How to Avoid Actor Scams in Los Angeles
So you are just starting out in Hollywood and looking for your first big break, but you’re not quite sure how to get your foot in the door. The whole process of finding casting calls, getting an agent and auditioning can seem overwhelming and sometimes discouraging.
For every person that comes to LA with stars in their eyes, there is a scam artist eager to separate that actor from his or her money. Therefore it’s important for you, as an actor, to act in your own best interest (pun intended). I have created this guide to help you identify common scams that prey upon aspiring actors so that you can avoid wasting time and money for things that won't help your career.
Never Pay a Talent Agent Money to Represent You
The only way that a reputable talent agent makes money is by getting a percentage of what an actor is paid when he/she gets acting work. Anything else is a scam. Let me repeat that in big, bold letters: ANYTHING ELSE IS A SCAM.
If an “agent” requires you to pay them upfront or some type of monthly fees, that should instantly raise red flags and you should immediately walk away. A shady talent agent will often claim to have access to all kinds of auditions and casting directors and for a small fee they can put you on the fast track to success. But a reputable agent makes a percentage of what his/her actor client earns from a project—it’s just that simple!
Another Scam from Shady “Agents”
Another common scam that preys upon beginning actors in Los Angeles is when a shady agent and shady photographer team up. You will get “great news” when the “agent” claims he would love to represent you! But he needs you to get headshots from his photographer. Surprise! That photographer charges around $800 - $1500.
This is a scam. And it’s illegal.
What they won’t tell you is the shady agent is getting a portion of the price of that ridiculously expensive photo shoot in the form of a kickback from the shady photographer. And after all is said and done, spending that much money on headshots almost never increases your odds of getting cast if you still don’t audition well. The “agent” wins. The “photographer” wins. You lose.
There are different variations of this scam—“you need to take acting lessons from MY acting coach”, etc. Pretty much all of these types of referral scams are illegal and ultimately won’t help you achieve anything as an actor, other than wasting a month’s rent.
But a reputable agent CAN present you with a LIST of recommended photographers and acting schools. As long as the agent isn’t receiving any type of referral fees or kickbacks, it’s perfectly legal to recommend a few options for you. Put simply if an “agent” REQUIRES you to spend money with a specific third-party, it’s a scam.
I am a photographer and I am very much legit. I do not pay any kickbacks or referral fees to agents. Many reputable agents like the work that I do and some of my clients have appeared in TV shows and major motion pictures. However, I never make unrealistic promises of fame and fortune to my clients. My promise is to always do the best job I can when I am shooting headshots for actors—nothing more, nothing less.
Do Not Pay Money to Audition for Movies or TV
Pay-to-Play schemes are becoming more common in Hollywood. These range from the blatant “pay me to audition for my movie” scam, which is rare, to the more clever shady “casting workshops” that seem to be popping up more often these days.
Casting workshops go like this: the actor pays some money to perform in front of a bunch of casting directors, who then give feedback on how the actor can improve his/her audition skills. Learning how to audition is actually a skill that takes practice, so often these workshops can be beneficial.
But it becomes a scam when certain casting directors require you to pay for a workshop in order to get cast in a project. In California, it is very much illegal to charge money for the prospect of paid work.
Here is a great article from The Hollywood Reporter about "Pay-to-Play" casting worshop scams.
Beware of Worthless Acting Classes
It may come as a surprise, but learning how to act is actually the most important part of being an actor. So finding a GOOD acting class and really working at your craft is the best way to increase your chance of success in the industry.
In the Hollywood area you will often see poorly made flyers advertising acting classes and increasingly “acting coaches” post online offering lessons, classes and workshops. Not all acting classes are equal—some can be incredibly valuable while others can be essentially worthless and a waste of your time. So it’s best to get recommendations from people who have actually been students.
My best advice for acting lessons:
- 1. Definitely do them.
- 2. Ask around for recommendations. Word of mouth is key.
- 3. Research the class/workshop/instructor before spending lots of money.
Anyone Promising to Make You a Star is a Liar
The only way to achieve success in the industry is through talent, hard work, perseverance and a little bit of luck. Even Brad Pitt had to get into a chicken costume and twirl a sign under the sweltering Southern California sun before he got his big break.
What I’m trying to say is that this is a tough industry to get to succeed in, no matter how good looking you are. There is no magic formula for success in this business. Otherwise everyone would be doing exactly that and we would all be rich and famous. So anyone who claims to have “the answer” is probably trying to take advantage of you.
Krekorian Scam Prevention Act
There is actually a good set of laws on the books in California to protect you from the aforementioned types of scams. It is called the Krekorian Scam Prevention Act, which was created to curb the rampant abuse of struggling actors at the hands of shady talent agents. In early 2017, the Los Angeles District Attorney announced a number of charges being brought against several “casting workshops” that were essentially pay-to-play schemes with the intent charging actors a fee to audition.
When Johnny Carson asked her what is the best way for an aspiring starlet to get into Hollywood, Bette Davis famously replied, “Take Fountain.” While that quote is humorous, it was true then and it is true now. It is easy to physically get to Hollywood in a geographic sense, but no one really has a guaranteed formula for success once you get here. So be extremely skeptical if anyone tells you otherwise.
I hope this article has provided you with some good information that will help you spot and avoid common acting scams in Hollywood. To sum it up:
- 1. Learn and practice the craft of acting
- 2. The “secret” to make it in the industry is hard work and perseverance
- 3. Never pay an agent anything up front
- 4. Watch out for referral scams that require you to spend money with a third party
- 5. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Do your research.