My blog normally gets about 300 visitors per day. But one post on scammers who prey on children’s dreams, published in March, 2013, has had more than 100,000 readers. It’s not the only post on on the subject of helping a child smitten with the acting bug, but it has one thing that no other post here has: a particular company (Casting Hub) was mentioned in the post and included in the meta tags the search engines use to index and find articles about a particular subject.
When I was doing my year-end review of what has worked (and not worked) in attracting visitors to the blog, I got to thinking about just why this one post stands out so far above most of the other things I write. And that got me to thinking about all the people I’ve talked to this year about Casting Hub and its cousins.
A lot of people who read the article have sent me email or tweets or Facebook messages asking me if they should do business with Casting Hub, or how to handle a specific problem or question related to an audition they attended. Every one asks some variation of this question: Is it a scam?
Casting Hub is a “social casting search” company according to its website. The home page features celebrity testimonials from young actors and actresses that kids recognize from Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. I’ve never attended a Casting Hub event. But if (like me) you have a child who is a working child actor, you certainly hear a lot about this company and several other similar companies that host “talent search” and “talent marketing” events around the country.
One I’ve been hearing about a lot lately is called Actors, Models, and Talent for Christ (AMTC). Here’s what their website says about them: “Actors Models & Talent for Christ is a non-profit ministry dedicated to making good bolder in film, fashion, music and theater. We prepare and educate aspiring talent called by God to GO into the mission field of entertainment, where they can make a difference. You too can make a difference when you GIVE to our mission and together we bring GLORY to God.” (Grammar errors theirs; this is a direct copy & paste from AMTC’s home page.) AMTC has a large billboard near the arts magnet school my 12-year-old hopes to attend next year, and another one near Dallas Children’s Theater.
Here’s what the mother of one of my grandson’s acting-class buddies says about them, “I was shocked. I never thought anyone would bill themselves as a Christian non-profit and then do what they did. I feel like an idiot for paying them all that money for services we didn’t need. Every time I turned around, there was another fee, another cost. And all of it was unnecessary.”
Again, I’ve never attended an ATMC event. That isn’t true of Matt Wild, author of this article about the company, which points out that before it was a Christian non-profit, the same people operated the same organization with the same classes and fees, under a different name and business model.
Besides Casting Hub and AMTC, I’ve known parents who have come to regret fees they’ve paid to several other companies, including:
Do your homework, and check out any business you’re considering paying to help your child become a working actor or model. If you’re the parent of a child who is new to acting, and you’re considering doing business with any company in the film industry, use your favorite search engine to look for terms such as COMPANYNAME scam, COMPANYNAME problem, COMPANYNAME complaint, and more general terms like acting scams, avoiding acting scams, warnings for parents of child actors, and related terms. If you do this, and you want to do business with any company, I wish you and your child the very best of success!
How to Spot a Misleading “Casting Call”
Here’s part of what the wonderful BizParentz Foundation website says about how to spot a scam — read their whole page on spotting scams. “In Hollywood, scams committed against children and their families are very common as they prey on our love and pride for our children. That is one consistent across all scams – they all say everything a parent would ever want to hear about how great, talented, beautiful, and a star in the making their child is.
“That is closely followed by playing on the guilt for a parent who might not be allowing their child to follow their dreams. Many of them explain their lack of ability to provide what was implied by their advertising and sales pitch, but pointing out that the experience was fun and unique for the child (and family), a great memory.”
Note: If your child is just getting started in the industry, please take time to read the collection of Getting Started articles on the BizParentz website. They will save you hours of time, and much grief. BizParentz is a non-profit organization funded by the parents of working child actors, adults who were once working child actors, and reputable industry organizations.
First, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Real “casting calls” aren’t advertised on radio, TV, or billboards. In fact, they aren’t advertised at all. When someone pays to advertise something to you, they are selling you something. There aren’t any shortcuts to Hollywood. The vast majority of working child actors got there after years of classes, local productions, and hard work.
Second, if it’s targeted to kids, it’s probably a scam. Despite what you see on some of the TV shows where parents are inarticulate buffoons consistently out-flanked by their “kids with attitudes”, in the real world children don’t make business decisions. Not even in Hollywood.
Acting is a business. A legitimate talent agent, casting director, or studio representative may have your child audition by himself or herself (with you just outside the door after you’ve met everyone who will be in the room with your child, and know exactly what the audition entails), but they don’t talk business with children for the very simple reason that a child actor can’t give the required legal consent or sign the required contracts.
