Lana’s latest expert column, courtesy of Backstage.
One day, when I was about 19, my friend Rich* showed up on my doorstep gushing that a “talent scout” had stopped him on the street on the way over.
The scout was seeking young, attractive teens for music videos, Vespa and Coca-Cola commercials, he said, and Rich had exactly the look they needed. Rich eagerly gave the man his address and phone number. They arranged a meeting for him to give Rich all the details.
When Rich arrived at his office a few days later, the scout apologized: “I’m sorry, but those commercials have been cast, and the music videos are on hold, but there’s still an opportunity for you to appear in some movies…if you’re interested.” Little by little, it came out that these films were of a pornographic nature. By then, the man had spun such a web of riches and fame that Rich began to believe this scout really did hold the keys to his success.
Bedazzled, Rich announced he was moving to Los Angeles. He explained that he would only have to appear in one or two of these films, after which the scout had promised he could move onto more mainstream projects. I was horrified, and tried to make Rich see how he had been tricked. “Someone might try to drug or hurt you!” I warned. Away from the smooth-talking talent scout, the spell wore off, and Rich realized this man was a con artist. He immediately called to say that he had changed his mind. The man urged him to reconsider, but Rich stood his ground.
This would have been the end of the story, except that Rich had given this man all of his contact info. For about a week, the scout called Rich at all hours, and showed up at his apartment unannounced. Holding his breath each time the doorbell rang, Rich sat in the dark pretending he wasn’t home. One day, the man came around the side of the building and started yelling in the window, threatening him. As he hid from sight, Rich shouted back that he was going to call the police. At last, the man fled, and Rich never heard from him again.
How could anyone fall for such a scam or believe that porn could help one’s acting career? Under normal circumstances, Rich never would have agreed to something so dubious, but his desire for fame—coupled with youth and inexperience—clouded his judgment. He began to think the sacrifice would be worth it, if only he could have the lifestyle he dreamt of. In fact, this scout was an excellent (and dangerous) con artist. He knew exactly how to target and spellbind susceptible young people.
Bait-and-switch is a common technique used by scam artists. You hear a radio advertisement or spot an online ad touting “Paid gigs for actors and models, no experience necessary!” Or someone stops you in a shopping mall, saying you’ve got the look to be a star, and invites you to an audition at a “talent agency.”
When you show up, no one seems interested in your background or skills (or alternatively, they raveabout how amazing you are, without knowing much about you). Their true goal, you discover, is to sign you up for expensive “talent competitions,” classes, or photo packages. They use the lure of fame and fortune to cloud your judgment and get you to open your pocketbook:
No, you can’t go home to think about it. You have to decide now. If you don’t buy today, the price will go up. If you’re not willing to fork over the cash, you’re obviously not serious about your career. Now, please sign on the dotted line.
Here are some reminders to help you avoid talent and modeling scams:
1. There’s no harm in someone teaching acting classes or selling headshots, as long as that’s what they are advertising. If you thought you were going to an audition or a meeting to discuss representation, but the conversation is all about you buying something, that is a bait-and-switch!
2. Some casting calls may be “no experience necessary,” but they should be exactly that: a casting call. You come in, fill out some paperwork, get your photo taken, and are perhaps recorded on video. They’ll call if they decide to hire you. No one tries to sell you anything, and there’s no fee to audition.
3. Reputable model and talent agencies are highly selective. If you show up and they are immediately willing to sign you regardless of your experience or suitability, question their motives—especially if they ask for money.
4. Bona fide agencies don’t require you to take their classes or use their photographer. They may provide a list of recommended coaches or photographers in your area, but they should not pressure you to use a specific one, or try to sell you something in their agency agreement.
5. Legitimate agents make a commission off the gigs they find for you. If they engage in hard-sell techniques for classes, photos, contests or representation, beware. That’s how they’re making their money, not by finding you work.
*A version of Rich’s story previously appeared in Lana’s Tools for Actors newsletter. His name has been changed to protect confidentiality.
For more articles on recognizing scams, check out this post on Lana’s blog.
Recent projects include “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, NBC’s “Grimm,” now in its third season, and 64 episodes of TNT’s “Leverage.” Gus Van Sant, Robert Benton, Guillermo Arriaga, Catherine Hardwicke and Tim Robbins figure among past film clients. Commercial accounts include Nike, Apple and Nintendo, and international campaigns from Shanghai to Santiago.
Lana is a member of the Casting Society of America and the International Casting Directors Network. She frequently lectures across the U.S. and abroad, most recently at the Finnish Actors’ Union in Helsinki, Amsterdam School of the Arts, The Actors Platform in London, The Acting Studio in Berlin, Studio Bleu in Paris and Prague Film School.
Complete her survey to be entered into a contest for a free career consultation here.
She has been featured in The Hollywood Reporter, USA Today, MSNBC.com, MTV.com, AccessHollywood.com, and Wired, among others. Follow her on Twitter @lanaveenker.
