Cricket Feet, Inc.
PO Box 1417
Hollywood, CA 90028
2 April 2003
Steve Elish, Publisher
Back Stage/Back Stage West
New York, NY 10003
Dear Mr. Elish:
Regretfully, I am writing to tender my resignation as casting columnist for Back Stage West. What follows is a detailed chronological accounting of the events leading up to this decision, thus ending my affiliation with Back Stage West — a publication I have been proud to work for since October of 1999.
In the week of February 17, 2003, while covering for Casting Assistant Cassie Carpenter in-house at Back Stage West, I was asked by Rob Kendt (Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher), Marjorie Broder (Marketing/Advertising Director), and Suzy Starling (Marketing/Sales Assistant) to create and moderate a panel of casting directors for the 2003 ActorFest, taking place Saturday, April 26th.
By this time, I had conducted several highly successful free casting director panels in conjunction with Back Stage West at Take One Film Books in West Los Angeles. Each of these panels (taking place about once every six weeks since November 2002) had well over 100 actors in attendance, filling the aisles and sitting on the floor to be a part of it.
My reputation for being an excellent moderator was beginning to become known. I realized that moderating a panel of very different people with sometimes totally contradictory opinions on subjects relevant to the acting community was a skill and that I should be pleased that I am always able to bring out the best in these panelists and get useful advice to actors who so crave this information.
When Rob, Marjorie, and Suzy invited me to construct a panel for ActorFest, I was thrilled. I knew that would mean an audience of up to 500 actors and the opportunity to bring back some of the top casting directors I’ve had serve on panels before—as well as a few people who I’d only interviewed and not yet had appear on panels. I was told, in repayment for my services, I would receive a $115 discount on the cost of a booth on the trade show floor, meaning Cricket Feet, Inc., could get a booth for $450 to sell Casting Qs: A Collection of Casting Director Interviews as well as other Cricket Feet titles, and my actor consulting services.
I immediately began booking casting directors for this panel with the one guideline, “Someone from television, someone from film, someone from commercials, someone from theatre, someone from reality. We want the top people from each type of casting.” That directive came from Marjorie and was the only limit put upon my ability to contact and book casting directors for the ActorFest panel. My panelists would not be paid, nor would I — which is also standard practice for my free casting director panels. We all donate our time.
By the end of the day on which I was asked to do the panel, I had already booked three casting directors: Michelle Foumberg, Twinkie Byrd, and Michael Donovan. I also handed Suzy Michelle and Michael, who were willing to do Focus Sessions that were, as of that time, unfilled by casting directors. It was my pleasure to help Suzy with the task of filling those slots, as I knew, when I called in favors to get these casting directors to agree to the panel in the first place, I could also ask them to come for one extra hour to help Suzy for a $100 honorarium.
By the end of the week in which I was asked to do the panel, I had secured two more casting directors: Bob Morones and Kimberly Hardin. All five of the casting directors I had contacted at this time were eager to be a part of ActorFest and sit on a panel I would moderate. We began discussing plans for the questions I would ask, the types of questions that would likely come from the audience, and what to expect from the experience as a whole.
In that same week of February 17th, I was contacted by casting director Katy Wallin regarding a new show for Fox she had been hired to cast. She needed some out-of-town recruiting done and wanted to know if I knew of casting directors who would be willing to do such work. I made some calls and connected a few people to one another, as this is a very typical “side-effect” of my work with casting directors. It is known by all that I know casting directors — as a community — more than anyone else. I also refer people to one another on a regular basis for jobs and projects, CSA recommendation letters, etc. I love connecting good people to one another. It is a passion!
After helping Katy with a few leads for out-of-town recruiters, I was again contacted by her — this time because she needed a casting coordinator for four weeks. I explained that I am not looking for full time work, nor do I want to parlay such a job into a career, but that I would like to meet with her and her partner, Sheila Conlin, for an interview. That interview took place on February 24th and I was hired that day.
During the four week assignment, I got to see two amazing casting directors — one who has spent 15 years growing her production company, casting company, and acting studio; the other with major reality TV credits — navigating the casting process for a lightning fast assignment for Fox. I realized that either of these women would be an asset to the ActorFest panel. Since I already had booked a casting director with reality TV show credits (Michelle Foumberg), I looked to Katy to fill the sixth slot in the panel.