Third, if the opportunity is vague and open to huge numbers of people, pay very close attention to the words you see. A real casting call is very, very specific. It gives the name of the film or TV show, the name of the casting director, the date and time of the audition, and very clear instructions about who can audition. Here’s what a real casting call or audition opportunity looks like for a child actor.
Last, but not least, if there is a fee associated with the “opportunity”, it’s not real. I can’t say this often enough or loud enough, actors get paid to act. Casting directors are paid by the film companies asking them to find talent. Agents get paid (only) when the actor books work and the film company pays the actor. Actors don’t pay for auditions. Actors don’t pay to sign with an agent. Actors don’t pay fees to casting directors.
Why Isn’t Anybody Doing Anything?
The answer is that lots of people are doing things to put a stop to the most unethical practices out there. In 2010, California’s Krekorian Scam Prevention law took effect. It prescribes penalties for fake casting sites, and criminalized a host of unethical practices. Sites like RipoffReport.com give parents a place to vent about problems with sites that market to children, and trade publications like Backstage, Variety, and the Hollywood Reporter cover the ongoing legal challenges and court cases filed as new scams are reported to authorities.
The BizParentz Foundation website explains what is — and isn’t legal in California. Any parent considering a trip to California with a child should take time to explore the site before booking the airfare. BizParentz operates a page dedicated to scams, which you’ll find at this link.
What may look like a scam to a parent whose child is crying because they thought that the moon was within their grasp but wound up with moldy cheese is probably legal even under California’s restrictive rules. The businessmen behind these companies have good lawyers, and they’re very, very careful about what they say, what goes in writing, and how they phrase their pitch for services.
Lots of legitimate businesses charge fees for attending an event, participating in a training program, or marketing your product. But when the product is your child’s acting ability and the target audience is talent agents and casting directors, a healthy dose of skepticism can save you and your child a world of tears and a costly lesson in the economics of the business.
The problem is the wide gap between what the companies are actually selling and what families think they’re buying. I first mentioned Casting Hub on this blog after a neighbor paid $3,995 to the company for what she believed was an opportunity to audition for Disney. After I published the letter she had received from Casting Hub with my comments and questions about it, she called the “talent coordinator” working with her child.
At first, the talent coordinator’s response was something along the lines of “haters gonna hate but great parents like you support their children’s dreams.” When my neighbor asked just when the promised Disney audition she’d paid for would happen, the coordinator quickly corrected her. “We never promised you a Disney audition. We are not a talent agency.”
Then the agent recited the exact language found in small print at the bottom of the Casting Hub home page. “Casting Hub is a social casting search company, not an employment agency, school, performing arts academy, management company or a talent agency. Casting Hub does not train, procure, offer, promise, or attempt to procure employment or engagements for artists. Casting Hub only provides Internet exposure, networking resources and tools for you to match your talent with available listings of auditions and casting calls. Review our terms of service for more information.” In plain English, it says you are paying for web hosting for photos and information about your child. Is it just me, or does $3,995 seem awfully high for something I can get free on other sites?
When my neighbor asked for a refund, the coordinator cited the “no refunds” clause in her contract. When she threatened to sue, the coordinator cited the arbitration clause in the contract that limits customer’s right to sue or participate in a class-action lawsuit (if any such lawsuit happened — I know of no such litigation) in favor of an arbitrator selected by Casting Hub. (The American Association for Justice says that when contracts include a forced arbitration clause, the business wins 83.6% of the time.)
What my neighbor found is that Casting Hub is providing a legal service, and appears to be doing exactly what its contract says it will do — providing Internet marketing for the children whose parents pay for specific services. Unfortunately, that isn’t what she thought she was buying when she signed up.
Personally, I wouldn’t pay a dime for something I can (and did) get free. To read about how my child got his agent, check out some of the other articles I’ve written on this subject on this blog, including the original one. The articles include everything from links to reputable talent agencies to a table showing exactly what we’ve spent so far on our child’s career, to links to information about taxes, work permits, and the rules pertaining to child actors.
- Parents of Would-Be Child Actors: Beware of Scammers
- What a Real Audition Opportunity Looks Like
- Advice From a Reluctant Stage Grandma
- 5 Things Parents of Would-Be Child Stars Need to Know
- Resources for Parents of Would-Be Child Actors
So are Casting Hub and its cousins fooling would-be child stars and their parents? Maybe. But they won’t fool you and your child if you listen carefully, and do your homework. Listen to what is actually promised — not implied — do your homework, and read the fine print before you sign a contract or write the first check and you’ll be fine.