Is [name removed] a scam?

I get some variation on this quick question every day. Is this manager getting kickbacks? Is this agency a joke? Does this casting director just want to see me naked? If I sign up on this website will I get cast in the next summer blockbuster? Is this too much to spend on headshots? Are this coach’s classes well-respected? In looking at the regularity with which this sort of question comes through my email, I decided to do a quick overview of DIY research.

One of the greatest resources you have available to you when checking out anyone with whom you plan to do business (photographer, manager, agent, casting director, filmmaker, publicist) is the Internet. Start by using Google to find out if the person you’re looking up has his or her own website or online profile somewhere. (If the search is at first returning overwhelming results, use quotation marks around the person’s name to search for that as a complete phrase. This will significantly lower the number of links you’ll get.) While a person’s own website should do a good job filling you in on “official information,” it’s also information you should consider very much “spun” to the person’s advantage. Just as you choose clips for your demo reel that make you look like the star of the scene, everyone designs a website bio with that best image as the goal.

This is where you can expand your search to include message boards and Internet groups. Certainly, there are cautions about believing everything you read in ANY one place. And I should mention that people who fancy themselves “experts” tend to scare me just a little bit. One of the things that happens on message boards in particular is that in small groups, anonymous posters begin to earn credibility with the regulars… and I think that’s potentially dangerous sometimes. There are absolutely situations in which a Hollywood insider may wish to keep his identity a secret and still give out advice, and I do understand that. But when people begin to accept without question all advice given out by someone whose reputation, career experience, and expertise in this industry are all unknown elements, there is the possibility for major exploitation and scam-running.

That said, I have found message boards and Internet groups to be some of the best resources for information about particular people, business practices, the legitimacy of promises being made to newbie actors, and identification of outright scams. The Internet is a massive source for free information that didn’t exist for actors starting out just a few years ago. I’ve found that those actors who had to “learn the hard way” are very much into sharing their toys, giving back, and helping up-and-coming actors avoid the very pitfalls they encountered. They consider it a form of cyber-mentoring. I think it rocks! Please, as a matter of etiquette on message boards, be grateful for that element of free advice from those who’ve “been there” and — even if you don’t agree with the advice or don’t like what you’re reading because you really want to believe a scam isn’t a scam — say thank you and mean it.

If you’re going to a message board just to get people to say, “Oh, yes! That’s a GREAT person!” and encourage you into thinking you’ve made the right choice in going into business with someone, take heed that you will usually get replies about the positive and negative experiences others have had with folks in the industry. I have to laugh when I see a poster get upset that he or she didn’t encounter a bunch of “yes men” in the search for confirmation that a so-called expert is, in fact, an expert. Truth is, sometimes they just aren’t! And if you’re coming to a message board to get information, you need to be ready to digest it all… even the stuff that doesn’t mesh with what you’re experiencing (or seeing through rose-colored glasses, as the case may be).

Actually, I’d like to share a point here about “experts” that I made in the second edition of Self-Management for Actors here:

People who are selling you something can really make you question your gut instinct sometimes. It makes a good point “better,” in some folks’ opinion, if they make it a bigger deal than it actually is. Dramatic effect sells the expert’s point of view. I’ve heard it. I’ve done it! Anyone who’s heard my “good ol’ gal” type epiphany story knows it makes for funny storytelling and an underscored point about how little an actor knows his or her own type. (See What’s My Type.) Dramatic storytelling for impact doesn’t make the opinion the only one that counts. Ever.

Often, however, that realization comes after the expert has separated you from your money. Only by buying what is being sold, following the rules the seller has claimed are fail-safe, and then failing miserably because of following those rules will most people realize that even the experts are making it all up, when they say there are any 100%, all-the-time, no-matter-what rules about this industry.

As the great studio exec Peter Guber loves to say: “There are no rules, but you break them at your peril.” Anyone who tells you there is only their once-in-a-lifetime-deal way of doing something is putting their need to sell you something over the truth of what this industry is: complex.

Finally, I’d like to recommend that you make use of these free columns at Showfax-Actors Access. There is a very simple way to search these weekly columns and you may be surprised to learn that we have written about a topic very close to what you are looking for (but it was long enough ago that you don’t remember it). I regularly get emails from actors asking questions that I’ve already answered in previous columns. The convenient thing is that I can reply to the email with just a link to the answer I’ve already written, but even more convenient would be the actor taking the time to do the search first. This goes for message boards too! There is a search function on most message boards that will allow you to see what has already been written on a topic before you post a question that may be redundant. Look at it this way: Sure, the clerk at the 99 Cent Store is there to help you, but how many times in one day does that clerk enjoy hearing customers ask, “How much is this?”

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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