Parents of Would-be Child Actors: Beware of Scammers!


Dallas child actor Kameron Badgers

My grandson on set in three different roles. It cost us NOTHING to “submit” him for roles — his agent does that at no cost.

I met a neighbor recently, and we were exchanging contact information when one of my grandson’s business cards fell out of my purse. She was very excited to meet “a working child actor”, and told me that her daughter has an upcoming audition for The Disney Channel. (Not through the annual Disney Talent Search, which every talent agent in the business is well aware of, but through a “special opportunity” that would by-pass the red tape, she said.)

The whole family was very excited, she said, adding that she was a little worried about the $3,000 cost of the “opportunity.” As soon as she said it, I wanted to cry. I thought instantly that this loving mom had been the victim of a cruel scam. Telling her that after she’s signed the contract and paid the money seemed heartless, so I simply asked her to forward the details about the very special “opportunity”.  This is what she sent.

I reproduced the email EXACTLY (typos and bad grammar included) except that I blocked the name of the individual “talent agent” and the family. The comments in red are mine, and are my opinions. Check the facts for yourself and form your own opinion about this opportunity or any other you are considering.

Date: Fri, Jan 11, 2013 at 12:35 AM
Subject: CASTINGHUB Callback!
To: (Parent’s name blocked)

Hello and Congratulations! (Child’s name removed) made the callback list in Dallas! (How did she make a callback list when she hasn’t been to a real audition yet? The family attended what was called an “Open Casting Call” but was really a sales seminar for the marketing firm.)

My director really liked (child’s name removed) so I just wanted to follow up with your family. I hope she is as excited and committed as we are! (What director? This is a marketing firm, not a production company. But calling the person “a director” makes it sound as if they’re in a position to hire an actor.)

After narrowing our callback down from type cast and age divisions, we are interested in working with (child’s name). I would love for her to be able to audition for (Production Company Name Removed) Entertainment (The company name is one I didn’t recognize, and wasn’t listed in IMDB or the Dallas phone book) when they come back in five weeks. (Most auditions happen in hours or days — they aren’t planned weeks ahead. Agents got the breakdown on Kameron’s first TV role on Tuesday, he auditioned on Wednesday, and they filmed his part Thursday. That’s not unusual.)

I know for a lot of families it is really hard to budget because we see so many kids and -have to make our decision so quickly. (Kids get paid to act; families shouldn’t pay to get the opportunity for their children to audition!) We truly believe in your child and we want to do everything to help you guys get your daughter’s foot in the door. We see a lot of potential in (child’s name) and are willing to invest HALF of any marketing program for you and your family!

This would guarantee (child’s name) a spot to audition with (Production company name removed) Entertainment along with many other marketing features! This includes: online submissions, access to our social network, and heavy marketing to make sure your child gets the best experience while with us! (It costs nothing to submit to reputable online sites — see the list below.)

There are tons of auditions in Dallas that we want to start submitting (child’s name) to! (There is a lot of work in Dallas, but there are also a lot of kids/teens chasing the jobs. How, exactly, is a “marketing firm” out of Chicago going to help a kid get work in Dallas?)  I need to take care of registration by Tuesday, January 15th in order to get (child’s name) set up and registered as our client. I want you and the family to seriously consider this wonderful opportunity! The half-off investment will only be valid until Tuesday, January 15th.

If you need another copy of the take home packet, please let me know and I will send one to you. The next step from here is to read over the packet, pick a program that best fits your child’s needs and we will make the best out of that time frame! Keep in mind that the more time she’s with us, the higher probability she has of booking work!

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. Make sure you read over the entire packet, that way when we do talk, we are on the same page and ready to move forward.

I have included a FAQ section below for you to reference. You can email with any additional questions.

FAQ

 Q. How do I know which program to choose?

 A) This all depends on the level of your commitment. The longer your child is being marketed and has the ability to go on more auditions, the higher probability they have of booking work. Choose a program that you know financially that the family will be able to support your child in doing. (This is NOT how it works. Agents submit talent for auditions. Reputable production companies do NOT troll “talent sites” looking for talent. You can’t market your way into an audition.)

