How do I know if my talent agency is a scam?
You’ve been approached by a talent or modeling agent who wants you to sign with them. This could be the start of a dream come true or it could be the start of a nightmare. There are a disturbing number of “agents” and “managers” out there who are just trying to take your money. Before you enter into any kind of agreement with an agency you need to adequately vet them to make sure they are legit. Here are a few warning signs that you may be dealing with a scam agency.
Top Ten Ways to Spot a Scam Agency
- They ask for money up front. FOR ANYTHING. This cannot be repeated enough. No matter what reason they give you, DON’T. Even if it sounds legit, DON’T. If they won’t represent you, count your lucky stars you didn’t sign anything and walk out the door. Agents make their money by taking a commission WHEN YOU BOOK A JOB. If you don’t make money, THEY don’t make money.
- They require you to take pictures with their in house photographer. Actors are expected to pay for their own headshots (it works a little differently in the modeling world) but you should never feel pressured into working with “their” photographer or makeup artist or web designer. Most agencies have numerous photographers they recommend but the decision is up to the actor. Your agent should certainly never be the one behind the camera. Run.
- They demand money to be listed on their website or in their “book.” This just isn’t how the industry works. Real agents and managers submit your headshot and resume through breakdown services. If they have a website or “book” it’s a supplement to that and shouldn’t cost you a penny to be in.
- They charge you to attend a class, seminar or workshop. Your agent is not your acting coach and they can recommend classes but you shouldn’t be paying them for their advice. If they offer it for free, great, but they shouldn’t be taking your money.
- They advertise themselves in internet ads or the newspaper classified section. Legit agents and managers rarely need to go out looking for new talent– the talent finds them. They are regularly inundated with headshots and resumes as well as professional recommendations. If they are spending money to advertise to actors they may be looking to make money off of them, rather than with them.
- They claim to represent famous actors or models that they do not. Cross reference their claims against the internet movie database for PROFESSIONALS (www.imdbpro.com). Pro members can not only look up the contact information for most every reputable agency in New York and LA, they can also see their CLIENT LIST! If an agent claims to represent someone that they do not then they are not someone you want to associate with professionally. This is also a great resource when deciding between prospective legit agencies.
- They guarantee you work. There are no guarantees in this business and not even the top agents or managers can promise you work.
- They do not work out of their own office space. If the agency can’t afford to rent a space they probably aren’t making much money from their client’s work. This is not a hard and fast rule but if you are meeting someone at a studio rented for the day you should have your guard up. Of course, if they are a very successful scam agency they may have their own offices as well.
- There have been complaints filed against them with the Better Business Bureau. Call your local office and see if there is any information about them.
- They are not franchised with Actors Equity or SAG. In Los Angeles or New York City, if an agent is not representing union actors, chances are good they aren’t making their money by securing their clients work.
It can be difficult to spot a scam, even if you are familiar with the warning signs. These people are pros and can adjust their con job to whoever they are talking to. They can impersonate a real agent perfectly for weeks, maybe even get you an appointment or two (real or fake), and then go in for your cash. It isn’t always cut and dry– they could be representing you AND taking advantage of you. I don’t think it pays to be paranoid but if something feels off– it usually is.
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