Scams have been a part of this industry for as long as anyone can remember. Although the “dance” may change, the “song” remains the same. It would be impossible to describe or list every questionable, unprofessional scam out there waiting. At the conclusion of this article, we will provide links to various other resource websites to get you started. In the mean time, consider this list of questionable kid actor businesses:
Modeling schools and acting "academies". Most of these types of business ventures aren’t scams in the term of “bilking” someone out of their money. The catch is that often, they tend to offer sub-standard quality for very inflated prices. And they do steal something else…your child’s time. While you spend months “training” at these places, your child could have been building their resume with legit training and jobs. Instead, if your child enters the real entertainment world, the modeling school training will be the first thing to be dropped from your resume.
Talent competitions. Some have been around for years, some travel through town and promise exposure to agents and casting directors. Usually, they are connected to the modeling schools above (and offer kickbacks to said schools for the sale of their packages).
Websites. They entice you to pay for exposure (photos on their website), and some even offer “casting notices” or connections to photographers offering TFP (free) photos. The casting notices are usually old, bogus, or low/no pay jobs. The reality is that real casting directors are not searching the many databases out there for “fresh faces”. It just isn’t efficient—there is an entire system in place for professionals – starting with producers who work thru ad agencies who work with casting directors who seek professional talent. These sites really serve only as entertainment for spectators, in the form of pedophiles and other unsavory strangers. In some cases, these sites are linked to other “membership” sites that include child erotica. Even if the site is free, they will be using your child’s profile to make money…in other ways.
One Stop Shopping. These are businesses who offer you packages of services. Similar to the modeling schools in that they are not agents, but offer to use their “connections” to set you up with housing, photos, agents, managers, workshops, and even extra work. Again, they aren’t exactly a scam, but they charge money for something that could be done for free. Their “connections” are almost always the lowest level and lowest quality. These pop up most often in relation to pilot season, targeting kids from out of town. Sometimes you will see them marketed as short term “boot camps” or summer camps for young actors.
Mall scouts. Approached in Target or at a kiosk in the mall? You were at risk of getting scammed. There is no such job description as a “talent scout” in Hollywood. Rather these are front men for other types of scams and rip-offs. In general, we have to accept that there are many people whose profession comes from providing services to child actors and their families. There’s nothing wrong with legitimate business ventures, of course. The trick is to sort out the scams (people who mislead you and con you out of your valuables), the rip-offs (people who don’t’ steal, but overcharge for low-level services), and the just “bad business types” (those who aren’t doing anything illegal, it’s just not the best business decision to work with them).
The first rule of thumb is to understand that in this industry is that more expensive doesn’t equate to better. If someone could ‘buy’ success everyone would. Sometimes the most expensive services actually provide the least benefit.
Most of the “scams” operate in a similar way. In our society, scams and rip-offs committed against elderly people are very common since they prey on the senior’s inability to understand. In Hollywood, scams committed against children and their families are very common as they prey on our love and pride for our children. That is one consistent across all scams – they all say everything a parent would ever want to hear about how great, talented, beautiful, “star in the making” their child is. That is closely followed by playing on the guilt for a parent who might not be “allowing their child to follow their dreams”. Many of them explain their lack of ability to provide what was "implied" by their advertising and sales pitch, but pointing out that the experience was fun and unique for the child (and family), a great memory.
So how does a parent spot a scam?
- LISTEN. One step is to really listen to your instincts. What seems too good to be true, usually is.
- RESEARCH. Researching every company and person (See How to Research People) you are going to work with is of paramount importance. Use Google and check the names of the businesses as well as the names of the people you meet. Ask other parents. Email us. Look for common red flags. Some red flags of a scam or rip-off include:
- being approached in a mall, family store or other public place
- name dropping such as “a casting director from shows LIKE Hannah Montana and Drake and Josh ” or naming famous alumni (which rarely turn out to be supporters of the program), or the use of Disney and Nickelodeon logos (trust us...they don't support these things)
- promising work, access to breakdowns, or access to talent agents
- using several different names for their business or they change the name frequently
- seeing an ad on Craigslist or in the newspaper, or hearing it on the radio,
- the term “open call”, "audition" or "callback". This is a mis-use of terms that refer specifically to a job opportunity, not to an opportunity to pay. They are attempting to make you feel "chosen" or special.
