Various Talent Scams
by Jack Rooney

Acting is a professional career for many people. For others it is a fun and exciting sideline, a way to meet interesting professional people, to have fun, and to make extra money in the process. If you want other professionals to take you seriously, you must act professionally and learn as much about the business of acting as possible. If you are energetic and outgoing, sharp, and have a strong desire to succeed, acting is a way to capitalize on your blessings.

However, the road to success in this business is rocky. To learn how to become professional, you must first learn how to recognize and avoid the many pitfalls and "scams" of the business. These include the "modeling and acting class scam", the "photo scam", the "escort scam", the "beauty pageant scam", the "agency scam" or "I'll make you a star, baby, scam". You must know how to recognize and avoid those who would take advantage of your naivete as a novice or a "beginner", and a little healthy skepticism is good.

Sometimes young actors get caught up in the fast lane, taken in by the scams. They try too hard and take any rejection as a personal insult, which can lead to depression and despair, then to drugs and alcohol, prostitution and pornography. There are more young teenage hopefuls sleeping under bridges than working in the studios. But there are ways to avoid the fast lane, and the more you know about the business, the better you will be able to avoid the scams and become a successful, professional, actress, or actor.

Because many young models are highly motivated to "break into" acting, and because most beginners are naive and uninformed about the business, they can easily fall prey to the army of charlatans, con artists, greedy business managers, and others who would attempt to capitalize and exploit the innocence of the young model to their own financial gain.

In the interest of fairness to the many dedicated professionals in this business, there are many good modeling and acting schools around, and there are many managers who care deeply about the careers of the people they represent. They are to be commended because it takes a special kind of person to work in this fast-paced, competitive business, and you are certainly fortunate if you have someone like this take you under their wing at the beginning of your career. But for every legitimate school and straightforward business manager there are many times the number of charlatans and con artists out to turn a fast and easy buck by operating the scams.

Education is the Key; Knowledge is Power.

It is preferable to attend only schools accredited by The American Council on Education (ACE). If you live outside the US, your country probably has a similar school accreditation authority. Attend only accredited schools. It is very important for the beginning model/actor to research the literature on the subject of modeling and acting at your local state library, the internet, and read credible sources of information, what other professional models and actors and educators have to say about the business. It is always a good idea in the beginning of your career to talk to someone who has "learned the ropes" from education and experience the ins and outs of the business.

Few models actually sustain themselves financially working solely as a model. Few actors make a living from showbiz. Most models also know that sooner or later they may be required to do a television commercial, which requires working in front of a motion picture camera, which requires acting. It is natural that many models make the transition from print modeling to commercials to television and feature films. Modeling has been the start of many successful acting careers, as it is a good training ground for aspiring actors and actresses.

Modeling is acting in its most basic form. Even though you may only be doing something as simple as walking along beach wearing the sponsor's fashions, it is staged, and therefore requires some acting on the part of the model. Walking up a runway in a fashion show, you must act like you are having a good time, whether you are or not.

Beauty and good looks are transient. We will not always be physically beautiful and good looking; we get old, we become overweight or underweight, and time takes its toll on us all. But many models work into their 70's -- for example, Emma, of the "where's the beef!" commercial, or the old guys on the Bartle's & James' commercials, are the models for the characters they represent.

Although neither Emma nor the Bartles & James boys are likely to win any beauty contests, they are, nevertheless, working models. The reason they are still working even though they are not young and beautiful is because they are also trained actors.

Actors are models, but not all models are actors. Many beginning models do not realize this and lose out on employment opportunities because they have not properly prepared themselves for acting before a camera. Education and proper training, combined with experience, hard work, and the desire to be good at your profession, are the keys to success as a model/actor. A look at the course schedule of your local state university should show many courses in acting listed in the Department of Theatre and Drama. The people who teach these courses are trained professionals with impeccable academic credentials. They can teach you everything you need to know about makeup, fashion, poise, how to walk, how to talk, and how to act before a live audience or before a camera. Furthermore, these courses are fully acc redited and will apply if you decide to work toward your degree.