Finally a crackdown on scam operations that target kids and aspiring actors.
Krekorian Act violations Talent manager pleads no contest
By Dave McNary, Variety Friday, April 8, 2011
The operator of a talent management company has pleaded no contest to two violations of the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act of 2009. David Askaryar, 46, of Hollywood Stars Management and VIP Talent Web entered the pleas on Thursday. He’d been charged by the Los Angeles City Attorney with 16 violations in January.
The law specifically prohibits talent services from engaging in the business of talent representation and charging money upfront for the promise of securing jobs. It also requires such services to post a $50,000 bond with the state and calls for use of unambiguous language in contracts with aspiring performers.
Move comes a year after the city warned casting workshops and talent services that it would enforce tightened state rules barring “pay to audition” scams, with city attorney Carmen Trutanich sending out about 200 letters to notify the operators that the Krekorian Act had gone into effect (Daily Variety, April 22).
Askaryar pleaded no contest Thursday to operating an advance-fee talent representation service and to operating a talent listing service without a bond.
He was sentenced on the first count to 36 months summary probation on the condition that he shut down the businesses and not to own, operate or be employed in any talent agency business, talent management business or any talent service (which includes any talent training service, talent counseling service and talent listing service). Failing to comply with these conditions will result in a six-month jail sentence, the City Attorney’s office said.
Askaryar was sentenced to 36 months summary probation on the second count and ordered to serve 90 days in jail or perform 30 days of community labor; pay $819 restitution to three victims named in the complaint; and pay $3,000 investigative costs.
KATU’s Dan Tilkin talks to Lana Veenker about a “scouting company” that recently made a stop in Portland.
Parents complain about talent agency’s practices By Dan Tilkin KATU News and KATU.com Staff
Jan 17, 2011
PORTLAND, Ore. – A talent scouting company that recently made a stop in Portland offers to help child actors for a hefty price but a local casting director says payment upfront is a red flag.
Parents say the company, THE, pronounced “TAY,” is also using the Disney name to lure families in, but Disney says it is not affiliated with the company.
Remi Lapira and his 8-year-old daughter recently heard the company’s ad on the radio, and the company’s website features two actors, Anna Maria Perez from the movie “Fame” and Disney’s “Camp Rock 2” and David Deluise from Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place”.
THE’s staff members invited his daughter back (to the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Portland) for a second audition to make it to Florida.
“They were talking to my daughter and said, ‘Hey, you did a wonderful job,’ and my daughter was like, ‘Well, I don’t know how I did a wonderful job if these people weren’t even paying attention, they were playing with the lights.’ And that’s where it kind of (threw) me. I was like, ‘Whoa, red flags. What’s going on here?’” Lapira said.
He said THE wanted him to pay $4,900. The company also offers packages as high as $7,900.
Portland casting director, Lana Veenker who has a long resume, including work on the movie “Twilight,” said payment upfront is a red flag.
“If we were to do an open casting call for a real project, there’s never any money asked for from the parents or the kids,” she said.
KATU News called THE at its Delaware offices but a company representative said no one at the company would do an interview unless the questions were submitted in writing.
“I’m concerned for the parents who are actually shelling out that kind of money, because they think Disney is going to be the one taking them,” Lapira said.
Both Lapira and Veenker are frustrated because the company’s name makes it difficult for parents to find information about it on the Internet – typing “the” into Google returns everything.
If you have an aspiring actor in your house, go to The Casting Scoop to read more from Veenker about what to watch out for and how to get your break.
Did you guys see those prices?? UGH!
Parents: The problem here is that they’re advertising the event as a chance to meet with Disney talent scouts, not as a ploy to get people to register for a conference. If they’re trying to sell registrations for a conference, they should be up front about it and not advertise it as a casting call or a chance to be in the next Disney movie.
And there’s no reason why any conference or workshop should cost anywhere near $7900. If you’ve got that kind of cash lying around, enroll your child in a bona fide acting conservatory and sock the rest of the money away to help them get into Juilliard later. Don’t spend it on what amounts to little more than glorified lottery tickets.
Here are links to our past posts on other scammy operations:
We recently received this message from an aspiring actor:
Okay, so I auditioned for [Talent Agency], and they’re a legit agency and part of the Better Business Bureau. They called me back and said they sent my headshot to three of the “best” casting directors in [City]. They said they like my look a lot; however, I need more experience and have to take this class and get a headshot and together it all costs $1,800. Sounds fishy to me. What do you think? I do need more training, but I’ve never been told I have to take specific classes and get headshots from a specific photographer to be accepted by a casting director.
There’s a lot to be said about gut instincts. It sounds fishy to you, and it sounds fishy to us, too, at least from the details we see here.
Do some research beyond the Better Business Bureau.
