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Fee for casting database churns up 'Five-0' extras

By Mike Gordon


The idea sounded simple enough to Rachel Sutton, the local casting agent for the CBS hit "Hawaii Five-0." She wanted to minimize the time background actors spend waiting at casting calls by creating an online database.

But Sutton ran afoul of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists — the union that represents actors on "Five-0" — by charging $10 for the service. When the union told her it was a violation of its contract with CBS, Sutton eliminated the fee and promised to return any money already collected.

She still plans to keep the website up and running, though.

"In L.A. every casting agency that handles background casting charges a $25 fee and a $10 photo fee," Sutton said. "It's a common practice. I did a ton of research. I wanted to provide a site where people could sign up for me for whatever show I was working on rather than having to wait outside in a line in the hot sun."

Except that it isn't legal in L.A.

Sutton's fee prompted a running commentary on the Hawaii Actors Network, where the casting agent exchanged comments about her motives with some of its 5,100 members.

"I did not anticipate such an up-in-arms reaction," she said. "Most people don't really care. Ten dollars is like a trip to Starbucks."

Sutton said a key point in her defense is that she works for other productions as well as "Five-0." She was the casting director for ABC's "Lost," and last spring, as the popular series was finishing up, she also worked on the George Clooney movie "The Descendants." She is currently working on a commercial for Chanel.

Hawaii doesn't have a law like the one that protects background extras in California, but Christopher de Haan, AFTRA's L.A.-based national director of communications, said actors here are still protected by a national code of fair practice the union maintains with studios.

"Under no circumstances can a fee be required by a casting agent or any other agent of the employer in exchange for employment," he said. "One of the reasons why it came to be was we didn't want our members to be put in a position to have to essentially provide favors for service of employment. They should be judged by the merits of their talent and not have to pony up a fee."

"Five-0" has employed a lot of background extras. In a posting on the Hawaii Actors Network, Sutton told the local acting community that she cast more than 6,000 during the show's first season.

LOCAL FILM officials are trying to persuade ABC that Hawaii's rivers are more photogenic than those in Puerto Rico, where the network recently had a pilot shot for a new series called "The River," starring Bruce Greenwood as a famed adventurer missing in the Amazon.

Hawaii was on the network's list as a potential full-time location for "The River" well before ABC canceled "Off the Map," the series it filmed here this past season.

"We are actively putting our best foot forward to show them every river we have in the state," said Georja Skinner, administrator for the state's creative services division, which oversees the Hawaii Film Office.

Skinner has received about 100 photographs from film commissioners around the islands.

But any decision will weigh beauty against the available studio space — and ABC still has a lease agreement for the state's Diamond Head studio, Skinner said.

"We will put Hawaii in its best possible position and let the creative gods decide," she said.

AND that's a wrap …

Mike Gordon is the Star-Advertiser's film and television writer. Reach him at 529-4803 or

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