Just over a year ago, I wrote a blog post about an inappropriate email my 14-year-old received from a company called Nine9 The UnAgency and its predecessor, OneSource Talent. About 102,000 people have viewed the post over a year, and a few left public comments – although over 80 contacted me with private comments about the company.
This week, the company responded to that old post in three long duplicate comments. As explained in the comments policy posted on this site, I am not going to post most of the marketing boilerplate in the three lengthy comments, and I’m certainly not going to allow anyone to post the same comment in three places on my site. But there are some relevant points that are worth sharing.
Here’s the one that seems most important to me. The company apologized for sending email to a 14-year-old, and promises to take steps to be sure that it no longer markets to kids or teens. Here’s what the company’s spokesperson had to say:
“Hello Deb, my name is Taylor from Nine9 The UnAgency, I work in the Customer Support Division located at our corporate headquarters in Detroit, Michigan. I apologize for the miscommunication, that email should have been addressed to the parent or guardian of Kameron. I found your grandson’s application in our system based off of your email address. I notice that he did not attend the first meeting. None of our talent sign a contract with us, but we do require a parent or guardian to be present during all interactions with minors. If your grandson would have shown up by himself, he would not have been seen and instructed to have his parents reach out to us. The reason your grandson was contacted is because he either expressed an interest in modeling or acting, or submitted an application to our website or a casting that we are involved with.
(Several paragraphs of marketing boilerplate was deleted here.)
I understand your concerns about us contacting your grandson, again, I do apologize and I will make sure our New Faces Division corrects this issue, so we do not contact minors in the future.”
That’s great news for parents who don’t want to be portrayed as the bad guys by kids or teens who think that the only thing standing between their dream of stardom (or at least a role on the Disney Channel) is a parent who won’t pay the fees required to register with “the UnAgency” or its counterparts in the industry.
I requested a copy of the application she says she found from my grandson – the one with my email address on it – since I have no record of such an application and I have every email I’ve sent or received since 1981. I haven’t received it yet.
I noticed the loophole in her statement that “The reason your grandson was contacted is because he either expressed an interest in modeling or acting, or submitted an application to our website or a casting that we are involved with.” Since he’s been represented since he was 10, he’s not a newcomer who needed to “express interest”, but he could have submitted to a casting call that somehow wound up in their hands – I’d certainly like to figure out how they got his information!
Defining a Casting Industry Scam
Taylor – who never provided a last name, and used her personal Gmail account rather than a company email address to post her 3,803-character comment — went on to offer her definition of a casting industry scam, and to distance Nine9 from its predecessor, OneSource Talent.
Here’s what she said about that: “Also you mentioned the re-branding of our company, not only did we update our name but we changed a lot of our policies within the company and improved our castings division. In addition to that, people often confused One Source Talent with an agency. We are not an agency, we don’t claim to be an agency. Since we offer a service (which we provide to every talent that joins with us) and we do so legally, we are not a scam. A scam is either a company that is illegal or unethical in their business practices. We are neither. We are not a scam, we are a great resource for the 99% of aspiring models and actors who are currently unsigned and would like to get exposure in the industry.”
As I said in the original blog post, I do not feel that Nine9 meets the legal definition of a scam. Those who pay attention to what the site is selling will see that it’s basically a place where aspiring actors and models can post photos and bios, and view “castings” (a word I have never seen used except on this website). The company also offers workshops, which I assume clients pay to attend. In every city where Nine9 has offices, there are dozens of workshops for actors and models every month, offered by casting directors, SAG-AFTRA and other unions, talent agencies, and well-known industry insiders. And there are any number of places where you can find casting calls, and post your profile and photos – some of them free, and most costing only a few dollars (<$25).
Nine9 costs far more than that. They won’t give me a specific price unless I go through their application process, but I’ve had parents tell me that they paid a sign-up fee that varied between $140 and $500, plus a $40 per month fee to keep a profile active on the site. If you visit with them, and find their service worth the asking price, that’s great – and I wish you much success.
My family has been quite happy with less expensive sites like ActorsAccess.com, CastingNetworks.com, CastItTalent.com, CastingFrontier.com, ShortFilmTexas.com, and MyCastingFile.com. It’s free to register with all of these sites and get access to their casting calls. You can buy some premium services (like video hosting, or submitting a video with an audition submission) for <$20 on all of them. (Not $20 per month, $20.)
It isn’t what Nine9 sells that sometimes leaves people feeling that they’ve been scammed. It’s the gap between what people who are unfamiliar with the industry think that they are buying and what the company is actually selling that causes the problem.. Based on what the site says about how hard it is to “break in”, and how they’re the service for the “99%”, people think they’re buying access to hard-to-obtain contacts and information. But anyone enrolled in a professional acting class will find the information Nine9 offers readily available from a wide range of free sources.
The top film acting coaches and schools in Dallas/Fort Worth include Twila Barnett, Nancy Chartier, Jeff Fenter, Cathryn Hartt, Lauren Lazell and the Movie Institute. If you are serious about acting, enroll in a class before you start going to auditions, and keep going to class as your career progresses. Most casting directors want at least a year of professional training before they schedule an audition — and no, high school theater classes do not constitute “professional training.”
