Actor scams are a very real thing in Hollywood and New York. People see the droves of artists stepping doe-eyed off the plane, and they want to take advantage of their naiveté and eagerness to work.
I’ll admit it: I’ve been scammed before, too. I think you would be hard-pressed to find an actor in a big market who hasn’t experienced some kind of scam. This is why you need to be very cautious and do your research before taking anyone’s advice or giving anyone your money.
Let’s talk about a few ways that people scam actors and some strategies you can implement to avoid them.
The Bottom Line
If someone asks for your money upfront, be extremely wary. That’s the basic theme. Let’s look at three scam models that make big promises… if only you put down some cash first.
Scam #1: They want you to pay them before they will represent you
This scam preys on young actors who are excited to have any halfway legitimate-looking opportunity. Fake or shady companies will pose as an agency and dangle the carrot right in front of your face, saying, “If you pay X amount up front, we’ll submit you for Criminal minds…”
Just to be clear, a legitimate agency will never ask for money up front. They don’t get paid unless you book a job, and then they’ll take a 10% commission from your pay.
If they’re asking you for money first, be extremely careful.
Scam #2: They require specific and exclusive training
If an agent or manager suggests a particular headshot photographer, that’s great. If they give you a list of potential schools, that’s also great. But if they require that you only shoot headshots with one specific individual, that’s a huge red flag. If they require that you take a class at one specific school exclusively, that’s another red flag. When they make demands like specific schools, it’s likely that they’re receiving money on the back end.
When I first moved to Los Angeles, I took a lot of meetings with agents. One of them seemed to be going very well; so well, that the agent said he wanted to sign me – I just needed a few more headshots to round out my portfolio. “Good news!” he said, “Our photographer is here right now!”
He actually wanted me to pay to take photos that very moment during the meeting. That’s when I knew it was time to run for the hills.
Scam #3: They want you to pay to be part of a professional project
An actress friend of mine had an experience where she auditioned for what she thought was a professional independent feature film in connection to an acting school. She was told that the students of the school would be playing leads so they could get experience, but that she was auditioning for one of the supporting roles. The school wanted professional actors alongside their students. It seemed to make sense.
The audition went really well, and several days later, they called her with good news. “We want you to play the lead!” they told her. She was excited until they mentioned that it would only cost her $8,000 to be part of the project. That’s when she knew something wasn’t right.
How to Identify a Scam
It can be tricky to identify a scam at first, especially if you’re new to a big market. Here are some things you can do to keep yourself safe.
- Google search the company’s name plus the word “scam.” I do this for many actor services I’m going to spend money on – the Internet is your friend! If the company is a scam, or even if it’s just a little underhanded, you will find out pretty quickly.
- Visit the Message Boards from Backstage. Actors post about their experience with particular agencies and management companies.
- Ask your acting community. If you’re not sure, post on social media or ask friends who have been around longer than you. They may have some insight.
- Finally, a last resort would be to ask the company for a list of credentials (ask them for the bond number, ask them if they’re certified, etc.) and a list of referrals.
I know what it’s like when you’re just starting out and everything feels like a huge deal. The most important thing is that you follow your instincts. If something doesn’t look or sound right, you don’t have to say yes. It’s not the last opportunity you will have – there will be more, I promise.
Have you ever experienced a scam, or do you know someone who has? Share in the comments below.
*photo courtesy of Dollar Photo Club