The Modeling/Acting School Scam:

There are literally thousands of modeling and acting schools in the United States run by a host of self-proclaimed "experts" in the field who offer to help the young model get started in the business, of course, for a fee. Their tactics are very subtle, and occasionally, just downright deceptive. Their instructors may or may not have the background required to help launch a successful modeling/acting career. Many of these people have little or no actual background in the business except that which they glean from selling acting classes. They are showbiz quacks. Most of them are failed film and television aspirants who could not make a living at it so they live a vicarious existence misguiding young hopefuls - It is a matter of the blind leading the blind. They operate out of fancy offices with plush furnishings to help give the appearance of legitimacy. They maintain fancy websites with snazzy pictures and graphics and exaggerated claims of their accomplishments. Their walls are covered with photographs of the models and actors they presumably represent. Many have been in business for decades. They capitalize on the young and naive because the bounds of human vanity are without limit. Their advice and instruction can do more harm than good. You would be better advised to give your money to your local community college.

Modeling schools or "Talent Management Agents" do not employ models or actors. Most of them do place models and find them employment, and they take a percentage of the model's salary as a fee. But the percentage of the actor's salary they collect for their placement services is not, typically, how they maintain these plush surroundings -- this is not how they make the bulk of their money. Actually, they are a specialized employment service, which hold training classes in modeling, makeup, fashion, acting, etc. Most of them, unfortunately, are not accredited schools and the credit you receive, if any, will not apply if you ever wish to work toward a degree in this field.

Typically, they run an ad in the classified section of the local paper "Models Wanted: Men and Women; Phone..." etc., or they advertise on TV to "enter the exciting world of acting"... etc., leading us to believe there is an inexhaustible market for actors and all you have to do is take their course.

The truth of the matter is only a very small percentage of the people who attend these classes ever make gainful, substantial money at it after they complete the courses. Yet the schools run these ads again and again, over and over, even when they do not have a potential acting job lined up with a prospective employer of actors. The primary goal of these ads is to bring in young, eager people so they can enroll them in their acting classes or sell them a bunch of overpriced photographs. This is how they profit.

The glamour, the glitter, the romanticized lifestyle of the professional actor has a mystique about it many young men and women find intriguing, and many will do anything, pay any price, go anywhere, sacrifice, starve, and grovel to be a part of it. But the percentage of people who actually obtain gainful employment as a model or actor is very small: less than .01% or one out of a thousand.

So what happens to the other 999 who don't make it? Sleeping under the bridge? It depends on where they received their training. If they attended an accredited school, the curriculum should be well rounded, and they can enter other careers and continue modeling as a sideline. If they spent all their money on worthless modeling or acting classes from a non-accredited school, they will go out into the world with a worthless piece of paper most prospective employers will not consider very highly.

Two years at Vasser, or Harvard School of Theatre and Drama, or even the local State University or College is worth much more to a prospective employer than 4 years of attendance at a non accredited modeling school. Yet the modeling schools continue. And as one generation of young people wises up and moves on, another generation waits eagerly to take its place.

The Photo Scam

Many acting schools also conveniently arrange for the actor's photographic portfolio. It is true that in this business you must have photos of yourself to sell yourself to prospective employers. But the kind of photos you need and how much you have to pay for photos is debatable.

I have known actors that have paid up to $1,200.00 for a full color portfolio. First, you do not need color photos. Black and White Photos are preferable on an 8 1/2" x 11" format. Second, never pay a photographer more than $200.00. These schools who try to sell "package deals" for anywhere from $600.00 to $1,200.00 are a scam. What they do is send the actor to a photographer who shoots your photos and bills the school. The school then marks up the price and charges the actor sometimes four to five times what the photos actually cost.