The “success stories”on the Nine9 site sound great — Landrian T for example, is featured in a success story that says: I’ve been actively trying my hand in the acting field, for not even a year yet, I have already been an extra in the film, Bad Kids Go To Hell (the sequel) cast by Katrina Cook. Im <sic> looking to land bigger roles in the future and with the help of Nine9 it seems more than possible.
I wish him luck, and I agree that attracting Katrina Cook’s interest is a good thing. Ms. Cook is with Katz Casting, one of the top casting agencies in the Southwest. Katz hires talent through all of the top agents, as well as through their own database. But how hard is it to find out that it’s free for anyone to create a profile and post photos on the Katz site? Not very. Google links to all of the top casting agencies in Texas.
Of course, I don’t think it’s that hard to get hired as an extra as long as you’re in the right place and have the “right look.” I’m a great grandmother with zero acting experience and I got four paid gigs as an extra the first two weeks I was registered with MyCastingFile.com and Katz — one TV pilot, one popular TV series, and two major films. I’m not interested in a career in film, as I am happily retired, but I don’t mind getting a small paycheck for being an extra in a production my grandson is working on since I have to be on set with him anyway since he’s a minor. (Work as an extra is highly seasonal in our part of the country, and the busy season is getting underway — so now is a great time to register with MyCastingFilee.com and Katz.)
A look at the list of publicly available “castings” on the company’s website lists a slew of reality TV shows – every one of them with open calls on their own websites, and active postings on the free or very low-cost casting sites listed above.
Since none of the “success stories” have last names listed, it’s not possible to check IMDB or other industry sources to see just how successful Nine9’s clients really are. I asked Taylor for contact information for some of their customers, casting agents who had hosted casting calls at their office, or specific projects cast through the site, but haven’t gotten a reply yet. If I do, I will certainly post it once the information is verified.
I did post requests on six different Facebook groups for Texas actors, asking if anyone had any experience (positive or negative) with Nine9, or if anyone had attended an audition or casting call held at the company’s office. I got 43 replies – all from people who had a negative experience or had decided not to follow through due to sticker shock once they heard the price tag for the company’s services. Zero replies from anyone who had cast a project through them, or attended an audition held in the company’s offices. Again, the requests are still out there – and I reposted today – so if I do get any responses, I will definitely update this blog post with the information I get.
The Differences between OneSource and Nine9
One thing I like about the rebranded website is that it no longer focuses so heavily on kids and teens. Yes, there are plenty of photos of children and teens on the site. But there are also photos of adults, and the pitch isn’t so blatantly aimed at kids. To me, that’s a big step in the right direction. (Note, added April 5, 2017: Nine9 sent a DMCA takedown notice to WordPress, alleging that the screen shot which formerly illustrated this story was an infringement on Nine9’s copyrights, so all illustrations have been removed — even though I believe, based on the advice of my legal counsel, that using the images was well within the “fair use” provisions of the copyright act. But the company is clearly unhappy about my posts, and is attempting to silence my criticisms of its business practices.)
Aside from the new look, I was unable to verify Taylor’s claim (“Also you mentioned the re-branding of our company, not only did we update our name but we changed a lot of our policies within the company and improved our castings division.”) that during the re-branding the company had changed many of its policies. The End User license agreement seems almost exactly the same as the one that appeared on the old One Source website, and the “about us” page is also very similar.
One thing that stood out in the email from Taylor was this paragraph: “We also allow clients to use our office space to hold their castings, this is very appreciated and a big help to them. In the last 2 months, we have held over 15 castings in office for our clients and talent.”
Nine9 has offices in 10 cities – and I’m supposed to be impressed that in 60 days, 15 casting directors have invited Nine9 clients to audition? Well, I’m not. My grandson gets 15-20 casting notices a week, and he’s in the age range where the number of available opportunities declines rapidly because it’s easier to hire an 18-year-old who doesn’t need an on-set tutor, or special work rules, than to hire a 14-17 year old who does. (We saw a lot more before he turned 13.) And the casting notices we receive are filtered so we see only those that are appropriate for him. It’s a fraction of the total that his agent sorts every week.
If you’re the parent of a child or teenager who wants to be a model or actor, take time to do your homework before your child falls prey to a scam or a service you may not need. In general, remember, if there is a fee to audition, it’s a scam. You don’t need to hire someone to help you get an agent or get an audition. Spend your money on training, and in joining groups like Women in Film Dallas, or the Texas Motion Picture Alliance. (It’s just $5 per month to join TXMPA!)
Here are some links to more information on what you should — and shouldn’t — pay for when your child is starting out in the business.
- The Biz Parents Foundation’s “Getting Started” Guide
- SAG-AFTRA’s Scams in the Entertainment Industry Guide
- 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
UPDATE 1: Only a few hours after writing this post, Taylor McAuliff used her Nine9 corporate email address to send an email letting me know that she was “displeased” with it, and asking for an unspecified agreement in exchange for information on the company’s casting partners. I declined. The opinions expressed here are my own. If you are a Nine9 client, and you are happy with their services, I wish you the best of success. If you are new to the industry, and feel that they can offer you value, again, I wish you the best of success.
