How To Avoid Acting and Modeling Scams – The Myths & The Reality

As more people get hip to the modeling and acting scams in play, the companies behind them evolve and change the script, so to speak.

I thought I would re-visit the subject of how to spot the acting and modeling scams.

It’s 2016 and the scammers that were around in 2015, 2014, 2013 and way back to 2000 are still around and raking in the dough. While the internet has helped get some of these guys to slow down, they certainly have not gotten out of the business. The internet has simply made them change their game plans. No longer are they sticking with their brand and trying to bury negative information (there’s just too much of it these days), now, they keep re-branding, changing websites,  and company names as often as needed. This type of rapid re-branding makes it very difficult to find any information about them online and they are banking on that.

However, there are many ways to protect yourself and your kids from falling pray to these guys. For one, if you found this page looking for information on the modeling and child acting scams, you must already have your doubts about an offer you may have received. Something in the offer, audition or casting call sent up a red flag causing you to look into it. I’ve got some news…. if your gut tells you it’s not quite right, chances are your gut feeling is right on the money.

I think the best protection is to know the facts about how the industry works and doesn’t work. That way, aspiring talent will be able to separate the myths from the truth.

For many years, unscrupulous companies have promoted these myths, so much so that many aspiring actors and models believe those misconceptions to be the industry norm.

Myths and realities about auditions

The myths and misconceptions:

Myth #1: There is a huge shortage of talent

For years scammers have used that ploy to make people believe that there are so few people with “the look” that they are reaching out to unknown, un-experienced and untrained individuals wanna be actors to fill all those roles that they just can’t find anyone for. There is such a shortage of people (mostly kids and teens) that they are trolling malls, online profiles and parking lots searching for their next “diamond in the rough” to make into a star.

Truth is, there are more trained and experienced actors than available acting gigs.  Do Major casting directors go to shopping malls, parks, grocery stores and 7/11′s to find new talent…. No!

Most agents get 100′s of requests for representation every week. Most casting directors have 100′s or 1000′s of submissions for a single role. Scammers have used this ploy for years. They troll the malls, parks and places they know they will find teens and proud parents. The people doing it are not “talent scouts” they are commissioned salespeople looking for their next sucker who may believe their pitch.  Agents and casting directors don’t have the time to actually see all the people that send them headshots, reels and resumes… much less the time to stand outside the local mall hoping that they spot someone with “the look” to be in a movie.

Scammers play on the fact that everyone would love to get “scouted” and they play the part. Don’t get me wrong, talent scouts do exist, but not in malls, or outside of Targets and Walmarts. Talent scouts go to the places where they will find the talent. Athletic scouts attend high school games and college athletic events to see who stands out. Theatrical scouts attend plays, acting agents may attend film screenings. Think about it… if you were looking for a star basketball player, why would you go to the mall to find one? The only people trolling malls with clipboards are the scammers and salespeople working for them.

Myth #2: Extras for large productions and big budget movies are paid lots of money.

That is a myth made popular by scammy companies who are trying to entice newbie actors and models into spending their hard earned cash. The truth is that extras are not actors and do not make actor’s rates. For 99% of productions, extras make around minimum wage. Huge wages for movie extras is a misconception that has been in play for many years.  Right now, I can go to various scammy sites and find casting calls which I KNOW are for general extras that are billed as great paying acting jobs for  talent nationwide, making as much as 800+ a day. They also claim that if you live far, no worries the production will fly you out.

It’s simply not true. Fake casting notices may read something like this… talent of all ages for park scene with breakdowns that list roles such as woman 1, man, 2, etc. Those are in fact extras notices that scammers have found on legit sites then changed and manipulated to fit their needs.  They can reel in many more potential victims by changing the pay rate. No one would get too excited or pay money to apply for a minimum wage job, but they would pay a few hundred bucks to make a few thousand. They change notices which are only open to locals to encompass more people.

The notices may in fact be real, but they change the pay, location and email to their own email address and once talent tries to submit, they ask talent for money. Unfortunately, people who pay these scammers  to apply to castings, never actually apply to anything. Their submissions go nowhere because the last thing scammers want to do is alert the real casting directors to their scam. Many casting directors have been demanding that these companies cease and desist using their notices and changing the emails.

Extras are ALWAYS cast locally! I can’t stress that enough!

There is no such animal as a nationwide extras casting call. Extras do not get paid for travel. Average pay for an extra working 8 hours is about $65 bucks. There is no reason productions would pay 100′s for travel expenses to an extra making $65 bucks. Even if talent was willing to pay their own travel, they would still not be considered.