 Q. What is the final price?

 A) We see a lot of potential in your child so we are willing to invest HALF of any program. That means that any program you choose (totals are in bold print) cut that in half and that is what you pay, what a great deal! (If you pay ANYTHING for something that should be free, how is that a deal?)

Example: Career 2 program is $7,900/2 = $3,950.00 total price

 Q. I read on the Internet that I shouldn’t have to pay for my child to work, why should I pay now?

 A) We are going to do our best, along with your commitment, to get your child noticed. You should never have to pay an agent to represent your child. We are not an agency; we are a talent listing company. We provide you with many opportunities to audition amongst casting producers, directors and agents. (Something I agree with: you should never have to pay an agent or a “listing company” to submit your child for an audition. )

Q. Will you take a cut from my child’s check once they book work?

 A) This is illegal for us to do. Only Agencies can take money out of your child’s compensation once they book work. (Most production companies pay actors an agreed fee plus 15-20% agency commission.) Keep in mind that most agencies are NOT open to the public. Therefor your chances are very slim to actually meeting them. That is why you need us to get your child noticed! (Agents need talent — trained talent. They constantly interview & audition potential talent.)

Sincerely,

NAME BLOCKED, Talent Advisor

Note: this email was sent from a company called Casting Hub. I have seen emails and websites under the names Cast Hub, CastHub.tv, and ModelsandTalent.tv that are virtually identical — and the physical mailing address for all of the, is the same.

Actors Don’t Pay to Audition

I can’t say it strongly enough: this is NOT how the business works. The way it works is simple:

  1. Production companies work with casting directors, who submit actors for specific projects. Sometimes, companies post open casting calls in the trades or on casting sites. More often, a “breakdown” (description of the part, the audition process, and the age, gender, description, and abilities of the actor to be cast) circulates to talent agencies in a specific area.
  2. Agents submit the actors they think fit the casting director’s wants/needs. The casting director schedules auditions through the agents. Sometimes there will be hundreds of kids auditioning for a major role — sometimes only two or three.  Once the casting director schedules the audition, the agent sends you the audition confirmation with your “sides” (the portion of the script to be used in the audition and any notes on what to bring, what to wear, time, place, and specific suggestions the agent has for your child).
  3. You suit up, show up, do your best. You will either get a call back for a second audition, a call or email from your agent that says, “Congratulations! You’ve been booked!”, or you will hear nothing at all because the part went to another actor.

    America's Got Talent auditions can draw over 10,000 people per city, and cost the production company millions to host and manage. That isn't how paying acting jobs are filled!

    America’s Got Talent auditions can draw over 10,000 people per city, and cost the production company millions to host and manage. That isn’t how paying acting jobs are filled!

There are very few “out of area” casting calls. The notion that a major producer has to scour the world looking for my child is simply ridiculous. Nobody wants to see the overwhelming hordes of people who would show up for truly “open” casting calls for a network show or major motion picture. Think of those 8 to 10 hour lines of people who show up for America’s Got Talent or American Idol. If it wasn’t part of the show, nobody would bother with the cost and time involved in a situation like that.

The vast majority of productions want “local hire” talent. That means a movie filming in Dallas wants to hire actors from Dallas so they don’t incur travel/hotel costs. If you go to Los Angeles to audition, you’ll pay your own way, including hotel, travel, and food. The casting director isn’t likely to come looking for you.

You’ll have noticed, no doubt, that there is nothing in the email about the Disney Channel. Yet my neighbor believed that she had paid for an audition with Disney. She probably thinks this because someone said that the production company “works with” Disney and other studios. (Said it during a sales pitch, but did not put it in writing of course. Disney and its lawyers frown on the unauthorized use of the Disney name.)

Of course the production company “works” with Disney. Probably Warner Brothers and HBO and Showtime, too. Any production company can submit an idea or a pilot to any studio. Just like any local garage band can submit an album to any record company. That doesn’t mean the studio will broadcast what the company produces (if it produces anything) of course.

There is no “marketing” involved in getting work as a model or an actor. At least no marketing you pay for. I’ve been a professional marketer for over 40 years, and we have two generations of performers in our family (my son and grandson), so just trust me on this if on nothing else. The “marketing” consists of registering with a few reputable casting sites (free), working with a reputable agent who submits you for parts, and showing up prepared for the resulting auditions.