The fact is there are many good photographers around. A typical photo shoot should last about an hour, cost $100 to $125, and the photographer should take 36 to 64 photos of the actor in different clothing. This should include at least 6 or 8 close photos of the face, called a "head shot" Select the ones you like, have the photographer make a "continuous tone print" from the negative ($8.00). Take the continuous tone print to a local photo lab or printing company and ask them to make a "Halftone print" ($12.00 to $20.00), and have a printer print the photo on a heavy stock gloss offset enamel paper; he will charge about $35.00 or $40.00 to print 250 copies. For an extra $10.00 or $15.00 the printer will also typeset your name, address, and phone and print it on the bottom of the photo. You can also use a printing service like ABC Pictures who specialize in actor and model quantity photo printing. You can also print up a master from a good quality computer printer and run your headshot through a photocopier and copy your information onto the back of your headshot photo. This is all you need to market yourself and anyone who tells you otherwise is a scam. You will also need a typed resume outlining your education and work experience. A good black and white photo of yourself and a nicely typed resume are all you need to get started. Your total cost should not exceed $250.00 US. Repeat this process every 18 months. Sooner if you do something radical to your appearance like cut off all your hair or tattoo your face. Keep your receipts. It is all tax deductable as a business expense.

Send your photograph and resume to as many local advertising agencies and casting directors as you can afford postage. You can not send out too many. You can find a list of their names in the local Yellow Pages. Once they see your photo, the agency will decide whether or not they can use you. If they do not have an immediate need for someone with your particular look, they will keep your photo on file. Remember that it is the advertising agency or their customer who pays the model, and not the modeling school or talent agency.

The Escort Scam.

It is unfortunate but true that a few modeling agencies that advertise their services in the yellow pages are not modeling agencies at all but are a front for an escort service and prostitution ring. This is a relatively recent scam which has emerged in the last few years. They provide what they call "models" to escort men and women who are in town for business or who just want a good looking man or woman to accompany them around town. Some of these "escort models" do much more for their clients than just escort them about town. Some actors mistakenly believe this is a road to the stars.

When the states started cracking down on prostitution and shutting down the local brothels, some prostitutes went underground, while others drifted into the escort services. Webster's defines a prostitute as "a man or woman who engages in promiscuous sexual practices or a person who deliberately debases himself or his talents as for money." An escort model is a prostitute by definition. For the escort model who does not explicitly engage in sexual activity with their "clients", they are, at the very least, deliberately demeaning themselves by engaging in this sort of sexist activity and stretching the use of the term "model" to its semantic limit. Escorts are not models. They are what they are. And it is important not to confuse them with a professional model. Sometimes they also produce porno films, and this is also a dead end street, the market is flooded with porno films, and the porno industry carries a negative stigma that can follow you for the rest of your life.

Professional models find this kind of activity entirely offensive. Not only does it damage the person engaging in this activity, physically, psychologically, and emotionally, it also damages the reputation of the modeling business in general. Hopefully, the states will start passing regulations to limit the activities of these escort services. In the mean time, it is best to avoid the modeling agencies who also provide escort services. Your reputation, your good name, is one of the most important assets you have in this business.

The Beauty Pageant Scam and the Talent Contest Scam

There are many legitimate beauty pageants held throughout the country each year for both men and women. The promoters of these pageants work very hard to find men and women who are marketable as models, and many successful actors and actresses were first discovered in a beauty or talent pageant. There are also legitimate talent Contests, like "star Search" where an actor can take a shot at it and maybe get a break into the biz. On the other hand, there are also pageants and contests which are set up for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of the promoters.

A few years ago I had an interview at a local modeling school. I had sent them a photo of myself with a resume in hopes that they might know an agency who could use me. Yes, I send my photo and resume to all the local schools because you just never know when one of their clients might need someone with my kind of look. I gladly pay them their percentage fee if they find me work. I received a call from the school and they asked me to come in for an interview. I thought it was about a job. When I arrived I had a current photo and resume in hand.

She looked it over with a discriminating eye and said, "This photo doesn't really do you justice. You are much better looking than I can see from this photo." I opened my briefcase and handed her a stack of contact sheets of over 100 recent photos. I visit a photographer at least every 18 months and I have hundreds of photos of myself with every possible look imaginable for a man. Head shots, full length shots, in business suits, in blue jeans and t-shit, in bathing suits and shorts, long hair, short hair, clean shaven, with three day growth of beard, with full beard, with mustache, etc. She changed the subject quickly when she realized I was playing hard ball.