I let Rob know that Katy was my pick for the sixth panel slot and his response, via email dated March 18th, was, “Just make sure Katy doesn’t say a word about AIA.” I assured him that her acting school was quite a separate venture from her casting company and production company. I told him that I’d seen, first hand, how separate those companies are, in day-to-day operation, and I also mentioned to Katy the need to keep AIA out of the panel discussion. “Of course!” She responded, adding that she thought the panel was about casting, not acting schools. We were all on the same page.
A few days later, my fiancé and business partner Keith Johnson called me at the casting office for the Fox project and told me about a phone call he’d just had with Rob about Katy’s space on the panel. The basic information was, “Marjorie has vetoed you and Rob. Katy is off the panel.” According to Keith, his conversation with Rob was brief and conveyed information about Marjorie’s displeasure over the inclusion of Katy, as one of her companies is a major advertiser in Back Stage West and her appearance on the panel would be considered a conflict of interest. I decided to discuss this matter with Katy when we next spoke about ActorFest, after the end of our casting job, which was quickly coming to a close.
Meanwhile, Suzy had emailed me to let me know that Lila Selik had offered her services as a panelist when Suzy had contacted her about putting flyers for ActorFest in her casting office. Based on the recommendation from Suzy, I contacted Lila on March 28th and offered her Katy’s spot. I also set up a “Casting Qs” interview with Lila for March 31st, at which time we would further discuss the details of ActorFest.
Also on March 31st, I called Katy to let her know she would not be on the panel. I left a message conveying my apology for having her plan to be a part of it and now canceling, but that Marjorie pulled rank and Rob had delivered the news to Keith, who delivered it to me.
Katy called me on the morning of April 1st to speak with me about other business as well as to ask about Marjorie’s objection to having her on the panel. I told her that I suspected the issue was based in the fact that AIA has been a booth-holder on the ActorFest trade show floor in years past and that the upcoming AIA Career Festival has been discussed as a “competing” event to ActorFest, despite the fact that it is free.
Katy decided to call Marjorie, stating that she would like to keep relations between Back Stage West and all of Katy’s companies as positive as possible. Katy also wanted to ensure that Marjorie felt welcome to attend the AIA Career Festival on April 5th in order to invite actors to ActorFest.
Marjorie called my home around 1:30pm on April 1st and left a message. I called her back around 2:30pm. She told me that she had, “no interest in talking to this person,” and wanted to know why Katy had left a message for her in the first place. I speculated that Katy wanted to clear the air about the back-and-forth on the panel, but Marjorie said she did not intend to call Katy back, as the matter was closed.
I assured Marjorie that the panel was now set with six panelists — not including Katy — and that promotion was continuing forward as planned. She felt the need to explain — at length — the long-standing policy (which she attributed to Rob) of seeing panels as editorial (meaning: no advertisers or service providers allowed) and all else in ActorFest as advertising (meaning: no conflict for participation). She proceeded to yell “at” Rob through me on the phone. I calmly suggested that Marjorie leave me out of any of her issues with Rob and his enforcement of policy and let me know what I could do to soothe this situation and have the best panel possible.
Marjorie assured me that I had done everything by the book and that my panel was going to be great, that she was very grateful for my work at the paper and for ActorFest. She also continued to blame Rob for not having contacted Katy himself to cancel her for the panel. I assured her that everything was fine — that Rob had called Keith, who called me, who canceled Katy. Marjorie wanted to know exactly what Rob said. I put her on the phone with Keith, as he was the one who spoke with Rob, and I could only speculate.
Keith and Marjorie spoke for a moment about Keith’s conversation with Rob and then Keith got quiet for a while. When he next spoke, it was to debate Marjorie’s logic in saying that policy states that no one who makes money off of actors can appear on an ActorFest panel. Keith disagreed. He presented the fact that I make money off actors with my book and my consulting services — so how can I moderate the panel under that policy? He presented the fact that most casting directors who are not employed fulltime by a studio do some sort of supplemental work such as teaching, participating in workshops, authoring books, owning schools, partnering in production companies, producing music, acting, etc. Quickly, Marjorie changed her train of conversation over to the difference between these examples of supplemental work and one of Katy Wallin’s companies, AIA. She then mentioned all of the money they were making off of selling booths to advertisers at their upcoming free Career Festival. Keith, who had recently written the check for Cricket Feet’s booth space at ActorFest countered with, “Yes. For $250. You’re selling them for over $500.” Marjorie then hung up on Keith abruptly.