While the BBB is a great resource, it shouldn’t be the only indication of a business’s practices or an agency’s legitimacy. Is the agency franchised by a union? Screen Actors Guild (SAG) maintains a list of franchised talent agencies. That’s a good place to start. Do you know other actors in your area represented by the agency? Ask them about their experiences.
A bona fide agency only earns money when you do.
They don’t try to sell you classes or photographs, or charge you exorbitant registration fees. You will need training and headshots, but real talent agencies don’t sell those. They may give you a list of recommended acting coaches and photographers, but they shouldn’t try to coerce you to hire a specific one (that may mean they’re getting kickbacks; not good).
Also, we’ve never heard of an agency running photos of actors under the noses of casting directors before making up their minds whether or not to represent them. What a waste of the CDs’ and agents’ time!
If you lack experience, a respected agency has no reason to want to represent you. They want professionals who will earn them commissions by booking work.
They might recommend that you go off and get more training or experience, but they shouldn’t require you to take their classes or use their photographer. That indicates they’re making money out of your pocket, instead of out of the pockets of the producers who hire you for their productions.
An article claiming that the “Breaking Dawn” set had been discovered on the central Oregon coast by three University of Oregon students appeared on HULIQ.com over the weekend.
BRAYS POINT, Oregon – When three University of Oregon students decided the weather was too nice on a sunny Friday to sit in class, they cut school. “We hit the coast and we’re sure glad we did because we’re huge Twilight fans. Imagine riding by the beach and spotting Kristen Stewart or Robert Pattinson? Well, it happened to us, we found Breaking Dawn,” says Greg Barker who’s a senior at the U of O in Eugene.
Vince Porter, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Film &Television, refuted the claims both in the article’s comment section and in an email to us. The article states that a contact at the Governor’s Office of Film & Television confirmed that pre-production was underway and goes on to quote a source. Porter tells us that the Governor’s Office was never contacted and confirmed no such thing. Moreover, the Governor’s Office checked in with the University of Oregon and found that there are no students registered at the school with the names listed in the article.
For more information on what we know regarding “Breaking Dawn”, check out these previous blog posts:
Most recently, we took issue with the unscrupulous companies that advertise casting calls for Breaking Dawn (the final installment of the Twilight saga) on the Internet or via email.
After luring victims to create a web profile on a so-called “casting website,” they inform them that they can only find out about Breaking Dawn auditions if they upgrade to a paid subscription. Of course, the auditions are bogus, as no casting director has been hired yet to cast the film, and if she were, she wouldn’t advertise auditions on a paid website. Instead, she would find established, experienced actors through bona fide SAG-franchised talent agencies.
Apparently, the problem is widespread, as our blog post got picked up by websites such as Access Hollywood and MSNBC.
Well, a new Breaking Dawn casting scam was recently brought to our attention and we wanted to warn others, so they will recognize the difference between a real casting call and an attempt to fleece fans of their cash.
I received the following message from a Twilight fan:
Sorry to bother you as I am sure that you are busy. We had an ad on the a radio here in Calgary saying that if you text this number at this certain time, you would get a call to audition for the next Breaking Dawn movie at [nameless acting & modeling school]. Today they called and booked an audition time for my daughter on Saturday. I was just wondering if you knew anything about this or if it is just a scam to have people join [nameless acting & modeling school]? They said there was a casting director coming.
Without even gathering any more information about this supposed casting call, I can tell you that this is nothing but a ploy to get people through the door. Once they have arrived, victims will have to sit through a sales pitch and be pressured to sign up for acting and modeling classes that are expensive and of dubious quality. Likely, victims will also be pressured to purchase spendy (and useless) photo portfolios or attend a costly “talent showcase” in LA or New York, where, they’re told, they just might be “discovered.”
RED FLAGS GALORE
Here are the red flags I spotted in this message:
Breaking Dawn is not casting yet.
The film doesn’t go into production until the fall. No casting director has even been hired.
Auditions for Breaking Dawn will not take place anywhere where classes are offered, nor will they take place in Calgary.
The film is likely shooting in Vancouver, BC. A real casting company, not an acting and modeling school located in a shopping mall, will be hired to cast the actors.
NOTE: Anytime a company that offers classes or photo portfolios also promotes itself as a talent agency or talent management company: Beware. Real industry professionals know that it is a conflict of interest to do both.
Auditions for any real roles in the film will not be advertised on the radio.
Actors will be hired through bona fide SAG-franchised talent agencies.
(The extras casting company MAY hold an open casting call, but this won’t happen until the film goes into production this fall and actually hires an extras company.
Moreover, it will only be advertised in the Vancouver area or wherever the film is shooting. They do not want to truck extras in from remote locations. There are plenty of people on hand who live nearby.)
The qualification to audition for a film this huge is not one’s ability to send a text message.
The casting directors want educated, established, experienced, professional actors. They don’t have time to waste on these kinds of games. Film is a high-pressure, fast-paced business and producers want only the crème de la crème.
If you want to break into acting, get into the best acting class you can find and train, train, train. Don’t look around for silly shortcuts. Acting is hard work and very competitive.
