Okay, folks, today I’m officially MAD!!
Every so often, friends and family ask me whether or not some casting call, acting/modeling school or audition website is a scam.
Well, this one really got my goat and I’m in a baaaad mood about it. $#@%&*@!!
I got permission from the young person who was almost the victim of this scam to share the following information, so that none of you fall prey.
Please, if you know anyone who is new to the business, curious about it, or trying to break in, forward them the permalink to this page.
ANATOMY OF A SCAM
I’m going to break this down, so you can see where I saw the red flags. TAKE HEED.
1. Aspiring Actor/Model Sees Craigslist Post
This in itself is not necessarily indicative of a scam. Many of the job offers on Craigslist are legitimate, but because of the nature of sites like these, it pays to be vigilant.
Here’s the post:
Nationwide branding campaign requires 20 models
We are looking for male and female models, we will be shooting sunglasses and spec’s.There will be 10 different brands, it will be shot over a five day period starting 6th April 2009. You do not need any experience and we need 20 models in total.Please submit a photo and a short description.
* Location: Portland
* Compensation: $500 per shoot
Even though there are some punctuation errors, nothing here is necessarily indicative of a scam as of yet, but when I read this, I asked myself:
- If it’s a nationwide campaign, why is the rate so low? Models command much higher rates for national exposure.
- If it’s a national campaign, why is it open to models with no experience? Usually big national campaigns use established, agency-represented models.
- Of course, it’s possible that they are looking for more of a “real” look, but since they’ve given no indication as to the exact types they are looking for, they are going to get swamped with submissions.
When we post casting calls (unless it’s for extras), we only want to get swamped with the RIGHT submissions, otherwise it makes our job impossible. So we are very specific in our casting breakdowns. For example:
“We are looking for Asian men in their 20s who are based in Oregon or Washington.”
“We want two boys, one age six and one age nine to play Brendan Fraser’s sons.”
Why would they want to be swamped with submissions, if it’s not extras casting…? Just asking.
2. Aspiring Model/Actor Responds to Post
So, our aspiring model responded to the Craigslist ad, with a photo attached:
My name is Jane Doe and I am 20 years old. I don’t have any modeling experience, but many people have told me I should try it out. I am putting myself through school and could use any extra money, and who knows, I could end up liking this! I think it would be fun to try out and meet new people.
Had I responded to this ad, I would have also asked for more detailed information, such as:
* Name of production company and/or photographer?
* Name of casting company, casting director or person in charge of hiring?
* Which brands of glasses/sunglasses would I be modeling for?
* How long are the shoot days?
* How many of the shoot days would I be needed, if cast?
* Is any nudity required?
* Are there any charges or fees in order to be considered?
Who are these people?
- Sometimes our clients want to remain confidential in terms of which brand(s) they are creating ads for, but you should be able to at least find out who the production company and casting director are, before taking the next steps.
- When we post casting calls, we put our casting company name clearly in the ad, with a link to our website, so that people can check us out and see that we are the real deal.
- We often don’t post the name of the project or production company publicly, because we don’t want them to be swamped with phone calls that should be coming to us. But once we’ve decided to audition someone, we give them all the information we’ve been authorized to release.
- Professional models and actors sometimes have conflicts with certain brands (for example, if they appeared in a Ford commercial, they are not allowed to appear in a Honda or Mercedes commercial, until the term of the Ford commercial runs out). So at some point, you should be able to find out which company you would be advertising for.
What’s in it for me?
- Models and actors should also be able to find out how many days they’d be needed, how long they’d be working each day, how the photos will be used (magazines, billboards, point-of-purchase displays, brochures, websites, internal company use only, etc.) and for how long (13 weeks, six months, one year, buyout in perpetuity, etc.).
- This may not be in the initial post, but if you’re invited to audition, you should be able to obtain this information beforehand, so you can decide whether or not the money is worth it to you. Working 16 hours and getting paid $500 for a buyout in perpetuity for all uses in a Gucci or Armani campaign is not a good deal!