The reason for that is that the farther someone has to drive or fly, the more likely they are to flake. Locally, casting directors expect 10% of locals to not show up and overbook to cover those people. If they depended on people to come cross country to work a minimum wage job for a day, that 10% of no shows would be 90% plus. While many people may promise to make it there, it’s just too hard to depend on people travelling very far. It’s not the casting directors fault, they work for the production and need to make sure it all works out without a hitch. They simply cannot wait on folks stuck in traffic, stuck at the airport, flight delayed, train broke down, etc. Hiring local extras cuts those concerns out of the equation. It’s not just them that would be waiting if too many people were late or no shows. The 100′s of crew members on set would be waiting as well, which translates into huge money / time  losses for the production and casting directors finding themselves out of a job.

Scammers don’t care about the productions as they are not even a part of it. Again, they don’t even submit you.  The scammers don’t want you to question the logic behind why a production really needs YOU and only You.  They use many tactics to sound convincing and usually use a lot of flattery and compliments to make people feel like they are “The only ones on the planet” who can play woman #3. Truth is, background talent is called background for a reason. They are used in scenes to create crowds but are never supposed to stand out or be noticed at all.

Myth #3: Movies film everywhere.

No they don’t! Major movies and big budget shows only film in a handful of cities in certain states. Many people have asked me why that is… here is why….

Hollywood is a business and like all businesses they go to the cities that give them the best deals, have the best studios and support staff. Productions need many things to film. They need equipment rentals, state of the art studio space, pools of available and experienced crew, craft services, sound, lighting & construction crews, trailers for rent and much more. Since they are a business, it is too expensive to bring 100′s of people with them, drag trailers and equipment cross country, house all these people and build sound stages from scratch. So, they film in places that already have those facilities and services in place.  Places like Atlanta, New Orleans, New York, Los Angeles and some others have all that ready to go.

Also, the cities just mentioned give productions incentives to come there. Those incentives may be in the millions. Yes, some places pay Hollywood to film there. This is why we see so many movies are set in one place yet actually filming elsewhere.  I know it sucks for folks who want to be in the movie biz but yet live in a State that isn’t a hot bed of production. But really, it is what it is… a business.

All businesses do that and most people looking for geographically specific careers have to go to where the work is.  If you want to be a wall street banker, you need to move to NYC.  If you want to catch lobster, you certainly will have no shot doing it in Nebraska. If you dream of being a pro surfer, Montana may not be the best place to start. If you want to start an Orange Orchard, you won’t have much luck in Minnesota.

The scammers pray on people who believe that movies film everywhere and will come to you. Don’t fall for it.

Myth #4: I can pay someone to submit me to EVERYTHING.

No, you can’t. Companies that call you telling you that for a fee they will submit you to every major production filming across the world are full of it. That is not the way things work. Can you imagine if every casting director got 1000′s of submissions everyday from people all over the world. Casting directors are businesses that are very busy. Most do not have those kinds of resources as to hire 100′s of people to do nothing but look at irrelevant submissions. Sadly, scammers love this one because they know that so many people believe that there is a way to apply to everything and everyone at once with minimal effort….  for the right price that is. Truth is, those that fall for it never get submitted to anything.

REAL agents do not work this way!  An agent works with talent to get them an auditions for a role that they think they are right for. Agents get breakdowns, then look through those breakdowns and see if their talent roster has anyone that fits the role. They do not submit all their talent to every available role. If they did that, they would quickly lose their credibility by sending scores of unqualified talent that don’t fit any criteria over to waste the casting directors time.

Myth #5: Even if I don’t fit the criteria, they are able to create a role for me.

No they can’t. Casting directors are not writers. They work for the production and their job is to find people that fit the roles written by the writers. They cannot make their own roles, add in characters or change the script. They cannot say to the director… “Hey, I know you need a 50 year old African American woman, but check out this 19 year old Caucasian male instead.” Casting directors are given criteria for what talent a scene needs and they do their best to find the perfect person to match it.

In the last few months I have seen scores of social media posts knocking casting directors for seeking certain ethnicities only, age groups, body types, etc. People need to remember that this is HOLLYWOOD. Casting directors are looking for who they are looking for to fit specific scenes. Those scenes may be set anywhere in the world and they are simply looking for people who fit. You can’t cast a bunch of blondes to play South American villagers or a Red headed kid to play the child of an African American couple.

If someone calls you out of the blue claiming to be a casting director that will make a role just for you, they are scamming you 100%.

Myth #6: If they offer to pay me upfront, it can’t be a scam.

