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Casting Notice Crackdown

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Dear Jackie:

Today I received a letter offering to make me the cover model of a new magazine for the low price of $35. It even promised me a percentage of the magazine profits, saying, "If the magazine sells 3,000 issues, that would equate to $2,670 to you." It all was all so laughable. I couldn't believe that someone had gotten my address and was sending me junk like this.

But then, in the envelope, I found a CD and a fake magazine cover with a very poorly scanned version of my headshot on it. Although most actors send out so many headshots that anyone could end up with them, I have been submitting for the last three weeks only, and only to casting notices in Back Stage West. My headshot is not anywhere online, nor is it at any casting office; it is a very recently printed shot. I was aghast. Where could this company have gotten my headshot so quickly?

I phoned the magazine's business number, and a man answered simply, "Hello." I asked if this was the magazine company, and he quickly explained that he had been speaking to a client and had gotten disconnected and assumed it was that person calling back, otherwise he would have answered the phone differently.

When I explained that I had received this offer and was curious to know how the company had gotten my headshot and address, he told me that he was constantly getting e-mails from Sony, Paramount, and "all the big studios," and that he goes through them and chooses people who may be good for the cover. I let him know that none of the studios have my headshot, and he said that he must have gotten it from someone else. I told him that I have submitted to announcements in BSW only and that my photos are not online, nor have I ever e-mailed one, and that the photo on the mock magazine cover was not an original photo but an obvious scan of one of my hard-copy headshots. He replied, "Well, I didn't break into your house and take your headshot, someone must have e-mailed it to me."

I retorted, "So what you are saying is that one of the producers or directors to whom I submitted in Back Stage West actually scanned my headshot and e-mailed it to you because they thought I would be good for the cover of your magazine?" To this he told me he didn't wish to take up any more of my time, and eventually he hung up on me.

I keep very good records of my submissions, so if you feel like digging deeper into this matter, I am sure we could find the exact faux-casting notice perpetuating this scam. Maybe this example of quick action would dissuade people from running scams in BSW in the future.

Tiffany

via the Internet

Dear Tiffany:

You were right to sense trouble with this offer and right to let us know you had been solicited this way. Back Stage West has received many complaints about this company. With readers' help, and after some in-house sleuthing, we believe we have pinpointed the casting notices that were used for gathering actors' headshots and addresses. The BSW Casting Department is investigating and is now on guard against further attempts by this party to misuse our casting section. We would like to continue to hear from readers who have received or responded to this solicitation. The more information we have, the better we are able to follow up on the matter.

"There are some scary people out there ready to prey on naïve, struggling actors looking for their big breaks," says Casting Editor Cassie Carpenter. "The BSW Casting Department is very concerned about any foul play or frustration occurring through any of the notices in our paper, and we want to be immediately informed about anything that is making an actor feel uncomfortable during an audition, in rehearsals, or in production. We rely totally on actors for this information. It is up to you to let us know if you're being charged fees or not getting what was promised to you, or if you've been harassed, solicited, or assaulted in any way. Based on the severity of your complaint, violators may be prohibited from placing future notices in Back Stage West. If you never come forward, you're letting that party get away with duping or misleading other actors." Carpenter urges wronged actors to submit an official complaint by calling (323) 525-2358 or by e-mailing it to bswcasting@backstage.com. You must provide your name and telephone number, but all personal information will remain confidential and is only for our records.

As I said, we received quite a few complaints about this solicitation, which is not surprising based on its aggressive marketing and financial premise. What kind of magazine asks its cover models to pay for the privilege of gracing that cover? But particulars aside, this situation raises concerns worth reviewing.

With all the submissions actors make, how on earth can you keep your headshots from ending up in the wrong hands? Sadly this feat is pretty near impossible. You can limit the information you send out so that, no matter who gets your materials, you are safe and relatively hassle free. Of course your picture might end up anywhere, as proven by the recent case of a big-studio employee selling headshots on eBay and the reader who, to her dismay, found her picture and home phone number on a stranger's "agency" Web site (BSW, 6/10/04). But you can do a lot to protect yourself and avoid being targeted.

Here are a few general things to remember. Do not use your home phone number as a contact number; use a cell number or voice-mail number instead. Do not give your Social Security number out until you are hired on a job and need to fill out payroll documents. Keep track of to whom you submit. This is a valuable marketing tool, as well as a safety precaution: Keeping tabs on your submission history allows you to more fully target your mailings. Protect yourself online: Create a separate e-mail address specifically for acting submissions. If you do a lot of mailed submissions, a post office box would be a good investment. That way you can keep your home address private, and you'll always know if a solicitation or letter is in response to a mailing. Additionally you can add disclaimer language to the back of your headshot to discourage its misuse. SAG suggests using, "Property of [your name]. For casting purposes only. Not intended for sale or commercial use." In some cases this small notation may be the only deterrent you need.

For more suggestions, check out the very helpful information on the SAG Web site, available to members and non-members alike. Go to www.sag.org, open the menu on the right side of the screen titled "Resources," and scroll down to "Tips and Tools." There you will find a bounty of suggestions for protecting yourself and your image.

Finally, remember to keep BSW informed if you find yourself being solicited, scammed, or mistreated by anyone you found in our paper. E-mail me (backpage@backstage.com), Casting Editor Cassie Carpenter (bswcasting@backstage.com), or Editor Jamie Painter Young (bsweditorial@backstage.com) with your concerns, big or small. We are here to help.

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