Who in the Forks is this casting director?
This acting/modeling school claims that a casting director will be there, but since it can’t possibly be the CD of Breaking Dawn, who is it?
And why are they claiming it’s an audition for Breaking Dawn? The film is not yet in production and no crew has been hired.
She will be giving a talk, tentatively entitled “Auditioning for the Twilight Saga: Fact versus Fiction,” and will touch on the following topics:
Twilight Saga casting calls: How to recognize real ones from fake ones
Can I audition for a role in Breaking Dawn? Understanding the casting process
Help! I need an agent! What you need to do to get signed by a legitimate talent agency
Working as an extra
How to break into the business if you don’t live in Hollywood
Once in many moons a new genre craze begins and so it is for TWILIGHT, the epic series of books and smash hit feature film (with sequels to follow). We are proud to present the Creation Entertainment’s Official Twilight Convention 2010 in the happening city of Seattle Washington State, January 15-17, 2010. With fantastic guest stars from the film, wonderful programming, panels and events, themed parties, autographs and photo ops, live musical performances and more: make your plans now to join the celebration!
All your teenager wanted for Christmas was a part in the next “Twilight” movie.
Since the first two films in the “Twilight Saga” series, “Twilight” and “New Moon,” have been released and the third, “Eclipse,” has been shot, teens all over the world are getting desperate. Their last chance to be the kid sitting in the back of the lunchroom, or the teenager behind the counter of the coffeehouse, or even the brown dot on the horizon in a crowd scene, could soon be gone.
So your teen jumps on the Internet and starts searching for audition opportunities. Or your daughter, who belongs to a “Twilight” fan site, gets an e-mail out of the blue from a “casting scout” for “Breaking Dawn,” the fourth film in the series.
Not to beat the subject into the ground, but ever since my original blog post about the “Breaking Dawn” casting scam that’s being advertised all over the Internet and landing in people’s email inboxes, I have received tons of messages asking whether casting calls on other sites are also a scam.
Here’s the bottom line:
ALL CURRENTLY ADVERTISED CASTING CALLS FOR BREAKING DAWN ARE FALSE.
Breaking Dawn is not yet in production. When it does go into production, professional casting directors will be hired to cast it.
Any website or company claiming that they can get you an audition for “Breaking Dawn” and then asks for ANY money whatsoever is not a real casting company.
REAL CASTING DIRECTORS ARE NOT “CASTING SCOUTS”
Real casting directors don’t have websites where people are required to pay money to submit themselves for jobs.
They will never see the supposed audition tapes that the “casting scouts” on these websites are promising to forward on to them.
Real casting directors in the US are usually members of CSA. Their resumes can be found on IMDb.
REAL CASTING DIRECTORS WORK WITH REAL TALENT AGENTS
The CDs that Summit hires will work with professional talent agencies to hire the principal roles.
Real talent agencies do not charge their talent any money to be represented. They only make commissions when their actors book jobs.
Real agents represent established, professional actors who were either referred to them by other professionals or whom they have previously seen perform on stage or film.
They do not scout for talent in shopping malls, on Craigslist, in banner ads or in spam emails.
Real agents do not run acting or modeling schools, especially ones that charge thousands of dollars.
REAL EXTRAS CASTING DIRECTORS WILL HIRE THE BACKGROUND PERFORMERS
Real extras casting directors have offices, staff and phone lines. They are usually based in the area where the film will be shooting. Their resumes can be found on IMDb.
They will widely advertise open casting calls for background actors (if any are needed) on the TV and radio stations in the city where the film is shooting.
The casting call will be free to attend. You should never have to pay to audition or to find out the location of an audition.
They will not seek to hire extras who live outside the shooting area. They are not interested in dealing with travel complications that could arise from hiring an out-of-town extra. And they certainly won’t hire someone who doesn’t already have working papers.
If you want to be an extra on a film, the harsh reality is that you need to live in the area where it is shooting and there’s no guarantee you’ll even be chosen to work.
PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD
I hope this clears up everyone’s questions. Please spread the word, as many people have not heard this information, and judging by my inbox, are still falling prey to scam artists everywhere.
You can read my previous blog posts on this subject below or by clicking “Scams” in the Labels section in the right sidebar. As mentioned before, if we ever get any real news about “Breaking Dawn,” we’ll post it here and pass it on to our Twihard mailing list.
Be safe, do your research and always use common sense.
If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know how much we hate, HATE, HATE scam artists who prey on aspiring actors and movie fans (especially kids) with fake casting calls.
A new one involving Breaking Dawn, the final installment in the Twilight series, has come to my attention. BE WARNED! As I’ve done in the past, I’m going to dissect it, show you all the red flags and demonstrate how I did the research to uncover the scam artist behind it all.
So next time you get an email like the one below or see something online that sounds too good to be true, you’ll know how to dissect it yourself to find out if it’s bogus or for real. Take note!