No it can! The industry does not pay upfront. You work, you do paperwork for payment, you get sent a check a few weeks later.  The Nigerian 419 scam has moved into the acting and modeling arena. These are the same scammers that used to email millions of strangers whose email addresses they pulled out of a computer program. No one falls for their old scam which sent letters saying some African prince left you millions or you won some lottery. They have moved on to other topics. The modeling / acting one is easier for them as many people still believe that if someone pays you, its not a scam. Coupled with the victims willingness to believe they actually got a paid job, it has been a slam dunk for scammers.

These guys post fake casting calls which the scammy sites spread around. They offer paid travel and high pay. They are vague in what they need so they cast a wide net and don’t care where you live as they offer to pay the travel to the set or even come to you. Once you submit your info, the scam is on. They reply that you got the job and they love you so much they will be sending you money right away having never even met you. (Remember, they have no clue who you are or if you actually sent pics of yourself) but they trust you enough to send you thousands of dollars in the form of a cashiers check. They trust you so much in fact that they sent you a check for more than your payment. They would like you to cash the check, send the bulk of it to their “guys” for travel costs, stylists, filming location costs or  whatever, and keep the rest. While most banks flag these fake checks right away, they know many people will put them in the ATM where human eyeballs can’t flag it immediately.  It will take a few days to come back as fake. By then you sent them the “travel” money. The bank then comes at you for the fraud leaving you to pay back that “travel” money you sent them.

It still blows my mind as to why so many people fall for this. Common sense dictates that if anyone is able to send YOU money… a stranger to them, they would be able to send their own “guys” money themselves without having to use you as a middle guy. Unfortunately, they have also figured out that when it comes to people looking for their big break,  many people will throw common sense out the window. Don’t fall for it. If anyone sends you money, sight unseen and needs you to cash a check then send a portion to them…. It’s 100% scam. And this one has been known to actually get victims into hot water.   This one is disastrous for the victims as it may leave them on the hook for thousands they can’t afford, ruin their credit and in some cases even get them criminally charged with fraud.

Myth #7: You may need to pay to audition, especially for Disney.

No, again. An audition is basically a job interview for actors. Scammers have many convinced that you do need to pay to get a Disney audition or others. That is another misconception spread by the scammers. Disney has officially said that they never charge any fees for auditions and in many states it is actually illegal. The companies that do this get away with it because through it all they have people sign a contract with small print that actually says they are not agents or casting directors. Rather, you are paying for some service. That wording is usually in the very small print that they know no one will read. Again, casting directors are paid by the productions, not by the talent.

Myth #7: There is a “fast track” to fame you can buy.

If that was the case, there would be literally millions of stars. This ploy has been used across many industries, not just acting. We have all seen the internet ads that state “You can make millions working from home” and for a price they will show you how… If you actually think about how absurd that statement is you would realize that if those people knew how to make millions doing nothing then they would not need your $99 bucks…. right? Same goes for acting. If the people contacting you telling you they know how to make you, your child or teen famous… for a price, of course, one must wonder why they need any money from YOU at all. If they have the magic formula, they can use it on their own kids to rake in the dough.

myth2

Now, here are some things to watch out for:

Red Flags:

Being approached at a mall, park or anywhere people take their kids. – See above for myth #1.

A Hodge Podge audition – Real auditions are trying to fill real roles as created by a writer. That means there are specifics, such as casting an African American 10 year old boy who is 5’2″. So, anyone else attending the same audition, for the same role should also be a 10 year old African American boy. If you end up in a large room with people of all ages, looks and ethnicities, there may be an issue.

Promises of fame – No one can make that type of promise. No legit agent or casting director would ever say anything like that. Agents can only get you an audition, they cannot promise work or fame since they do not actually hire you. Scammers are notorious for playing on ego and emotions. They will tell you that THEY think you have the “it” factor and will be a star. The key word is THEY think and since THEY have no say so in anything the statements are meaningless and are just part of their sales pitch.

Non-office and Late Hours - If you are worried about the legitimacy of something, don’t be afraid to ask questions, talk about it and research. A popular ploy for the modeling / acting scams is to use a tight time constraint. Remember, the salespeople do not want you to do your research or discuss it with anyone. Therefore, they add a time constraint. A popular one I hear often is a scammy company telling people they need an answer right away, as in within an hour or 2. To get away with it they lie, they say they are flying out of town tonight, need to make a decision immediately and will get another kid if you don’t pay them.

