to decide whether paying for an audition is a good investment or a waste of money.
“People are not ‘prey’ for trying new business ideas. They are ‘prey’ for not showing the due diligence to research if the idea is a good one for them financially, or if someone is ripping them off.”
Steven Lowell, interview using HARO (helpareporter.com) service, April 28, 2014
Halie Rosenberg, Interview using HARO (helpareporter.com) service, May 1, 2014
Julie Austin, interview using HARO (helpareporter.com) service, April 38, 2014
Tamid Milan, producer, “The Game of One,” In-person and phone interviews April 3, 10 and 27th.