Smart Actors Don’t Get Scammed

by Teresa Reilly on November 4, 2009

Have you ever had one of those days when you feel like everyone is just out to get you?  Unfortunately, some days it’s the truth.  It’s no secret there are those who try to take advantage of the people around them with scams, schemes, pitches, and ploys.  What’s worse, a large portion of those scammers try to take advantage of one demographic near and dear to folks like you and me.  You got it…Actors.

At this point, you might have already had contact with some of those who would take advantage of you and your hard-earned moolah.  Have you ever been to an agent meeting that starts with them praising your talent and ends with them telling you to spend your life savings at their friends’ acting classes and headshot sessions?  Ever seen audition notices on Craigslist that ask for a full-body photo “with or without” clothes?  Ever heard about a great showcase opportunity that will be amazing for your career if you can just raise the $1000 to pay for it?

Look, not every good deal is too good to be true.  Let’s go over some ways you can tell which is which, and live up to your Smart Actor reputation.  Don’t be fooled by the fools out there!

1.    BAD GRAMMAR: If you’ve ever looked for a cheap deal on an apartment or furniture on Craigslist, maybe you’ll have noticed the similarities between some of those particularly shady ads.  For instance, when the posting is in all caps or has lots of symbols along with the wording.  Same is true for breakdowns!  Whenever I see a submission or a casting call that has extremely frequent misspellings or really poor use of the English language, a red flag goes up.  If this was a respectable and professional casting call, wouldn’t that casting director have taken the time to make sure their notice was clear, concise, and appropriately typed?  To be fair, not everyone’s a great speller (but isn’t that why SpellCheck exists?) and not everyone is a crook.  However, you also don’t want to waste your time.  The last time I answered a poorly spelled casting call, it turned out it was a Fringe Festival play about zombies written, directed, and produced by three college sophomores who auditioned me for two hours on their front porch.  The next day, they called to offer me any of the parts I wanted, they didn’t care which one I chose.  While I didn’t lose any money, I’ll never get those two hours back!
2.    BAD MATH: Think about it.  Why does a showcases cost money at all?  They have to rent a space, rent lights, rent ushers and rehearsal space, get props, get programs, etc.  However, you shouldn’t have to sell your firstborn to afford doing a showcase.  So don’t fork over more than $500 for a deal you aren’t cool with.  (And you can always work with some friends to produce your own!)  How much do classes cost?  Break down the deals those casting workshops offer.  What are you actually getting?  How much one-on-one time do you get?  Are the casting directors actually currently casting anything you are interested in?  Don’t just pay someone hoping they’ll make you a star if you give them enough of your hard-earned dough.
3.    BAD NEIGHBORHOODS: Not everyone lives or works in a great area.  That’s fine!  But you should know your neighborhoods and be safe about where you go to audition.  A lot of scammers will have auditions or shoots in their houses or apartments.  If you are unsure or wary about an address, check the production company out online or GoogleMap it.  They have a great feature where you can use satellite pictures to actually look around the street, so you know exactly what kind of place you’re going to.  If you get to the audition and feel unsafe leaving your car or walking from the subway, follow your gut and keep yourself safe.
4.    BAD DEALS: Don’t just trust everyone.  The problem with a lot of these scammers and schemers is that they are actors too, and they’ll have no problem making you feel just great about forking over your paycheck to them.  So do your research!  Don’t just trust the guy you met at some networking event for five minutes who says his new vocal regimen is the best one ever and is worth $200 a week.  Don’t just buy 1500 business cards from the nice lady you met at a yoga class without checking out the competition first.  Don’t  buy that $80 acting manual just because some casting director said it was the best one ever and all real actors own it.  Don’t trust that the guy who walked up to you and Target and said you had the makings of a star isn’t trying to sell you on his own classes.  Do your research before committing to anything.  Be well-informed.
5.    BAD PEOPLE: Again, I have to repeat, TRUST YOUR GUT.  A friend of mine went to an indie film audition at the director’s apartment.  Since there was no monitor or reader, the director read the opposite role; however, when it came to the part in the script when the two characters kiss, the director informed her she had to kiss him, as he had to know she could perform the scene well.  When she balked, he got upset at her, and said she wasn’t an actress.  This crossed her professional boundaries, and she left.  No one should make you feel you have to do something uncomfortable just to book a role.  And, c’mon, if the audition feels wonky, do you think the set will be any better?  Make sure you understand your own boundaries when choosing to submit to casting notices that stipulate nudity (sometimes they’ll say “tasteful” or “implied” nudity).

6.  BAD PROJECTS: So you booked it!  Awesome.  Now, what is “it” exactly?  Make sure you know exactly what it is you were hired for.  A friend of mine got to set and realized she wasn’t actually going to be “acting,” she was “handing out postcards” and getting paid strictly on commission.  Yipes!  Professional projects will clearly state what you are being hired for.  If they beat around the bush answering what the name of the production company is and what your actual job will be, start listening to those alarm bells.

There are thousands of fantastic opportunities waiting out there for you, and we all will have years of auditions filled with ups and downs.  Not every project with nudity nor every workshop with a steep price will be some sort of sham; however, it’s important to be wary and know your limits.  If you do, you’ll always have confidence in your own talent and you’ll be able to make smart, informed decisions regarding your own career.  So get out there, folks!  And don’t worry about all those fools.

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