In this guest post, Kim Jackson and Sarah A. Meister, two students in the Entertainment Law and the Web 2.0 course, examine the recent moves by Los Angeles prosecutors against talent agents and talent agencies, as the District Attorney’s office, after due warning, enforces the relatively new Krekorian Act.

As the faculty at Southwestern Law School’s Biederman Institute hasten to remind, a key and sometimes overlooked aspect of a Los Angeles  Entertainment Law practice can include dealing with talent agents and talent agencies, especially as they are regulated by the state of California. With the pellmell rush for Hollywood to adapt to new technologies and ever-more clever contracts of other sorts, are talent agencies and talent agents and their oversight still a 21st century concern? You betcha.
As Kim Jackson  describes her experiences just a few years ago, talent agencies still hold huge allure for folks who flock to Hollywood with big dreams:

“I can speak from first hand-experience: Before law school I was an actress. And I paid for headshots, and acting classes, and Casting workshops. I don’t even know how much I spent total over the three years I was actively pursuing it.  I worked so I could afford food and rent, but all the rest of my spare change went to pay for my acting classes.  I was fortunate enough to have an agent, but to maintain their representation, we were required to keep training, and it wasn’t cheap. My agency’s business plan was to be a one-stop-shop for their actors. They had an in-house photographer they recommended (but didn’t require) and they arranged and hosted ‘Casting Director Workshops,’ where, usually a Casting Associate, from a well-known casting agency, would come for a couple hours, give us scenes from past shows they had worked on, and then we would ‘mock-audition’ for them with the scene they had given us.

“They would usually give us feedback, and we could ask questions and get business advice. We always gave, and they took and kept, our head shots for their files. They would tell us that they were known to bring in for roles people they had first seen at workshops, so it always kept us hopeful. We would pay to attend these workshops.”

As she and fellow aspiring blogger Sarah A. Meister note, new legislation would put checks on talent operations.

Meister writes:

The Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act of 2009 took effect on Jan. 1, 2010, prohibiting advance-fee talent representation services and imposing more disclosure and contract requirements for talent services to prevent talent reps from taking advantage of  (aspiring) performers. Violators face misdemeanor charges with a maximum penalty of six months in county jail and $10,000 in fines for each offense. Lack of knowledge is not a defense.

The act’s stated purpose is to protect the public against fraud and financial hardship, while encouraging competition and fair dealing in talent services. The act seeks to achieve this by prohibiting and restricting false or misleading advertising and other deceptive business practices. Los Angeles prosecutors sent a letter on Jan. 26, 2010, to many talent services, notifying them of the new laws and offering them due warning they would be enforced.

Mark Lambert, a deputy city attorney, has been singled out in the trades as a driving force behind the law and has fielded many complaints from actors about casting director workshops. The issue is whether some of these casting workshops should be considered paid auditions — illegal under the new law.To qualify as legitimate casting workshop, instructors must post a bond with the state and follow contract rules. But actors cried foul, contending they could not audition for casting directors unless they paid for their workshops (aka a pay-to-play situation).

Over the summer, prosecutors firmly and with not so much public attention put some enforcement muscle into their months of warning.

On July 28, Nicholas Roses, a former manager at Luber Roklin Entertainment, pleaded no contest to failing to file a $50,000 bond with the state and to operating an advance-fee talent service.

One week later, Patrick W. O’Brien of Pat O’Brien Talent Management, also pleaded no contest on similar counts. Roses and O’Brien, online analysts say, were the first talent managers convicted under the Krekorian Act.

As for Jackson, she observes that, “under these new rules, which took effect just after I had to retire to attend law school, the workshops that I attended are no longer allowed.” She looks at the measures, as posted by a parent’s group and cited by Meister, and say there are situations  under which such sessions can be run.

But she notes that “director-associates are allowed to earn a stipend for teaching, but they are not allowed to operate as ‘pre-reads’ or suggest future employment. Keeping head shots is not allowed.”

Jackson says she is “curious” and does not know how her former agency works these days, though she still gets emails about its workshops.

Caveat emptor, she adds, noting, “It’s easy to get taken advantage of in this town.”