- Nudity, if required, should be clearly stated up front in the ad. If they are evasive about this kind of information, or only tell you upon arrival at the audition, get the heck out of there! And never go to an audition alone, if you’re not absolutely sure that it’s an established, well-reputed company.
What’s it going to cost?
- Actors and models should never, ever, ever have to pay a fee to audition. Period. End of story.
3. Company in Question Responds
This is what really got me angry: the company’s email response to our aspiring model. I’m going to break it down line by line and comment throughout, so you’ll see all the red flags that I saw.
My name is Hayley Smith, Casting Manager for Talent Panorama.
First of all, maybe it’s just me, but this name sounds a bit generic.
Secondly, what the heck is a “Casting Manager”? I’ve never heard of such a job title. There are casting directors and talent managers, but those are two separate jobs with different functions (similar to the buyer’s agent and seller’s agent in real estate transactions). Combining the two job titles seems fishy to me.
I did a Google search on “casting manager” + models and “casting manager” + actors and most of the hits that came up were followed by 1-800 numbers and had lots of CAPS and exclamation points!!! CASTING MOVIE EXTRAS WANTED!!!!! Hmmm.
Next, I searched for “Talent Panorama.” Nada. Zip. No such company, as far as I can tell. So…they’re casting a big national campaign for brand-name sunglasses and they have NO web presence? Hmmm. Curious.
The email continues:
The good news is I received a positive feedback, and I am waiting responses from the others. Yes, they are interested to know more about you.
This is not necessarily a deal breaker, but the English in the first sentence isn’t grammatically correct. Just noticing.
What’s starting to strike me as strange, however, is that in these first few sentences, they sound like they’re trying to pump her up.
When WE reply to someone who has responded to a casting call listing, we might write something like this:
- “Thanks for your interest in our project. Auditions are taking place on Thursday, May 1st at the following location:
1234 Main Street
Anywhere, CA 12345
“Please show up anytime between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm, wearing normal street clothes. We will take a digital photo and have you fill out a contact sheet. If you have any scheduling conflicts during the last two weeks of May, please be sure to include them on the contact sheet when you sign in. Thank you.”
- “Thanks for your interest in our project. We are forwarding your information to our clients. If they would like to book you for this job, we will be in contact with you with further instructions.”
No flattery. Just information. See the difference?
The “Casting Manager” continues:
I also have some other roles in my mind for you. I will work on them and let you know how it goes.
Umm, this is not something we’d likely ever tell an actor or model. If we think they’re right for something, we’ll just call them in for an audition or submit their photo to our client and contact them, if there’s any interest. There’s no need for us to get their hopes up about nothing. Plus, it all just seems really vague.
Again, it’s starting to sound like hype to me.
I should try to arrange your appointment sometime soon since video production will be starting within the next two weeks. I would like to make the arrangements right now.
Umm, no. If you’re shooting a video in two weeks, you should have a casting date already set. Why doesn’t the “Casting Manager” just tell her when and where the audition is? Why is it so vague?
Because we need to make sure you are committed to us and you do not change your mind during the casting process, we want you to be in an official database.
Whoa. They need to make sure she’s committed to them?? She’s not allowed to change her mind about the casting process??? RED FLAG.
And why do they qualify the database as having to be “official”? Sounds like hype.
That is nothing unusual, that is a standard in the industry.
So, now they’re trying to justify why she has to join a database in order to be considered. I’m starting to think that this is more about getting her to sign up for the database than it is about hiring her for a job.
If they are selling subscriptions to a database, they need to have said this up front; not post a phony casting call to try to lure people to respond. This is called BAIT and SWITCH.
We work with Talent Watchers and we trust them because they are a well known name in the industry.
Aha! Finally we get the name of the database company. But wait, the “Casting Manager” of (the non-existent) Talent Panorama says they work with Talent Watchers.
That’s interesting, because she (with her generic-sounding name) emailed our aspiring model from talentwatchers.com. So does she work for Talent Panorama…or does she work for Talent Watchers? And if she works for Talent Watchers, why does she have to say she trusts them? Why doesn’t she just say she works for them?
