This business is full of tricksters trying to take advantage of actors. But knowledge is power, and actors are a talented and smart group. So we asked seven industry professionals this question: What are some clear signs of an acting scam? Their expert advice will help you avoid any casting scams or fishy talent “agencies” hoping to con actors out of their hard-earned cash.
Don’t fall for shortcuts. “Victims of scams are almost always looking for a shortcut or a sudden unearned windfall,” says Paul Barry, an L.A.-based acting teacher and founder of Acting 4 Camera. “Scammers prey upon this innocence (or laziness—whichever it is in you). Hard workers don’t get scammed. They don’t have time because they’re busy working for success with others doing the same. In the time you spend seeking out a shortcut you could have run the entire track and become stronger and fitter in the process.”
Never pay upfront fees. “If an agent asks for any money upfront to secure representation (this includes monthly fees for a profile on their website), don’t sign with them,” founder of Marketing 4 Actors Heidi Dean explains. “They should also not require you to use their photographer or their classes. Suggesting fantastic photographers and acting coaches is fine, but if they require you to pay one of their people to secure representation then you are being scammed!”
“A sure sign that a talent agency is a scam is when they ask an actor for money up front,” adds founder and artistic director of A Class Act NY Jessica Rofé. “If an agent offers to take your headshot for a fee, or offers to coach you for a fee, it’s most certainly a scam. An actor should only pay an agent when they book a job and agents can only take 10%, so if someone is asking for more than that, they are not a legitimate agent.”
Don’t pay to audition. “An audition is a job interview,” Dean says. “If you’re applying for a job to be a waiter, lawyer, or secretary, you would never pay for an interview, right? It’s no different in the acting world!”
Similarly, you should never pay to send in a self-tape. While you might want to pay to have the tape professionally filmed and edited, if you’re asked to pay for the virtual audition itself, it’s a scam.
Be on the lookout for scam signs. According to Cathryn Hartt, who founded Hartt & Soul Studio, “Tell-tale signs you should hide your wallet and run include anytime ‘shopping mall’ and ‘talent search’ are in the same sentence.” Other talent agent scams are when “someone solicits you to be in his agency and you have never met him or sent him a picture (especially from a town far away from you); an ad or radio commercial tells you that you can get a free audition; anytime someone tries to get you to take classes as part of a package for a star-making program; and the phrase, ‘Our talent scout is in your town!’ ” This will almost always be a talent scam.
“Before plunking down your hard-earned cash, look for red flags,” adds NYC-based acting coach Denise Simon. These include: “Anyone who says they can make you a star; when told you can earn up to $300/day as an extra, no experience necessary; and companies taking your calls at 10 p.m.”
Ditch the niche. “One of the biggest acting scams in the industry are those unsavory bandits who try to sell actors on the losing proposition of finding their ‘niche’ or ‘type,’ ” says Joseph Pearlman, L.A.-based acting coach and founder of Pearlman Acting Academy. “It’s like attempting to steal your personality and sell you back a second-rate version of yourself. The pursuit of niche/type is the occupation of the Sunday driver actor, as it revolves around trying to find what pre-prescribed stale box(es) you could neatly package yourself into—all for the purpose of pleasing. It’s herd mentality crap, and it’s sold to the stampede of actors who believe there’s one pre-prescribed path to industry success.”
Do your research. You can avoid many model and talent audition scams simply by doing a little bit of research. This might include looking to see if they have a professional website; reading their reviews on aggregate sites such as Yelp and Google Reviews; and checking if the agency is approved by the Better Business Bureau, is listed in our resources database, and is on the SAG-AFTRA franchised agents list. Or simply Google them, “followed by the word ‘scam,’ ” Hartt says.
Read contracts carefully. Sometimes an offer might seem legitimate, but the contract has language that can impact you negatively for years to come. For example, SAG national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland indicated that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) proposal regarding AI use of actor images constitutes a scam. “They proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan...to be able to use it for the rest of eternity,” he said. It’s always best to hire a lawyer to ensure you don’t miss any hidden language or clauses.
For AI worries specifically, "use an AI rider for all jobs and contracts from here on in," recommends voice actor Remie Michelle Clark. (A good place to start is with the National Association of Voice Actors' example rider.)
Trust your gut. “The main signs of an acting scam come from your gut,” explains Hack Hollywood founder David Patrick Green. “Ask yourself if whatever you are being sold would work in any other business or industry. Success requires hard work and doing things that might make you uncomfortable. Despite your fear-wishing there was a fairy godmother who could make your journey easier, anything or anyone who tells you that they can somehow make it easier for you or give you a leg up that you don’t have to work for is definitely a scam. Trust your instincts. They are always right. The people who have what you want can’t be bought.”
“Do your research. If it smells like a scam, it most likely is,” Simon says.