She reached into her desk drawer and pulled out a brochure and handed it to me. "You should consider entering the Mr. ------- contest. You are very handsome and you would stand a good chance at winning". She was pumping up my ego. The brochure explained the rules of the contest, and I learned that she was the state promoter for the contest. She explained how the winners win all sorts of prizes and an "exclusive contract" with some agency out of New York I had never heard of. Then she hit me up for a $395.00 "entry fee", assuring me that it was a small price to pay for the chance at winning such an illustrious title.

I got up from my chair, politely told her I would give it some thought, and left. I never went back. Why? Because I recognized it immediately as a scam. Legitimate pageants do not charge such fees for contestants to enter. A $20.00 or $30.00 registration fee is understandable to handle paperwork costs, etc., but $395.00? -- No way!

I followed this contest with interest. It was held in Indianapolis. They rented out a large suite at one of the local hotels. It was even on the 6 o' clock news. There were about 19 contestants in the pageant. The promoter couldn't have spent more than a few hundred dollars for the hotel. Someone, and I think you can guess whom, walked away with almost $7,000.00 in their pocket, while some of the contestants walked away with a plastic trophy. The extent of human gullibility never ceases to amaze me. They make their money by skinning you out of money for the contest fee, and not by finding you work. Avoid them.

The "I'll make you a star, baby." Scam

This line makes about as much sense as someone saying "I'll make you a brain surgeon". You become what you are through your own efforts. No one can make you anything. A truck driving school can not make you a truck driver. You make yourself a truck driver by choosing to study truck driving. The same is true for the model or the actress. Although the right training and experience can make a difference, your success ultimately depends on you.

But it isn't easy, and you may need help getting started. This is why if you are considering a business manager, representative, or agent, it is important that you know just what these people can and can not do for you.

A business manager is a person you hire to find you jobs and manage your finances. They are your employees and they work for you. You do not work for them, as many young models mistakenly believe. If they do not perform to your satisfaction, you can fire them. They take a percentage of your gross income, whatever is agreeable to the both of you.

A representative, sometimes called a "talent manager", is a person you hire to represent you as a model, actor, dancer, singer, comedian, or whatever your talent. They probably represent hundred of other models and actors. They also take a percentage of the gross income. You can engage them either under an "exclusive" or "non-exclusive" contract arrangement.

Unless a talent manager can guarantee you, in writing, gainful employment, which means that they can guarantee you enough income to pay all of your bills and have money left over for savings and recreation, don't sign an exclusive contract. If you have already signed an exclusive contract, don't worry. If they have not provided you with gainful employment in 90 days, see an attorney if you want out of it. A non-exclusive contract gives you the freedom to work on your own and find your own jobs if you like or to enter into other non-exclusive arrangements with other representatives. Never pay a rep more than 20% of your gross income. To operate in some states, they must post a bond and obtain an Employment Agency Licensee from the state.

An Agent is a person under franchise from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) who represents you in movie contracts. A SAG agent is the only person who can negotiate a union contract with a producer who is a signatory of the SAG basic agreement. Contact SAG for the names of the agents in your state. According to union regulations, they can take only 10% of your gross income.

None of this is meant to discourage you. It is meant to warn you that their are some people in this business who make their living off of the naivete of young people who want to break into the business.

  • Choose a good school. Don't let the glamour and glitter of this business stand in your way of getting a good education.

  • Check out the backgrounds on the people running these businesses. Ask Questions.

  • Don't pay an arm and a leg for photos.

  • Be skeptical any time anyone in this business asks you for money.

  • Don't sign an exclusive contract with anyone unless they can guarantee you in writing that you will obtain gainful employment by doing so. If you need a manager or a rep or an agent, get a good one, one with a good reputation, ask for references, and never give them more than 20% of your gross income - and never, ever give them any money up front or in advance. Pay them a commission only after you get paid from the agency or producer. That's the way it works in the legitimate showbusiness world. .

This is a competitive business; so always be professional, well informed, confidant that you can make it if you try, and give it your best shot every time. It is also a fun and exciting business, so have fun, but stay out of the fast lane, and watch out for the scams.


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