An hour later, Suzy called me to let me know that I would need to contact the casting directors on my panel to find out which ones are teachers or owners of companies that provide services to actors. I explained that I was not willing to do that. I had set this panel — with most casting directors — six weeks earlier and was not going to start making changes on a roster that had been approved by Rob and had been seen during its early development (the week of February 17th) by Suzy and Marjorie, with not a single mention of this policy to exclude panelists who earn money off actors.
I explained that I didn’t want to get into a “pissing contest” with anyone about it, but that I considered the panel set, as is, and that I would not be making any changes to it. Suzy asked if I could ensure that there would be no discussion of classes or services during the panel, no distribution of literature about the casting directors’ wares, etc. I was insulted. “Obviously, Suzy, that request is coming from someone who has never seen me moderate a panel. Talk to Rob. Talk to [office manager] Rosa [Fernandez]. The two of them have attended my free panels and know that they are all about helping the actors learn and nothing else,” I insisted.
Suzy assured me that nothing she was saying was coming from her decision-making process, but that the policy would be carried out. I restated, “If you’re removing panelists, you’re also removing your moderator.” We hung up and I then emailed Suzy the following, “Please don’t take it personally. I have worked very hard putting this panel together and feel very strongly that it is a good mix of people that everyone will enjoy. As I said, if you ask anyone who has ever attended a panel discussion I’ve moderated, you’ll learn that it is never an opportunity for panelists to pitch their services as a coach, a consultant, or anything else. I’m considering the panel set, and this matter closed.”
I also emailed Rob, even though he is out of the office, to let him know what had transpired and where we now stood with the issue.
An hour later, I received another call from Suzy. This time she said, “I’m just the messenger,” and proceeded to inform me that the casting directors who teach are being called — by her — and removed from my panel. Also, that I was being relieved of my duties as moderator.
I let her know that I understood the decision but that, since my relationships and reputation are what got those panelists to agree to participate in ActorFest to begin with, that I would be contacting them as well, so that they would know that I was no longer moderating the panel. I do not feel it is professional to have someone these casting directors have never spoken to call and inform them there have been changes — when their last contact has been with me about the format of the panel and the questions, parking arrangements, time of arrival, etc. Suzy agreed that I had the right to call these colleagues and we hung up.
I immediately began calling my panelists. The only person who was contacted by Suzy prior to being contacted by me was Lila Selik, who called me the instant she hung up with Suzy, livid that she had been removed from the panel due to the fact that she teaches classes to agents and managers on the art of the pitch. I assured her that this issue has me upset as well and we discussed the options that Lila was considering: filing a discrimination suit, writing an open letter to the major Los Angeles publications, mobilizing members of the CCDA against Back Stage West, etc. She later faxed me a draft of a letter she is developing, as well as calling me several more times throughout the evening to get information about her fellow panelists and the personnel at Back Stage West.
While Lila’s reaction was the most extreme, it was certainly not the only one of its tone. Every casting director I spoke with was very disappointed in the fact that the panel would not exist as it had been established — as long as six weeks earlier in some cases — and assured me that their favor was to me, not to Back Stage West.
We all bank on our relationships in this business, and I have — over the past three years — developed relationships that go beyond the strictly business level with many casting directors. I consider these industry professionals to be my friends. They are a selfless group of people who — for a living — work to help other people fulfill their dreams. They don’t mind being in the background while others receive praise for the work that they do. I find those qualities to be the same qualities that teachers possess. They are thrilled more by their students’ successes than their own.
It stands to reason that nearly half of all casting directors do some form of teaching, workshop, or guest-speaking engagements on a regular basis. These are people who enjoy sharing their knowledge. And, yes, some of them do that for a fee.
That, in itself, is not a conflict of interest that should prevent any casting director from appearing on a panel discussion. I always try to include a diverse selection of casting directors on my panels so that actors may benefit from information provided by all of the various types of people who make up the casting community. I do not discriminate against those casting directors who earn money from actors. My rule is: you get actors jobs, you qualify for my panels.
