Written by Graeme Petrie
The Parent Trap: Entertainment Industry Scams, Scammers and Scumbags.
Working in the entertainment industry can be a place of wonder and imagination for parents and children who are completely new to it. I mean, what could be more exciting than watching the magic of Hollywood take place with your child being a part of it?
Unfortunately, lurking like wolves on the outskirts of this wonderland are unethical scammers looking to take advantage of unsuspecting parents who believe their child could be the next “child star”, but have no knowledge about how the industry works.
In the past you would typically find these “scouts” (scammers) trolling playgrounds, shopping malls, department stores, etc. These days however, they can usually be found online in the form of online ads on popular social media sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). They claim to have affiliation with a major production company that is looking for a “new face” for spots on popular children shows and will be having an “open audition”.
You’re asked to fill out an online form, after which you will be contacted by someone claiming to be a talent scout, talent agent or casting director telling you how your child would be perfect as a “new face” for a show that pays $$$$ per day, and how they would like to submit him/her for the role. How exciting, right!
You’ll be invited to attend the “open audition”, but the problem is…it’s not really an audition at all. What it is is just a well crafted sales scam performed around the country in travelling auditions from city to city, targeting parents to pay big bucks to take over-priced, poor quality classes and workshops. It’s a hollywood-style hustle and YOU are the one being hustled.
Hook, Line and Sinker
Those who fall for the invitation and attend the “open audition” will get a well choreographed sales pitch about how the children in attendance (and there will likely be many) were all specifically chosen for this audition. The next step will involve being selected to attend the second stage of the audition process. They say their talent experts will assess your child’s chances at success and how only a few kids will be accepted (but truth is they accept everyone). They may even bring your child into a room to read a few lines on camera (just to make things appear more legit), but don’t be fooled, it’s all just a well-greased scam. They make promises about marketing your child, getting headshots, creating a portfolio and submitting them for popular kid’s shows.
After paying a large signing fee (often in the thousands of dollars), and doing everything they ask, a few months go by and you start wondering why you haven’t heard anything. You give them a call and the person on the other end of the line says, “Sorry but, your child wasn’t selected.” End of story. Say goodbye to your cash.
Do Your Research!
Always check out the company by simply typing “COMPANY NAME” followed by “SCAM” in your internet browser to see what pops up. If it is a scam, you’ll likely find a litany of complaints (even videos) of past victims all venting their anger. You’ll also find very little actual information about the company, employees or images of established child actors discovered through their program. One parent called me after being invited to attend an “open audition” telling me how his daughter had been selected to go down to Florida to attend a second audition and charged $4,000. After taking my advice he checked online and found a long list of complaints. He’s not the first, and won’t be the last.
“Just the facts, please ma’am”
When a real production company needs a child actor, they will initially promote any audition event through their own corporate communication channels, after which they contact talent agencies with a breakdown of the type of child they want (age range, height, hair colour, ethnicity, special skills etc). Agencies will check their rosters for possible matches and send any headshots and resumes for consideration. If they still can’t find the child they are looking for, they’ll utilize platforms such as Casting Workbook, Actors Access, Casting Network. They may even contact acting schools directly that run Youth On Camera Acting programs to let them know they are looking.
Bottom line is they do not hold huge open casting calls with paid auditions in small towns and cities with kids from all walks of life, ages and ethnicities with no acting experience or established talent, other than being cute.
“Show me the money!”
In Canada, the only way a talent agent makes income is if:
They sign your child to their roster, submit them for a role or part and your child “books” the role (i.e. gets the role). Your child completes their performance, the production company sends a cheque to their agent. The agent takes their cut (15% commission) and pays your child the rest.
If any agency or agent says you need to pay fees up front to sign with them or attend an audition, it is a scam. Period.
Choose the right path
There is a process involved for kids who want to get into the entertainment industry, unless of course you already know (or are related to) someone in the industry.
Firstly, your child needs to take acting classes to develop a foundation of acting skill. They may have all the natural talent in the world, but talent still needs to be trained, and the kids they’ll be going up against will definitely be. On camera acting classes develop knowledge of how to work with the camera; analyze a script; develop a character and how to audition. They also teach procedures involved in auditioning, industry jargon; cold read techniques; auditioning for commercials vs actor roles; dealing with notes from casting directors etc. By taking classes, your child will come across well prepared vs. looking like a deer caught in the headlights.
Finding the right kid’s classes
If your child wants to work in TV & Film, look for Youth On Camera Acting classes. Stage and theatre acting technique is very different and will be immediately noticeable in any audition. Find a local, reasonably-priced acting class between $300 – $750 (prices vary depending on length and frequency of classes). Classes should focuses on developing actual technique, rather than simply playing games and doing activities.
Be sure the schedule fits your child’s schedule, so they don’t have to miss any classes and check that the class is taught by a professional actor who is working in the industry now (not 10 or 20 years ago). This is very important to ensure they are learning current acting techniques being used in auditions of today.
Also, look for programs that include demo clips of your child’s acting that can be used for their professional package (not just clips from in-class activities). Demo clip scenes or monologues should be ones an instructor has selected specifically for your child based on their personality, involve appropriate topics for their age, and include different kinds of roles to show your child’s acting range. The child and instructor should work together to develop the scenes to ensure they are well polished.
Be wary of programs that state “headshots are included” since you’ll likely be sent to a photographer the school has a commission arrangement with. Every photographer has different strengths, styles and prices which can vary wildly ($200 – $800). Schools should be able to provide a list of headshot photographers they feel do good work, however you can also try calling talent agencies and ask who they’d recommend for kid’s headshots. Just make sure to shop around, watch out for hidden charges and make sure you attend the shoot as well.
Stranger Danger DOES exist
We all believe our children are little stars who possess unlimited talents (and many do). As parents, we gush about our kids all the time to others, however, when someone you don’t know tries telling you how cute and talented your child is, red flags need to go up. Approach any opportunities with the necessary level of skepticism and operate by the rule of thumb that “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.
Lastly, never give someone you don’t know your child’s image and information in person or online. Take the necessary time to do your due diligence; research their agency or anyone claiming to be involved in the entertainment industry who wishes to interact with your child. If they are legit, you’ll be able to determine that fairly easily, well before you get scammed.