By the way, I’m not going to post the name or URL of the company and give them free traffic, but this was forwarded to me from a real talent agent, whose client (a minor) received it. The girl did not have a profile on this scam website and doesn’t have any other publicly viewable casting profiles online. So the first question is: How did they get her contact information? When her mother replied to the email to inquire, the email bounced back: “no such mailbox.” Major red flag. I would have deleted this as spam right then and there. But let’s dissect the entire message anyway!
ANATOMY OF A SCAM EMAIL
From: Casting Department Sent: Thu, Dec 3, 2009 3:36 am Subject: Salem Area Movie Extras Needed for Twilight “Breaking Dawn” Casting in Portland. <---RED FLAG! All Ages Wanted, No Experience Needed, Make up to $300 Per Day!
Shoot location has not been announced, so no casting is taking place in Portland. Also, productions never hire extras casting companies until a few weeks before principal photography is starting. Last I heard, Breaking Dawn won’t shoot for another six months or so.
“I noticed your portfolio online<---RED FLAG! and have decided to contact you regarding positions now available as a movie extra for the new Twilight “Breaking Dawn” movie in Portland.”
Casting directors don’t casually browse the Internet and contact people individually to work as extras. You think we’ve got time for that kind of thing???
If a CD needs a thousand extras, he or she will contact all the TV and radio stations, announce a casting call and get everyone to show up at once. Or, if they have an established extras casting company, they will contact extras in their existing database and check their availability for specific dates.
“No experience is necessary, all looks/types are wanted and the pay ranges from $80-$250<---RED FLAG! per day depending on whether it’s part or full time.
“Casting starts next Monday<---RED FLAG! so you will need to register (FREE REGISTRATION)<---RED FLAG! as soon as possible. It will be lots of fun, a great way to make connections in the industry and pays well!<---RED FLAG!
“If you are interested CLICK HERE TO APPLY (registration is free).”<---RED FLAG!
Where to begin? First of all, we know extras casting doesn’t start next Monday, BECAUSE THE FILM ISN’T EVEN SHOOTING YET. Yes, principal actors sometimes get hired well before production starts, but not the extras.
Next, the words FREE REGISTRATION are misleading: You can indeed register (i.e. give them all your contact information) for free on their website, but you can’t view the casting call details unless you PAY (more on this later). Real casting calls are widely publicized and FREE.
Also, the subject line of the email promises up to $300/day. This part says they can earn up to $250/day. In reality, extras earn a lot less than that. And only stand-ins even come close to working full-time as extras. The work is very sporadic; usually only a few days here and there.
We’ll discuss what happens when you click on CLICK HERE TO APPLY in a bit.
“David Fox / Portland Casting Scout”<---RED FLAG!
Five simple words, yet so many suspicious elements:
David Fox is a dubiously generic-sounding name. Plus, I live in Portland and I’ve never heard of him. A Google search for “david fox” + “casting scout” returns zero results.
Nobody calls themselves a casting scout, unless they’re trying to get money out of you (in my experience). We are casting DIRECTORS. A Google search for “david fox” + “casting director” doesn’t turn up anything useful, either.
If by some stretch of the imagination, I don’t know him because he just arrived in town for this specific project (which is not possible, since the shoot locations of BD have not been announced), he would at least have a resume on IMDb, right?
Wrong. IMDb has no listing for an extras casting director named David Fox. Do you really think Summit Entertainment would hire someone with NO casting experience to work on their blockbuster movie? Check out the resume of the extras CD who cast their last film. THAT’S more like it.
“PS: We are the entertainment industry’s way of casting new faces and talent all around the world for movie extra roles.<---RED FLAG! With over 300,000 members<---RED FLAG! and thousands of Industry professionals (producers, directors, agents and photographers) [SCAMMY COMPANY] is the right place to find jobs! Thousands of jobs now available in all 50 states. We have been in business since 2005 and are a proud member of the Better Business Bureau.”<---RED FLAG!
Aah. So now we discover that our beloved David Fox is not the extras casting director of Breaking Dawn, but in fact he works for a website that he claims industry professionals use.
Sorry, but professional extras casting directors have their own databases of local talent. They don’t hop on these websites looking for extras, otherwise they’d get swamped with useless submissions from around the world. Extras are always cast LOCALLY.
Oh, their scammy website probably has casting calls for some low-budget freebies, posted by indie filmmakers who don’t know any better, but no major production company is going to use a company like this. When they arrive in a shoot location, they hire a LOCAL casting company, with an actual office, phone lines and real people behind the desks.
And by the way, when I searched this company’s name on the Better Business Bureau‘s website, it came back with a reliability rating of F (company name blacked out, to avoid giving them traffic):
If that wasn’t enough to convince you that the company is a scam, let’s check out what happens when you click the link in the email.