- use of the words “star”, “fame”, “you have the look”, “boot camp”, “Hollywood University”
- putting pressure or time limits on the offer such as “we only bring back 10% of the kids we see, not everyone makes it”, “we can only hold the spot for 3 days”, etc.
- use of the terms “top Hollywood talent agent/manager/casting director”
- charging upfront fees for representation. In California, this practice falls under the Krekorian Scam Prevention Act . This is why many scammers travel the country. Hollywood recognizes the scam artists so they can’t do business as easily here.
- long term contracts that must be paid for in advance. Legitimate acting classes are offered for 10 weeks or less at a time, with professional level group acting classes costing around $45 per hour. Anything longer, or costing more is a red flag.
- colorful, slick marketing materials. Full color brochures, television commercials and expensive presentations. They put far more money into marketing the "product" than they do into the product itself. Are the sales people paid on commission? Will they let you audit a class or see the final product without paying?
- exceedingly nice sales people. Predators have to be nice. If they weren't, they wouldn't get their prey.
- traveling "shows". Beware businesses from out of town setting up temporary digs in hotels and convention centers. Would you give thousands of dollars to any other business that doesn't have an office?
- WAIT. Leave your checkbook at home. Sometimes the best way to spot a scam is to separate yourself from the situation and sleep on it. Talk to your spouse. Run it by a friend. And if you don’t have your checkbook/credit cards, it forces you to think about it without that pressure.
"But some people say it is OK…."
Of course every story has 2 sides, and you may find a former client ‘vouching’ for a business because they *felt* successful or they had fun. Please read the companion article that outlines just who you should listen to, and why, (See Who Do You Believe? ) One very common example of these discussions revolves around talent competitions and talent/modeling schools. Consider this perspective as posted on Backstage:
"If we view a child's entertainment career as a business (because it is) - families who go the competition/convention route entering the business start off thousands of dollars in the hole - to "hopefully" get an agent and manager. For the people who really like their individual situation – ask them what's the success rate of ALL the children in their child’s classes? Never mind their little budding star... what about the others?"
Getting an agent or manager can be accomplished for under $100 via picture submissions. Really. Honest. Your child doesn't have to be at a convention to have an agent notice them and see if they might fill a hole in their roster. Signing with an agent (and perhaps manager) is the very basic cornerstone of the industry. It's not a guarantee of success. A good percentage of represented child actors never, ever work.
A child is going to need to book about $30,000 of work (at least) to even make up for the cost of the classes - depending on how many other people (agent, manager, trust account, and taxes) they are paying. It puts a tremendous strain on the child’s “business” to start out so much in the hole. The finances are often the source of many difficulties within a family.
The "awards" and training - will be the first thing to LEAVE the professional resume. The industry does not afford any respect to participation in talent competitions. Winning ‘Child Actor of the Year” isn’t going to bring you employment or success in the industry.
We understand why parents want to see it otherwise - but after hearing thousands of stories from people who experienced this, they describe that it's a lot like a slick boyfriend. They say all the right things to get you interested, but later, looking back, you sort of regret the time you spent with them. There are many people who have learned a lesson - and /or really don't appreciate how these businesses take advantage of families and their love for their children. Yet, good news for competitions - there are still people willing to believe that it's the best choice they can make to get their child an agent, when it's really the only option they ever even considered.
I’ve been scammed, what now?
First, don’t be embarrassed. MANY, many of us stumbled our way into this industry in ways we would rather forget. But you can recover. Perhaps the scammer did you a favor, and made your realize that A. your child really has a gift, and B. you need to get your business in order if you are going to support them the way they deserve.
There are legal remedies to getting scammed. Please email BizParentz and we can point you in the right direction if you feel like that is a route you want to pursue. Many families just count the experience as a very expensive lesson learned. Others choose to tell their story and prevent others from making the same mistakes. We applaud them! Next, re-group. You can find an agent/manager without spending any more money.
Read our article entitled “Just Getting Started".
There are respected and standard websites that exist for marketing and casting in the industry. There’s no need to seek out untested and dangerous alternatives. See also articles on this website – Online Casting and All Roles Aren’t Created Equal (PDF). Even if you are fortunate enough to find someone that is ‘safe” to work with from these alternative methods – there certainly won’t be the level of pay you might expect to receive for your work.
Remember – a child’s professional career is a business – and to give away their time, energy, and talent is unnecessary and unfair to them.