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How do you avoid being taken? Here are several critical things to keep in mind so you can sniff out the scams:
1. Never Pay To Audition
If anyone asks you for money to see an audition or get an audition--run. Run far away. You never pay to audition. The industry works like this: You get an agent or manager, you do the job, you get paid, and THEN your representative (the agent or manager) gets a percentage of your check. That's it. They do not get paid until you get paid. There is never any upfront money required when you sign with an agent. They only make money when you make money.
2. Agents Do Not Sell Pictures
If your prospective agent will not represent you unless you purchase pictures through their agency, that is a conflict of interest. The primary job of your agent is to GET YOU WORK, not sell you pictures. A good agent will recommend several reputable photographers; that's fine. But if your representation is contingent on buying some expensive headshot package directly from them, then you will want to seek out new representation.
3. If It Sounds Too Good To Be True, It Is
I have seen so many people, new to the business, get taken by this familiar pitch:
Radio or Newspaper Ad: "How would you like to be in the next (insert celebrity name here) movie? Well, now's your chance! The (insert scam company name here) group will be in Miami the weekend of (insert date here) and we want to meet you! Mix and mingle with Los Angeles agents and casting directors! Get the opportunity to have a personal interview and evaluation. This could be YOUR BIG BREAK! Call today to register. This event is limited to an exclusive few. Don't miss out!"
You call; you're just curious. A very skilled, slick salesperson answers the phone and is ready to handle your every objection. They sell you on just coming down to an information session with no pressure to sign up. If you like what you hear, then you can take it from there. Well, that doesn't sound too bad; they haven't asked for any money. Yet.
You arrive on the designated evening at the posh ballroom of an expensive hotel. The marketing materials look amazing, there's a great promo video and they are guaranteeing big opportunities to you or your kid--but you have to ACT FAST! Space is limited and they are filling up. Before you realize it, you have parted with anywhere from $500 to $6000.
I get calls all the time from parents or young actors, AFTER they have already put out the money. One precious grandmother called us after she had emptied out her savings of $6000. She had given them a cashiers' check and was calling us to see if we could help her get her money back.
If anyone tries to rush you into paying or tries to make you believe this is your once in a lifetime opportunity or your are going to miss out on becoming the next big thing, don't get sucked in. The pitch is designed to play upon your biggest hopes and dreams for yourself. It's designed to make you feel as if you need this or it will never happen. They want you to believe that YOU are the one in a million that will get "discovered" at one of these talent conventions. That's just foolishness. Don't be fooled. Their only goal is to separate you and your money. Never be afraid to slow it down and take time to think and research.
4. Google Is Your Friend
Do your homework! Use Google or the search engine of your choice to find out what folks are saying. If there is dirt to discover, it will pop up fast. Before putting out those big bucks, ask around. Seek out people that have been in the industry and get some feedback. These companies get a reputation very quickly and it's easy to find out who is legit and who is a fraud. This one quick step will save you time, money, and heartache.
5. Beware of the Pay Website
This is the new version of paying to audition. You may get a solicitation or find them through a search. There are several sites that require a monthly auto-debt of anywhere from $29.95 to $69.95 to host your profile and picture on their website. They tell you that top casting directors look at the site and select you for major motion picture roles, just because you have your profile listed in their database.
That's not how it works, folks. Any major motion picture has a casting director assigned that is gathering talent to audition through well-established contacts (agents and managers) in the business. A legitimate Hollywood casting director already has more talent available than they can ever see. Why would they need to go on some random site to find an actor in Miami when there are more than 100,000 actors available in Los Angeles? That's like bringing sand to the beach.
6. Treat It Like a Business
I am always amazed at the number of people who get into the industry to be an actor, but think they can just "wing" it. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, chefs, veterinarians--you name it--every profession requires training and has its own set of protocols and rules. Acting is no different. You would not go in for a major surgery without getting two or three opinions, checking prices, talking to former patients, discovering all your alternative options. You must do the same thing with your acting career. Research all of your options. Find out what type of training is out there. Learn about how your market works. Every market has its own quirks and ways of doing things. I can tell you from experience that Miami and Los Angeles do things different. Some protocols are universal: You need a headshot, resumé, agent, and training. HOW you get from "I want to be an actor" to booking jobs will be different. Take a business of acting class. Make sure you understand the business side and not just the creative side. Know the best ways to do what you love and be smart on the journey.
If you take the time to be mindful of the things mentioned above, your journey through this industry will have a lot less heartache. This business is tough, but it can be so rewarding. Be smart about pursuing your craft. Take time to learn from successful, experienced actors. Know that this is a marathon, not a sprint! Most actors become an overnight success in about ten years. Yep. Ten years. The trouble always starts when you try to skip A, B, C, and head straight for S and T. If you are ready to do the long haul--because you are in it for the love of the craft--you are in for a fabulous, wild ride. So buckle up!
On the journey, remember the commonsense things of life. If you feel uncomfortable, threatened, pressured, or confused it's okay to take a step back and check out other options. If you have a heart for this business you will always find a way. One opportunity will not make or break you. Trust that you will find the right path. This journey should feel GOOD! Yes, it can be glorious torture waiting to find out if you booked a job, or waiting to get a call to audition, but you can handle it. Be smart! Align yourself with credible, established industry folks and ask lots of questions. Knowledge is power. Here's to the journey!
We are so very fortunate that there are so many resources available online these days, so that actors CAN check to see if they're actually being taken for a ride or investing in a legitimate opportunity to build toward a thriving career. Now the question is: Will actors (or their parents, in the case of kid actors) actually do the research? Will they actually believe the warnings, if they're out there? If your spidey sense is tingling, there's usually a reason, and because scam artists prey on manipulating your dreams, it's that much more important to leave the credit cards at home, do your research, and never get suckered into a "limited time offer" that will never be repeated. Legitimate instructors teach all the time and are happy to have you in class when it works best for you. Legitimate agents and managers earn money on commission, not on kickbacks or up-front fees of any kind. And, as Lisa so correctly stated, no one in casting is going out looking for MORE places to find brand new actors, on the Internet. Keep these tips in mind and stay on track!
About Lisa Bunbury
With a degree from Florida International University in broadcast journalism, Lisa Bunbury took a winding road to discovering her passion for writing. She started as a banker, but ironically that led her into performing, coaching, and acting, then ultimately to writing. She and her sister are currently polishing up a sitcom about their life. They also host a free website for actors: http://actorsinfobooth.com. When she's not writing, Lisa enjoys cooking--fettuccine Alfredo and brownies are favorites. She currently divides her time between Los Angeles and Miami, Florida, her hometown.
Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Got some feedback, or maybe you'd like to be a future contributor to The Actors Voice: POV? Well, then email firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to connect on Twitter? Follow Bonnie here. You can also circle up at Google+ here or "like" at the Facebook here. For cool weekly emails from Bon, get listed here.