ANATOMY OF A SCAM WEBSITE
This page has some of the same information as in the email, but I will point out a few more red flags:
ALL EXTRAS CASTING IS LOCAL
“Place: (nationwide) <---RED FLAG!
“Female or Male – All Ethnicities – All Ages <---RED FLAG!
“By clicking ‘Apply’ button you will send an email with a link to your profile directly to the casting agent.” <---RED FLAG!
Nobody does a nationwide extras casting call. That would be insane. Why would a casting director want 20,000 emails from extras who don’t even live in the right area? Extras casting is done LOCALLY. Period.
There are plenty of people who live near the shoot location, so there’s no reason for production to hassle with the myriad travel complications that could arise from hiring someone out of the area. If you want to be an extra on a particular movie, you’ll just have to move to where it’s shooting first.
Extras casting directors already have too much work to do and way too little time. They prefer to hire extras whom they’ve worked with before and trust to show up on time and behave properly on set. At the very least, they want local extras.
NO WAY TO REPORT PROBLEMS OR COMPLAINTS
The links to report scams, spam and inappropriate content do not allow you to send a message; instead, they lead you to the registration page. I was not going to give this sketchy company my contact info just to report a complaint, so I read the Terms of Service to see if I could find any contact information there.
The two email addresses I found in the Terms of Service where one can supposedly file complaints (abuse@___.com and legal@_____.com) both BOUNCED.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
Next, I conducted a WHOIS search on the company name, but only came up with the contact info for a private registration site that keeps the registrant’s name anonymous.
So, I did a WHOIS search on the domain name of the email address in the original email and–BINGO!–I found a certain Richard Fox (hmm, same last name as David–what a coinkidink!).
A little more digging revealed this information:
* “Richard Fox” owns about 4,885 other domains * is a contact on the whois record of 631 domains * 1 registrar has maintained records for this domain since 2006-10-23 with 1 drop. * This domain has changed name servers 2 times over 2 years. * Hosted on 3 IP addresses over 3 years. * View 15 ownership records archived since 2007-11-27. * 3,881 other web sites are hosted on this server.
In other words, a guy who spends a lot more time making money off websites than doing any actual casting.
THE FINE PRINT
So, what will it cost you to find out about a NON-EXISTENT casting call for Breaking Dawn? Well, if you’re unlucky enough to have signed up for the yearly subscription, you’ll be out a HUNDRED BUCKS with no refund. I found this on the TOS page:
“[SCAMMY COMPANY NAME] offers a monthly (30 days) subscription for $39.99 and an annual (365 days) subscription for $99.99. All subscriptions are billed for the respective amount following the last day of the subscription period. [SCAMMY BRAND NAME] memberships are subscriptions billed on an automatic recurring billing cycle. PLEASE NOTE THAT ONCE YOU HAVE BEEN BILLED AND SERVICE HAS COMMENCED FOR THAT BILLING CYCLE, YOUR FEE FOR THAT BILLING CYCLE IS NON-REFUNDABLE. NO PRO-RATA REFUNDS WILL BE GIVEN FOR CANCELLATIONS IN THE MIDDLE OF A BILLING CYCLE. [SCAMMY COMPANY NAME] also offers a $1.99 3-day trial promotion. The 3-day trial if not canceled becomes a regular monthly subscription of $39.99 after the initial 3-day trial.”
I’m sure our wily Fox is making a pretty penny off Twilight fans who did not recognize the scam that this is. And that makes me mad!
Please feel free to share the link to this page with everyone you know. Don’t let others fall prey to creeps like this.
[Edited to add this helpful link that also applies to acting scams:
[Also edited to add: Any “Breaking Dawn” audition advertisements that may appear on this blog are doing so by using keywords and are not endorsed by us. We do our best to block websites from placing bogus casting calls on our site, but some may slip through the cracks. Caveat emptor!
Twilight fans can keep apprised of any actual news we may receive about the films by visiting this blog, subscribing to the RSS feed in the right sidebar and/or by sending a blank email to firstname.lastname@example.org to join our Twihard mailing list.]
Watch as Lana discusses the casting biz, scams, the craft of acting and Oregon film production with Rick Emerson on NW32’s “Outlook Portland.”
This weekend’s Outlook Portland: Of Twilight, Leverage, and starry eyes.
She’s done the casting for Leverage, Twilight, The Road, and myriad other projects for the big and small screens. She’s Lana Veenker, and as head of Lana Veenker Casting, she helps to craft the products that entertain billions of people around the globe. She’s also a gatekeeper of sorts, one through which Portland’s aspiring actors must inevitably pass.
So…how does casting work? What is a casting director really looking for? And how far have Twilight Moms gone in an attempt to get their kids cast in a flick?
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.”
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.
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?
This is just a quickie post (I actually have lots to say on the subject in my former online course), but since I noticed an ad on my very own blog for an acting/modeling school that purports to also be an agency, I just wanted to pipe up and mention that I am not a fan of these types of establishments. 🙁
Here are a few red flags to look out for when vetting talent agencies:
1. Bona fide talent agencies are not schools; bona fide acting schools are not agencies.
Scammy acting/modeling schools sell their prospective students on the dream that they can submit them for paid acting or modeling jobs…IF they sign up for their (very expensive) classes.
