Casting workshop warning for would-be actors: Internet Scambusters #766
Casting workshops, which give budding actors a chance to sharpen their skills, may be overstepping the rules on what they charge for.
In some cases, they infringe on state and actors' union rules by charging for the opportunity to audition, as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have a warning for U.S. federal employees who are being targeted by dubious, high-pressure sales people offering to buy out their annuities.
Let's get started...
"Pay-to-Meet" Casting Workshop May Be a Scam
Are you an aspiring professional actor, anxious to break into the big time? If so, watch out you don't get caught up and out of pocket through a casting workshop scam.
Everyone in the world of theater and movie drama knows how difficult it is to get a break. So, it's easy to see how desperate actors might be tricked into paying to be auditioned by a casting director.
So-called "pay-to-meet" workshops are increasingly common on the edges of the show business world.
Their legality is open to question in some states, and even where they operate within the law, they often result in would-be actors paying a small fortune without ever securing a role.
The past few months have seen a major investigation into the operation of workshop organizers in Los Angeles, who are alleged to have flouted California's "pay-to-play" laws that prohibit firms from charging people who are looking for employment.
In June, the owner of one workshop pleaded no contest to a charge of violating the law, properly known as the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act. Several others were facing similar allegations -- the cases were pending at the time of this writing.
Workshops themselves can be legitimate training sessions for budding actors and, as an education program, naturally charge for their training services.
The controversy arises when participants are asked to pay for the opportunity to get in front of casting directors and agents.
Many would-be actors, just starting out on the road to what they hope will eventually be an established career, have no agent and are therefore vulnerable to being misled.
Film and TV coach Matt Newton, writing for the actors' job site Backstage.com, explains: "The company websites brag about all of the actors who have been called in or signed from them. Some actors think it provides them an opportunity for that rare 'in-person submission' -- the chance for them to meet that big agent or casting director, do a scene for them, charm them, and show them how talented they are.
"Other actors feel that it is a waste of money -- that we should earn the right to be in front of an agent or casting director, and that paying for an opportunity seems like a scam."
The situation is complicated by some agents who apparently recommend that their clients sign up for pay-to-meet workshops (because it allegedly makes their job easier) and by certain casting directors who are known to use these workshops exclusively to find talent.
"But what about all of those actors who don't have agents, who spend thousands of dollars on these workshops (yes, thousands) and end up with nothing except an empty wallet and a whole lot of tears?" says Newton.
"I've often heard stories from ill-prepared actors who sign up for a ton of these hoping for that big break, only to end up incredibly disappointed."
The actors' union SAG-AFTRA, which represents 160,000 movie, theater and broadcasting professionals, is more direct in its criticism and has its own regulations that forbid pay-to-meet charges.
Its long-winded rule states: "It shall be deemed conduct unbecoming a member for any member of the union, directly or indirectly, to give or offer to give any money, gift, gratuity or other thing of value to an employer, or prospective employer, to any officer, agent, representative or employee of such employer or prospective employer, or to any employment or casting agency representing an employer, or prospective employer, or to any of their officers, agents, representatives or employees as an inducement to secure employment."
Phew! But the meaning is clear. The guild wants any member who is asked to pay for an audition to report any such requests to them.
"This includes workshop-style situations where a casting director watches your scene or monologue, offers no meaningful critique or feedback, and is presented as someone looking for actors for 'current and upcoming projects'," it says.
Having said that, it's important to stress that beyond the union's own members' rules and specific state laws like California's, it may not be illegal to charge for casting auditions.
If you're a budding actor faced with a pay-to-meet, Matt Newton recommends the following five steps:
- Be honest with yourself about your readiness for casting calls -- so you don't waste your time and money.
- Try other casting and auditioning options first, including mailshots and referrals.
- Make sure you're targeting the right agents/directors.
- Prepare yourself properly for the 5 minutes you generally get in an audition.
- Don't build up your hopes -- if you paid for the audition, remember that the agent/director is being paid to be there and may actually not be actively recruiting.
See Newton's full report, with guidance: 5 ‘Pay-to-Meet’ Workshop Questions to Consider.
By the way, this is just one version of a potential casting scam. We've warned before about the risks of being lured into paying to take part in talent auditions in a previous issue: Bogus Casting Calls Lead Straight to Your Wallet.
Alert of the Week
Are you a federal employee? If so, beware of a scam offer of a cash buyout of your pension/annuity payment.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) says the nation's 21 million federal employees are being targeted by aggressive marketing companies offering the buyout deal which is "typically worth less" than the long-term value of the annuity.
Not only that but victims are also charged fees and may be asked to provide confidential financial information.
If you receive one of these calls, don't respond. Instead, report it to OPM's Office of Inspector General.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!