4. Company Lures Aspiring Model/Actor to Sign Up for Paid Website
For the record, I’ve never heard of talentwatchers.com. This is not a website any casting director I know uses to find talent. There are some legitimate ones out there; they don’t use hype or bait-and-switch tactics, though. And they don’t have any of the red flags this one does.
www.talentwatchers.com is also a part of extras and models limited company.
Again, English is not great, neither in the email or on the website. Although they claim to be based in Canada on the Terms and Conditions page, the spelling and grammatical errors all over the place seem indicative of a non-native speaker of English. So either the site was created by a non-native speaker based in Canada who wasn’t professional enough to run his/her copy by a proofreader prior to publishing…or perhaps the site is based somewhere else. We don’t know.
Later in the Terms and Conditions, it says the materials contained on the website are protected under the laws of New Zealand. Which one is it?
And, by the way, NZ is also an English speaking country, which still doesn’t explain the weird grammar. Curiouser and curiouser (that’s not proper English, either).
Moreover, all the blog posts and articles are very generic and utterly useless:
TV has been around for a very long time, but it continues to evolve and to intrigue us. Reality TV shows have definitely found their niche in the homes of people. The desire to become one of these TV contestants is common as well for those watching.
There are plenty of different types of acting out there, and many of them depend on where in the world you happen to be. An acting audition US is very different than the audition technique UK style. An acting career Canada is going to offer you different opportunities than what you will find in other…
These do not seem to be written by anyone who has a clue about the industry or a command of the English language.
Also, most of the acting gigs look like freebies; there are some “adult” jobs listed throughout and a disproportionate amount of models dressed very scantily in their photos. Creepy.
The “Casting Manager’s” email continues:
The client wants to be able to contact you directly and I cannot disclose your email address because you are not our official client.
OK, wait a minute. Now the “Casting Manager” is not casting a job, but recruiting our aspiring model to be a client of Talent Watchers?
Casting directors don’t represent actors or models; their clients are producers. Agents and managers represent actors and models.
Edited to add: Oh, and by the way, we never pass on an actor or model’s contact information to our clients until AFTER he or she has been chosen for the job and booked. We only show photos, audition clips and/or acting resumes, depending on what kind of project it is. Once clients decide whom they want to use, they let us know and we inform the agents (or the actors/models directly, if unrepped) that our client would like to book them. When an actor or model accepts the terms of the job, he or she is booked and THEN the client gets contact info. (End of edit)
So are we dealing with a casting director, a modeling agent, a talent manager, what? It’s murky (and a conflict of interest to do both, by the way).
Please upgrade your membership at www.TalentWatchers.com and upload any updated photos of yourself right away so I can get your information off to the producer ASAP
Upgrade her membership? But our aspiring model already sent her photo. Now she has to pay money to be considered for the part? Bait and switch.
MORE DUE DILIGENCE
I checked out the Talent Watchers Terms and Conditions and it says that it is owned by Symur Group. Later, it says it is owned and operated by TalentWatchers talent agency. Which one is it?
When I Googled Symur Group, I found a URL, but try clicking on it: http://www.symur.com
A non-existent website.
There doesn’t seem to be any such thing as TalentWatchers Talent Agency, either. Just the website.
I also noticed that there is no Customer Service telephone number or address. So if you want to cancel your subscription and no one responds to your email, you have no other way to reach them.
Please let me know if you have questions at this time.
Umm, yes. I have a lot of questions.
I Googled “Hayley Smith” + “Casting Manager” and found no results.
Is this even a woman…?
Is it a photo-collecting troll? Or worse?
IF YOU’VE GOT THE LOOK, LOOK OUT
This is a classic example of bait and switch. Luckily, our aspiring model was not taken in by it, because her parents were smart enough to seek advice before moving forward.
Please read this important article on the US Federal Trade Commission website, before responding to any open casting calls (especially ones with lots of WORDS IN CAPS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!!):
And check out companies that seem dubious with the Better Business Bureau before digging into your pocketbook.
OK, I’m done. I hope this helps someone. After over 20 years in the industry, I’ve heard too many stories of actors and models who have fallen prey to these kinds of losers.
Please pass on the permalink, if you feel inclined. Knowledge is power.