News flash: They usually can’t. Most industry professionals don’t work with these kinds of establishments.
Now, it’s rare, but I have known excellent acting teachers in smaller markets who manage a select roster of actors. The ones who do sell their acting courses for a reasonable price, do not engage prospects in hard sales pitches and only agree to represent the very best of their students. No guarantees, no hype.
This is a tricky area, though. Larger markets typically frown on the practice of representing and teaching at the same time, because of the potential conflict of interest. Some smaller markets have to be slightly more flexible, due to economic factors. The key will be to find out if the teacher is respected in the local community (I’ll talk more about teachers in a bit).
2. Bona fide talent agencies don’t have offices in shopping malls.
Scammy acting/modeling schools often open up shop where there are a high number of young, gullible prospects: At the mall.
Respectable talent agencies have proper offices, in the parts of town where other industry professionals work (production companies, casting offices, etc.) and they don’t need to send their employees out on the streets trolling for actors or models.
3. Beware of anyone who calls himself/herself a “talent scout.”
In my 20-odd years in the industry, I’ve never met a so-called “talent scout”…except scam artists.
It’s possible you might get noticed one day in passing by a talent agent, a modeling agent, a casting director or a producer (and likely all they’ll do is give you a business card; no hype involved).
But a talent scout? The ones I’ve met were usually trying to round up starry-eyed prospects to sell them expensive classes or portfolios…or worse. Be careful.
4. Good talent agencies normally don’t advertise for actors.
They don’t need to. Trained, professional actors are banging at their doors for representation. Be cautious if an agency needs to run ads to lure actors in: It’s usually not a good sign.
I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but it bears reminding: Real agents make their money by representing strong actors and earning a commission off the work they find for them. Agency/schools make their money off selling classes and portfolios.
5. There should be no hard sales pitch at a real talent agency.
A bona fide agent is interested in finding out if your skills, experience and looks would add to his roster and help him earn more money off the jobs he helps you find.
A scammy agency/school will lure you in, purportedly to see if you “have what it takes to make it in the business,” but soon, you’ll find yourself in a room with dozens of other hopefuls, listening to a long sales pitch about how they can make you a star. Warning: Their smooth talk can be very seductive and you may start to believe it.
But soon, you’ll be taken into a private room with a “talent scout” who will “assess your potential” (inevitably telling you that you’re destined to be the next big thing) then pressure you or your parents to pay up for the classes or photo shoots immediately. RUN AWAY FAST!!
6. Agency/Schools usually don’t have the best teachers.
At all. In fact, I know of only ONE dubious agency/school in my area that for a while had some good teachers, but they all ended up leaving, I think because they felt slimy about the company’s recruitment tactics.
The best teachers tend to work in acting conservatories, universities or as private coaches. Not in shopping malls. Not in schools that double as acting/modeling agencies. Save your money and avoid learning bad habits that will have to be unlearned: Only work with respected acting coaches.
If you’re not sure who is respected, do the rounds of all the theatres in your area (you can usually watch shows for free, if you volunteer to usher). When you see a really great show with fantastic actors, stick around afterward and ask the actors whom they study with.
Note: It’s a good idea in general to start networking in the acting world; you’ll learn a lot from your fellow actors.
What could be more flattering? Someone approaches you at the mall and says, “You could be a model. You’ve got the ‘look’ we’re after. Here’s my card. Give me a call to set up an appointment.” People have always said you’re good looking. Now, visions of glamour, travel and money flash before your eyes.
It’s true that some successful models have been discovered in everyday places like malls, boutiques, clubs, and airports. But the vast majority of would-be models knock on door after agency door before work comes their way.
BBB’s mission is to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. BBB accomplishes this mission by:
* Creating a community of trustworthy businesses
* Setting standards for marketplace trust
* Encouraging and supporting best practices
* Celebrating marketplace role models, and;
* Denouncing substandard marketplace behavior
Hope this helps!
Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.
PS: Have any of you ever been the victim of an agency scam?
I’ll try tackling a few more of your questions, before I get back to my actor surveys. I’m sure those of you who submitted your surveys are anxious to find out who the winners are! I’m on survey #103 of over 200, so I’m about halfway there, but it’s a lot of reading! Keep checking back here for news or sign up for the RSS feed (on the right sidebar).
There will be more opportunities in the future for readers to participate in the development of my new book for actors, so stay tuned.
Okay, without further ado: Your questions!
1. I am wondering if you think it is a good idea to take the site Acting411 as a good source of information for addresses and casting information. If not, where? I am interested in sending my information in for the Natalee Hollaway story, but I am not sure how to go about it. The agent that I talk to, but reluctantly sign with, tells me that I can submit myself for anything I want. I just don’t want to be doing it wrong and end up being a pesky aspiring actor. Do you have any advice?