The goal of this post, and others on the site for the parents of would-be child and teen actors and models, is to provide information to help readers make the best choice for themselves and their kids — whatever that choice may be.
Someone is spamming the site with negative comments on this blog post, and using the star rating system to give the post a low rating. So if you like it, please rate it and give it a high rating. If you don’t, rate it as you see fit, of course.
If you have a story you’d like to share about Nine9, OneSource, or any similar service (positive or negative), please post it in the comments or contact me. I’d love to hear it! If you plan to post in the comments, please check out the comments policy before doing so. Not all comments will be approved for publication. I reserve the right to publish what I want on my personal blog — you should do the same on yours. Thanks!
Update 2 9/30/16: One of the requests I made of Nine9 was for a copy of the “application” they say they received from my teenager. Here’s what they sent me.
I commented above that the “success stories” are hard to verify, because they don’t list last names. Taylor — who included her last name in correspondence after the first email — wrote this in response, “The reason last names are not included on our talent success stories is to protect our talents identities from competing companies, because a lot of our talent are under the age of 18.
“I do appreciate that you noted that we will not be contacting minors, however I was still displeased with the majority of the blog.”
She also said that she is a Nine9 client as well as a Nine9 employee, and provided a link to her personal IMDB page as proof of the agency’s ability to get talent hired. Here’s what she said about her experience as a Nine9 client: “I am also a talent with the company I enrolled back in December of 2015, and have been involved in numerous casting opportunities that were provided to me by Nine9. I just finished my first independent film that has not been fully released because it is currently being judged by major film festivals across the country. My full name Taylor McAuliff is listed on IMDb if you were interested in seeing proof.” Sure enough, after 10 months as a Nine9 client, there’s her film credit on IMDB!
I had posted a request in several Facebook, Reddit, and industry association forums for any Texas actor or casting director who had experience with Nine9 — positive or negative — to give me feedback. I got dozens of replies, but most of them aren’t things I can reproduce here because they would probably get me sued. But here’s a sampling I can reproduce — without the user’s names, for obvious reasons.
From a top casting director who has hired my grandson for more than one TV or film role, I got this,“I don’t even look at the submissions they send, and quite honestly the headshots are terrible and its the same form letter not personal at all to a casting director. I want to hear from the actor not be sent a form letter .. Stay clear of them!”
From a former client of OneSource Talent I got this, “I signed my kids up with this service when we first got into the business. Wasn’t long before I figured out we were wasting our money.”
From a current Nine9 client I got this: “I actually started using them recently. I paid the initial fee and all. And I do feel like it was a scam because I never was cast to any job and with the next month came around they just wanted their money, which I was hesitant to give because I was never given a job. Here’s my photo from them.” This response highlights my problem with services like this — and Nine9 isn’t very different from a number of other similar services.
This 20-something young adult thought that Nine9 was going to find them a job as an actor. This despite the company’s repeated statements that they are not an agency, and they do not find jobs for people — the legal disclaimers went right past this current client.
Make no mistake, if you register with Nine9 or any of the online casting sites like Actor’s Access, it’s up to you — not the company — to identify potential opportunities and submit well-written responses with the appropriate photos or videos. If you want someone to find a job for you, you need an agent — the hard work they put in matching actors with opportunities is why they get a percentage of the fee you earn for any role you book through them. (And it’s well worth it, in my opinion!)
The “headshot” provided included four small images, over a large Nine9 logo, with the actor’s name, Nine9 “casting profile number”, and an odd set of vital statistics (height and shoe size, with some clothing sizes but no weight) in small type at the bottom.
The photo raised several questions. First, if Nine9 isn’t an agency, why is their contact information in big type on the front of the photo? They don’t get a commission for placing people, they don’t submit talent for specific roles, and they don’t negotiate contracts on behalf of clients — so why put their logo and contact info on a photo?
Second, did this would-be actor use one of the photographers recommended by Nine9, or a template recommended by the agency? Do casting directors in Nine9’s hometown want to see images like this for film and TV roles? (The ones here in Texas don’t. They want a head-and-shoulders image as the basic, with a good full-length body shot available on request.)
The photos the current Nine9 client sent to me were poorly done — this would-be actor was wearing a white shirt, against a stark white background in two of the four. White clothing reflects light and distorts skin color — and none of the four images on the 8X10 photo gave a clear look at the individual’s face.
Here’s a link to my 15-year-old’s tutorial on how to get good headshots. (He wrote it after talking with his agent, several casting directors, and several photographers, and it’s quite good.) Even if the actor who sent me the Nine9 sample photo was looking for modeling roles, four tiny images taken while wearing the same clothing doesn’t show any skill as a model.
If you want to see what working actors are using as their headshots, go to the talent page of any SAG-franchised talent agency’s website. Here’s a link to the Texas talent represented by Kameron’s agent, the amazing LMTalent.