The fact that this arbitrary policy was suddenly enforced after Marjorie blew up on the phone with me — and then with Keith — about her anger at Katy Wallin for having the AIA Career Festival three weeks before ActorFest is not disputable.
Had anyone ever, in the week of February 17th or thereafter, mentioned to me that there was a policy to which my selection of casting director panelists must adhere, of course I would’ve followed that policy or — if I felt I could not do so — declined the offer to create, promote, and moderate a panel in the first place. This eleventh hour stunt is disrespectful of me and my panelists, as well as the actors who were sold — at $40 a pop — a ticket to ActorFest, banking on the fact that they’d be able to attend this well-advertised panel. I understand that it was the most popular of the three panels offered this year, and was already well on its way to selling out completely.
Throughout all of this, Rob is out of town and therefore unable to settle the matter. Had the call from Katy come a week later, when Rob is back, I am certain that he would’ve handled the call, told Katy how to deal with Marjorie’s issues with AIA, and that would’ve been the end of it. Instead, this has become an issue over which many casting directors are up in arms. I suspect, once actors begin to learn about it, it will become an issue of demanding refunds for a panel to which they’d bought entry, since it no longer exists.
After having left a message for Rob on his home answering machine, I received a call from him (from Kentucky) late on the evening of April 1st. Rob asked what it would take to get the panel back on track. I told him that, even if I wanted to, I didn’t think I could unring this bell and get the casting directors back. They are not happy with Back Stage West or this sudden policy enforcement. It would be rude of me to go back to them and even suggest that we could patch things up and go on with the show.
At this point, I am becoming aware of what this experience means, with regard to my relationship with Back Stage West as the freelance casting columnist.
I have been penning the weekly column “Casting Qs” since June of 2000 and I very much enjoy interviewing casting directors for actors. However, after having been used as a pawn in this political strategizing by Marjorie against Rob, I do not feel as though my role, my reputation, my relationships, and my readership have been respected whatsoever.
I bring a great deal of good will to Back Stage West through my regular appearances at free casting director panels, speaking engagements, book signings, my countless hours spent answering reader email and questions on the Career Chat forums, etc. I am always an advocate for Back Stage West, and my column is clearly one of the most popular features of the weekly paper.
I take all of that very seriously.
Without the respect of those people above me at Back Stage West, I do not see how I can continue forward as a weekly columnist and not feel that I am betraying my readers by staying silent about the horrific injustice that was committed all in the name of Marjorie Broder’s in-office politics.
As of this time, I will not be contributing weekly “Casting Qs” to Back Stage West.
People talk all the time about the importance of loyalty and integrity in relationships in this town. I do more than talk. I live by my word. I did everything I was asked to do in this situation and I got burned. Some people I care very strongly about got burned too. That’s not something that gets fixed with a band-aid.
cc: Rob Kendt, Editor-in-Chief/Associate Publisher
Marjorie Broder, Marketing/Advertising Director
Scott Proudfit, Managing Editor
Gary Marsh, Breakdown Services
Bob Brody, Showfax
Michael Donovan, CSA/CCDA
Bob Morones, CSA
Lila Selik, CCDA
Katy Wallin, CSA
April Webster, CSA
Beverly Long, CCDA
Billy DaMota, CSA
Bonnie Zane, CSA
Brett Benner, CSA
Cathy Henderson, CSA
Danny Goldman, CCDA
Debby Romano, CSA
Debra Zane, CSA
Elisa Goodman, CSA
Francene Selkirk, CCDA
Gary Zuckerbrod, CSA
Jackie Briskey, CSA
Jane Jenkins, CSA
Jenny O’Haver, CCDA
Julie Selzer, CSA
Kate Brinegar, CSA
Lawrence Parke, Acting World Books
Linda Phillips-Palo, CSA
Marc Hirschfeld, CSA
Mark Paladini, CSA
Mark Teschner, CSA
Matthew Barry, CSA
Melissa Martin, CCDA
Michelle Gertz, CSA
Mike Fenton, CSA
Patrick Baca, CSA
Paul Bennett, PB Management
Peter Golden, CSA
Phil Brock, Studio Talent Group
Robin Nassif, CSA
Steven Nash, Arts & Letters Management
Stuart Stone, CCDA
Terry Berland, CCDA
Tracy Lillienfield, CSA