I can’t speak for other casting directors or other websites, but most of the castings we do are not open to the general public, unless we specifically advertise them as such. It won’t hurt you to self-submit; you never know when your headshot will land on someone’s desk at the right time. But for major roles, we usually start with actors who are tried-and-true or who come highly recommended from agents we respect.
For smaller parts, we might dig through the piles of mail to see if there’s someone new we want to bring in, so if you’re unknown to us, you’ll have better chances there. But generally you need to live in the area where the casting is taking place.
If we advertise a role publicly, then by all means, send in your submission. In our case, we typically put out a press release, post the information on our website, on our MySpace pages (LVC and RBC) and possibly even on Craigslist in the city where the casting is taking place. Back Stage is also known as one of the top resources for casting calls, but it requires a subscription.
I know that the Ross Reports maintains a pretty comprehensive list of casting directors and their submission instructions, but I think it also requires a subscription to Back Stage.
2. Lana, I too have a more general question regarding the business. What are your thoughts on aspiring actors paying for memberships on sites like “The Casting Workbook”? Is this a professional and reputable way to put yourself out there or more of a lost cause?
Those sites can be useful, if they’re actually used by the local casting directors. Casting Workbook is used pretty widely in Canada, so if you’re based there, it could be helpful. We’ve used CastingNetworks in LA and San Francisco for commercials and non-broadcast projects, and we’ve used NowCasting in LA for films. And of course, the Players Directory has been around for over 70 years and is considered an authoritative resource for casting directors (it’s also now being run by NowCasting).
There may be others out there, but I’m not familiar with them. Just be wary of subscription websites that promise to submit you for castings all around the country. There are sites that steal our press releases, post them on their own websites as if they were theirs and swamp us with mail from all over the country, when all we really want are local actors.
Typically, casting directors only want to see people who are based in the region where they are casting, even if you say “you’re willing to travel.” There are too many fantastic actors in our own backyard; why would we want to deal with the hassle (and potential catastrophe for the production) of an actor who has to travel back and forth across the country for multiple auditions, wardrobe calls, rehearsal and shoot dates, all which could change at a moment’s notice? No thank you! Find the casting director(s) in the cities closest to you and start there.
3. Hello, I am new in this blog. I have been reading your information about casting and many more. I thank you for the details you passed it on to every one of us who strive to become an actor. I am currently residing in Chicago for 3 yrs now. I realized that it is difficult to get a role especially when you are hearing impaired and looks very young. I’m 31 and my appearance for the role that I’ve been auditioning did not go through because I look very young. I have done several project here in Chicago and do have 3 agencies. All of my agents are fantastic. Back to my question to ask you, for an African American, Hearing Impaired and female, why is it difficult to get a role?
I’m afraid it’s difficult for everyone to get roles! If you’re in a minority category of any kind, there are fewer opportunities…BUT you also have less competition. So if you fit the requirements of the role, you actually have a relatively good shot at getting cast.
If you’re in a category where there are lots of opportunities, that may seem to be an advantage, BUT there’s also a lot more competition. The odds are stacked against you.
In both situations, the only thing you can do is try to be the best actor you can be. Study with the best acting coaches you can and keep improving your skills.
That being said, the market is opening up and non-traditional casting is in much higher demand than ever before, particularly in television commercials, where our clients seem to want as much diversity as possible.
Hollywood is not far behind. We recently worked on the Diane Lane film “Untraceable” and got to meet the wonderful (and deaf) actor Ty Giordano, who also recently played the role of Huck Finn on Broadway in a revival of the musical Big River that featured both deaf and hearing actors:
The opportunities are out there. Just keep improving your acting chops and go for it! 🙂
4. So where would I find a list of suitable agents, who are not frauds of course, in the LA and/or South Orange County area? Like can you recommend one? Or know of one?
Remember, a bona fide agency only earns money when you do (i.e. a commission off the work they find for you). They don’t try to sell you classes or photographs, or charge you exorbitant registration fees. You will need training and headshots, but real talent agencies don’t sell those. They may give you a list of recommended acting coaches and photographers, but they shouldn’t try to coerce you to hire a specific one (that may mean they’re getting kickbacks; not good).
5. Thanks so much for clearing things up, although I do have a few questions. I live in Canada and it is extremely hard to get American auditions especially without an agent. Do you know any good Canadian agencies? Also, can they get me on an American gig?
The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) has branches across Canada that should be able to provide lists of recognized talent agencies.
You need to have a work permit to work in a country other than your own. Unless you’re a star, the production company will not procure one for you. So it’s not likely a Canadian agency can get you an audition for a job shooting in the States, unless you already have work papers or dual citizenship. And even then, most casting directors prefer to work with actors who live in the region where the job is shooting. So you’d be better off moving to the city where you want to work (as long as you are legal to work there).