I think that paying thousands of dollars for an “opportunity” rewards the bottom feeders who prey on children’s dreams. I wouldn’t do it, and I am sorry that my new friend did.

How to Get Auditions for Your Child

First, enroll him or her in a reputable acting class. Dallas has many of them — Plano has more.  Here’s a link to the list of reputable classes on my grandson’s agent’s website. (We are super happy with his representation via the amazing Linda McAlister Talent, by the way. And, no, we are not related. I had never heard of her or met her until an acting coach suggested her as a possible agent for Kameron. We simply happened to marry unrelated men with the same last name.)

Once they’ve had some training, if they have the personality and skill that casting directors want, someone at the class will suggest a meeting with a local agent. And lest you think that your child is the next Quvenzhané Wallis (the unknown, untrained actress who became the youngest Oscar nominee in history), remember that getting your child seen by a casting director when they have no training, and no agent, is akin to winning the lottery. It does happen — but getting cast happens a lot more often for those who are prepared and represented by a good agent.

Here’s Linda McAlister’s overview for actors seeking representation — her process is fairly similar to the process used by all reputable SAG/AFTRA registered agencies.  Trust me, whether you belong to a union or not, you want a SAG franchised agent — especially if you have a child. Here are two clear warning signs that would get a real talent agent banned from SAG/AFTRA for life.

  1. They’ll tell you they have “special arrangements” with producers, and they’ll explain why you should work with them to help you get a role.  There are no “special arrangements” that guarantee clients of a specific company more auditions, or the chance to audition for a specific company. (Which isn’t to say that casting directors and directors don’t have favorites. They do. It’s called working with people you trust. Another reason a reputable local agent is your best choice.)
  2. They may offer to meet with you at your home, or ask you to bring your child to meet them in a hotel room. DON’T. A reputable agent would lose their certification for such a thing: those who work with child actors MUST meet with them only in a public place, and only with parents present. (You may not be able to stay in the room during an audition, but you’ll be within earshot, and the child will never be alone with a reputable casting director, agent, or director.)

If the agent likes what they see when you submit photos and a demo reel or head shots — or after an audition arranged through your acting teacher — they’ll meet with you and discuss a contract. There is absolutely, positively NO COST for this process. After you sign, most agencies will have you submit your child’s resume and head shots to online casting sites like Now Casting, Actor’s Access, Casting Frontier, and Casting Network.  There is no cost to post a resume and two headshots, but there is a fee to host additional photos and demo reels/videos. Fees on these sites run closer to the cost of lunch ($10-15) than to the prices quoted in the email reproduced here.

You can post headshots and demo reels or videos on the casting sites without an agent, and sign up for emails telling you about casting calls posted on those sites. But if you do, you’ll pay a fee for each submission ($2 per submission without a video, and $5 with a video — videos increase the chance of being cast) and much of what you see will be no-pay student films, reality TV, and very low-budget indie films. We quickly decided it wasn’t worth our time to do these projects unless it’s something that Kameron really wants to do. (For example, he and a buddy who is also a child actor recently auditioned together to play brothers in a student film simply because they liked the idea of playing brothers.)

Our 11-year-old signed with his agent last fall. Unless you count the hamburger I bought him on the ride home from our first meeting ($5.95) or the cost of printing his headshots ($30), it cost us absolutely nothing to meet with three agents and sign a contract with the one we chose.

In the six months he’s been represented, he’s gotten a number of audition opportunities. Of those we’ve allowed him to accept, he’s gotten a TV pilot, a mini-series, two films, two commercials, and several gigs as an extra. That means he didn’t get the rest, of course. Nobody gets every role they try out for, and learning to accept rejection and failure is an important part of being an actor.

What it REALLY Costs

This isn’t to say that it costs nothing to help your child achieve his or her dreams of becoming a star. I’ve said it before, the road to Hollywood (or even the local community theater stage) is paved with your money. But what you should be paying for is training. And if you want to know how much that costs, click here for a table showing what we spent in the six months before Kameron signed with his agent last year.

If you want to see what a “typical” audition for a child actor looks like, click here, or to see a demo reel for a working child actor, click here. By the way, we don’t do a lot of taped auditions. Most casting people prefer to see actors in person.

