Actors: Beware of Scam Artists and Bad Teachers

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Photo Source: Jonathan Bartlett

The last time I was in London, I looked up an old friend, a grizzled character actor who’s getting ready to retire. This guy’s been around forever.

After a few pints, my friend started to go on about his nasty experiences working in Hollywood. He told me his time in L.A. would’ve been much easier if someone had given him an old mariner map first, the kind that designated uncharted territories with the phrase “Here there be dragons.” It was a romantic tale that, quite frankly, was too good to be true. Sure enough, when I got back to my hotel, a quick Google search revealed his claim was just a popular myth that’s been around for hundreds of years. The actual line has been found only once, on the 16th-century Lenox Globe.

But I choose to believe the story is true. After all, we can all use a little more magic in our lives. And what’s more magical than a map that warns you about dragons?

In a way, this column is a map that I’ve created over the years to educate you about the business of acting and to warn you about the monsters you might encounter during your journey. So let’s take a look back at some of those threats. You might recognize some of them. You might not. Either way…beware!

  • Beware anyone with a hand out, asking for money. This goes double for people who run branding workshops and other worthless seminars. I’m also talking about services that promise to get your picture in front of every agent in town.
  • Beware anyone who approaches you in a mall or any other public setting. These people are scam artists, and they will suck you dry if you let them. This warning is especially true for every parent who has a child who wants to be an actor.
  • Beware anyone who has a shortcut to success.
  • Beware photographers who claim to know what’s best for you.
  • Beware casting assistants who teach workshops. Who are these people? How are they qualified to teach? Most of them answer phones for a living, and they’re not even in the room when actors audition.
  • Beware fellow actors who take pleasure when you stumble.
  • Beware teachers who believe they’re the center of the world. Trust me. They’re not. There is no right or wrong way to learn how to act. You’re better off studying with a variety of people in different settings. That’s how you become a great actor.
  • Beware agents who promise you the world. It’s not theirs to give.
  • Beware managers with no experience and no contacts who want you to sign long­–term contracts.

The list does not end here. It’s endless. And it will continue in future columns.

There’s part of me that worries about the few actors who don’t read my column. They need to be warned too. So I’ve decided to build a massive sign on the outskirts of Los Angeles International Airport. It will light up at night, and the four words will be seen by every single plane that comes near the City of Angels: “Here there be dragons.”

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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