Watching Out for Scams, Part I: Talent Agencies

We’d like to think in the entertainment community all of us are out there to help and support one another. After all, everyone is on a similar path and we all know what it’s like to be passionate about our craft. Unfortunately, just like any other industry, there are people out there who are looking to prey on those attempting to achieve their dreams and scam them out of their money—and out of their career.

In the wake of a very serious and complicated scam which involved an imposter stealing the identity of casting associate Russell Scott of Bialy/Thomas, it’s important to be aware of the fact that these bad people are out there and can easily rip you off if you’re not careful. One of the biggest problems in this industry is the abundance of sketchy “agencies” and “talent managers” solely looking out for their own best interests.

Talent agencies are an undeniably important part of the entertainment system. Though talent can sometimes secure work on their own, at a certain point in your career, you will need an agent or manager to be the liaison between casting directors and yourself; to help you get into the room. Due to the importance of representation, actors often feel dejected when the realization of how difficult it can be to get an agent becomes reality (but it’s not impossible! See Getting an Agent for more details). This desperation can make it fairly easy for an actor to fall into traps set by people posing as professionals. Fortunately, there are signs to watch for when seeking representation, which can indicate it may be a scam and you should look elsewhere:

1. Signing Fees. A red flag should go up immediately if, upon meeting an agent and their agency, they tell you they require you to pay money upfront to sign with them. Most (if not all) legitimate agencies will not require you to lay out cash to get them on your team. Rather, if they believe in you, they will sign you, and upon booking you jobs, they will make the standard commission talent agents make (usually 10%, sometimes a little more or less depending). You and your agent work for each other—therefore, your contract should be a mutually beneficial deal. Similarly, if they ask you to pay monthly or annually in order to stay on their talent roster, you should immediately be wary. Most agencies don’t need to advertise for clients, either, so don’t be lured by ads online or papers.

2. Workshops Required! No talent agency should REQUIRE you to attend specific workshops (theirs or outside the office) to be a client. Often these “required” classes/workshops cost up $100+ each attendance and don’t just stop after one. Beware: even if it seems like the agency is outsourcing their classes to acting coaches, they are likely getting a cut of the costs you end up paying in the end. Serious agencies may recommend a class or coach or workshop, but they will not require you to attend, and will definitely will discuss the pros and cons of facing the cost of these opportunities if need be.

3. Headshots/Other Sudden Costs. Another thing you should be wary of is scamming agencies claiming “in-house” photographers that they require you to take numerous and pricey headshots with. You should not be required by any agency, talent manager, etc. to have a certain amount of “character shots”—that’s just a ploy to ensure you spend more money. Once again, a reputable agency might suggest headshot photographers or steer you in a recommended direction, but never force or coerce you into using specific photographers.

4. Be Wary of Promises! A lot of people are lured into acting and performing in the pursuit of fame and fortune. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be interested in being an A-lister, but don’t let yourself be fooled by promises that they will make you a “star” and will ensure that you get in the room with every big-name director in town. Real agents can’t make absolute promises, because even if they truly believe in you and have tremendous connections, they may not be able to get you every audition you dream of. Guarantees and promises are empty in this industry.

While the above may sound daunting and discouraging, protecting yourself can be as easy as a simple google search, or reaching out to other actors and professionals in the industry to ensure you’re not being scammed. Don’t be afraid to ask to see a copy of their talent agency license if you’re feeling really unsure, and always follow your gut. Do some research and don’t sign anything blindly! Looking on SAG-AFTRA’s website (www.sag-aftra.org) or blogs like Cast It Talent’s can give you advice and perhaps shed some light on who you might be interested in meeting with.

Of course, though, talent agencies aren’t the only place you may find people out there trying to do their best to take advantage of you. Sadly, there are also fraudulent casting directors, acting classes, and teachers. In part two of this series, we will touch base on warning signs from other corners of the industry.

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tara McGrath started her career in entertainment mainly because she couldn't see a life where she wasn't surrounded and inspired by actors in some way or another. After graduating from SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film with a degree in Screenwriting, she worked for a year at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. Interning under their casting department with casting directors Carrie Gardner and Jim Carnahan, she assisted in casting such productions as Spring Awakening, American Idiot and Fox's hit show, Glee. From there she moved 3,000 miles to Los Angeles and for the last year has been working for a well-known boutique talent agency in West Hollywood. She has also worked as a reader and marketing assistant for the Blue Cat Screenwriting Competition and has worked on independent features as both producer's assistant and P.A.

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