If your child wants to be a star, and you want to talk about the process with some people who’ve been through it recently, contact me. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you honestly, and may be able to refer you to another parent or grandparent who would know the answer. But don’t waste your money with the scam artists. Please.

About debmcalister

I'm a Dallas-based marketing consultant and writer, who specializes in helping start-up technology companies grow. I write (books, articles, and blogs) about marketing, technology, and social media. This blog is about all of those -- and the funny ways in which they interesect with everyday life. It's also the place where I publish general articles on topics that interest me -- including commentary about the acting and film communities, since I have both a son and grandson who are performers.
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104 Responses to Parents of Would-be Child Actors: Beware of Scammers!

  1. Pingback: Nine9 The UnAgency Promises to Stop Marketing to Minors | Marketing Where Technology Intersects Life

  2. kim howell says:

    I’m living in wi interested in getting my grandkids into the bus. I could use some direction on how to proceed my oldest is busy working on a production of winnie the pooh, it just local but I figure it’s a way to start building a resume. All 3 kids ages 4,4, 6 & 8 r currently in ballet, tap and gymnastics.

    • debmcalister says:

      Hi, Kim–

      To be honest, I don’t know much about the acting environment in Wisconsin. My child actor has a grandparent who lives in Wisconsin, so I know they do have a film commission and film incentives, but his “Papa Dennis” tells me that most of the actors he knows of who live in Wisconsin drive to the Chicago area for auditions, classes, and work.

      I do know that the 4-year-olds are a bit young to be represented on their own. None of the agents I have talked with will sign a child who can’t read, although most will help the younger siblings of a represented child actor, or the children of a represented adult actor, get auditions when a casting director needs a very young child. For instance, my 2-year-old great grandson had his first audition a couple of months ago when his uncle’s agent needed a Hispanic toddler for a role.

      Excellent reading, pronounciation, and memorization skills are mandatory for a child actor — one thing you will often see on a young child actor’s resume under “Special Skills” is “College level reading” or “High School level reading”, as the ability to read scripts quickly and learn lines, even when the words are unfamiliar, is vital. That isn’t to say that actors who have learning differences can’t get work — I personally know at least one very famous actor who has dyslexia, and someone has to read the scripts aloud for him so that he can memorize his lines. But the better your grandkids read, the easier acting will be for them.

      To look for an agent near you, you’d want to talk to a SAG-franchised agent in or near Chicago. Here’s a link to the search tool on the union website: https://www.sagaftra.org/professional-representatives/sag-franchised-agents

      However, a local theater production and some dance and gymnastics classes probably aren’t enough to convince an agent to sign one of your grandkids unless they are unusually talented, or they have “look” that is especially sought after and missing from the agent’s roster. So the first step I’d take would be to find a film acting class or teacher in your area who can give them some training. A simple Google search for “film acting teacher Wisconsin” should give you a start — the list of SAG-franchised agents will also contain links to the agency’s website, and most agents have lists of “resources” for actors on their website. Taking classes from a teacher recommended by a reputable SAG-franchised agent is the absolute best way to insure that the money you spent on your kid’s acting lessons is well-spent. A good, local film acting teacher who knows the business is your very best resource. Note that I keep saying “film acting” teacher — the skills needed for theater and film are similar, but not the same, and if you want your child to learn the “bite and spit”, “taste and smile” and other commercial acting techniques they may need to get cast in lucrative food commercials, you want an acting coach who knows that business.

      Best of luck with your grandkids! Twins are always in demand, and although the youngest may not be ready for an agent yet, that doesn’t mean you can’t start submitting them for roles yourself. Definitely take a look http://www.filmwisconsin.net for information on the work rules for your state. (In general, Wisconsin has some of the least restrictive laws on child actors. The main one is that a parent or legal guardian has to accompany all minors under 16 to every audition, rehearsal, or performance/filming date, and kids are prohibited from dangerous stunts.)

      You might want to consider listing your grandkids on some of the online breakdown sites (casting sites) mentioned in the article (sites like Actors Access, Casting Frontier, Backstage, Now Casting, etc.).

      All the best, Deb

  3. Pingback: Want to be in a movie? Here’s how anybody can do it | Kameron Rie Badgers

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