Creating urgency is a classic sales tactic and these guys use it well. To complicate things, a few companies tell people they will be calling late night, 10, 11 PM with news. Odd hours, right? Not for them. Calling that late just means that people will not be able to call family and friends to get another opinion. The scammers know others can talk them out of it and they are minimizing that chance by calling as late as possible to make another appointment for early, the following morning. What they are in fact doing is giving people a very small window to change their mind, do any research or talk it over with friends and family.

Fees – OK, now you got here because you were looking for an audition to get some paying acting work… the promise was in fact getting paid to act, model, whatever. Meaning, you want a job. Why would you consider paying the person who actually told you they have a job for you? This would never fly in any other industry. Can you imagine answering a want ad for, say a grocery clerk at a supermarket. Once there you find out that you would need to pay the supermarket for the privilege of bagging their customers groceries. Sounds silly, right?

Websites focusing on attracting talent - Success stories and things aimed at making talent feel like they need to sign up – Casting directors do not flaunt success stories. After all, they are the ones doing the hiring and talent are the ones hoping to impress them. Success stories are widely used in acting and modeling scams. Most of the time with names that cannot be verified such as … “Susan P. – I got a lead role in 1 week..”

Most  casting directors have sites aimed at their customers (the ones who pay them, the production companies).  You can tell a lot by looking at the site. If the site looks like it is geared towards attracting talent, then that may be a red flag. While most casting directors have a page or form for talent submissions, the goal of their site should not be enticing talent. In the past year, there has been a trend in scammy companies toning down the sales pitches on their sites to look more “real.” Some are hard to distinguish at a quick glance. But one thing still gives them away…. the wide net they cast.

Most casting directors and agents deal with local talent. Be skeptical of casting directors and agents looking for talent nationwide who don’t care where you live because they have work for you everywhere. See myth # 3.

More ticks

These sales people need you to believe. The sales people hired aren’t dummies, aren’t new to sales and will do anything to earn their commissions. They know, that you know, there should be competition and rejection involved. Often times when a family brings multiple children they will actually reject one of them. Their story becomes more believable when they say “sorry, little Jimmy didn’t make the cut, but Mary did.” They make these decisions on the fly while watching the parents and evaluating their financial situation. If the parents seem to have only enough cash in their savings for 1 kid, they will sell you on 1 kid and make the other feel kid feel like a failure all to make the entire process seem competitive and elite. Sorry to say they will make one child feel inadequate just to pressure parents into paying for the “talented, chosen one.”

If ever in doubt….

Read everything! These scammers stay in business by having people sign their contracts! Either in person or online.  They can verbally promise the moon and stars. They will tell you that your kid will be a star on Disney, make millions and retire at 17 with the huge fortune they made. It’s all BS!

Most of these outfits have very long contracts created by their lawyers. In those contracts (whose text is too small to read without glasses) they will state that they are NOT casting directors, agents and have absolutely no ability to get you cast in anything. They specify that the money you are paying them is for their services which may be putting a photo of you on their website(which no one will see), creating marketing materials such as business cards, sending you newsletters and a slew of other services you never wanted to begin with.

They understand that most people never read the fine print and they make it more difficult to even do so by adding hard pressure sales tactics such as you need to sign on the spot or lose your shot. Those contracts protect them because your signature indicates that you read and understand that they have no ability to cast you in anything.  Don’t be afraid to take your time to read it, get your glasses if needed and ask questions about the terms.  Scammers create contracts that are written specifically to confuse you.   No legit agency would ever want you to NOT read the contract.

Go with your gut! 

The biggest reason people get scammed is because they knew something wasn’t quite right, yet they set their gut feeling aside. Many people I have talked to who got taken say that they had a bad feeling but worried they would be missing a great opportunity….  just in case it actually was real. Our instincts and intuition have evolved over many generations. In many cases, those feelings help us stay out of trouble. If you have a bad feeling about something, your brain is warning you.

Anything too good to be true is probably a scam – Salespeople will promise the moon and the stars.  They are paid by commission and will say anything to get a sale. Remember, they can say anything verbally. If it’s not in writing, they never said it.

Someone once told me they fell for a scam where a woman was told over the phone that Mark Wahlberg saw her picture on the internet, needed her for his new movie and would fly her out to L.A. where she would make 1000s per day for 4 weeks. All she had to do was pay a fee to get it going. Uh, huh…. Is the Brooklyn Bridge still for sale?

Need more info?

Check out some of the other articles and discussions:

10 signs of an acting agency scam
Child Acting Scams
Disney Auditions and Nickelodeon auditions – how the scam works
How to Spot a Modeling / Acting Scam
Getting a “real” Agent
Disney Auditions on the Radio
Modeling Scams – photo mills

 

 

 

 

 

 

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