I’ve been with my commercial agent for a month now. They’ve sent me out on two commercial auditions. Today they sent me an email saying I should send them additional headshots and new video to add to their website. The cost is $85 and I am required to do it. What do you think? I thought they were legit! Should I drop them?

Matthew Davis

My initial response to Matthew took place at Facebook. He had shared the short version of the question with me there, but had emailed me much more information, which I’ll share below. Just based on the above information (and thinking perhaps Matthew had misunderstood a request to be on some other sort of website at his own expense), my reaction was as follows.


Ask for a meeting. Do a face-to-face to find out why they think your current headshots and vid aren’t working. Get them re-enthused about you in person, so they’ll see why you’re worth sending out and be sure their reasons for not believing in your tools are legit.

Now, no agency should charge you for putting anything on their site. If you have to pay to update your own profile at Actors Access or Now Casting or LA Casting or whatever, that’s one thing. But if they’re charging for anything to go on their site, it’s likely a scam. Agencies make money on commission. Only. If they don’t believe in you enough to do commission-based earning, it’s not a good fit. They could just sign hundreds of actors willing to pay to be on their website, and never have to actually do any “agenting.” 🙂 Scam, scam, SCAM!

Good luck!


When I logged in at my column-based email account to check for column-related feedback, SPCotW submissions, and Your Turn topics, I found the emailed version of Matthew’s situation. He had forwarded me the email from his agent. Holy crap, this is disturbing! Read on. [Note: I usually correct poor grammar, spelling, punctuation, and style. Not this time. *shudder* I did, however, edit out any identifying information about the agency engaging in this totally shady practice.]

Dear Talent,

Over the past 16 years of representing talent, I have witnessed many changes in the business, but none of these changes have been as disturbing as the present situation. The past year, the commercial casting process changed dramatically; less SAG jobs exist, and the rates for nonunion jobs have and continue to decrease each moment. In addition, your competition increased by thousands.

I am always thinking ‘outside the box’ when it comes to generating more attention for our clients’ benefit. We cannot and will not continue to work in the same manner, expecting things to improve -without taking action. To be competitive, we must target new sources for work.

Effective immediately, [agency] implemented a strategy to generate more business for our clients. Your profile will be featured on our website, marketed not only to casting directors but to advertisers, and buyers as well. To survive and compete today, visibility is essential; your action is required!

The minimal cost to you is $85, which will go to the programmer to create, upkeep and store your personalized talent profile, with headshots, videos, and agent pitch notes. Sample: [website URL], click our talent, click [category], click [actor’s name]. The site will be undergoing many changes.

Each client will have his or her own page on [website URL]

  • Up to 3 Headshots
  • 2 Videos
  • Resume
  • Skills Section
  • Agent Pitch Notes

Videos are a big part of our pitching process.

IMPORTANT: Our goal is to have everyone online by November 15, 2009. This is not something that can be put off. Saving 85.00 will cost you a possible booking.

Please bring in your payment of $85.00 and materials this week to secure your profile by November 15.

  • Video 1. 30 seconds; find something that you know YOU would advertise. (Sincere, Friendly, Personality.)
  • Video 2. 30 Seconds (Over the top, funny, lots of personality)
  • Do not use props, hair & make should be done, pressed clothing.

You can do this yourself or to assist you in this process we will be video taping this week only. One of our amazing interns will be happy to video tape you, edit and forward to the programmer.

Forward your videos to [email address]. Send in payment by check, bring it to taping or pay by credit card by calling our office. This is a tax deductible item.

You have our full commitment to your career, we need yours.


Wow. Just… wow.

A part of me wants to go line-by-line with this agent’s email and explain how it’s not the clients’ job to offset the agency’s cost of doing business, should the agents who run the place choose to do something that sets them apart among the pack (like launching a website to showcase their talent roster to the masses), how there are actually thousands fewer actors competing lately (because the economy has driven many of those who had been pursuing acting into any other field, where there’s some security), and how there is no way in hell it costs $85 per actor to maintain even the most sophisticated website filled with reels and headshots and such. But really, all of that should be obvious to anyone with a brain cell and without an emotional stake in the status of the relationship.

What’s important to note here is that people are scared. They are facing an economic situation that makes them terrified. And they’re running out of ideas for how to stay afloat in this industry. Agents are being told they will no longer earn a salary and can only work on commission, even at the bigger agencies. Partners are leaving and launching management and production entities so that they can make money on both sides of the projects and people they’re working with, without having the state-mandated cap on their commission level. People are selling more makeup and vitamin water and diet juices and custom cards and memberships in whatever than ever before, to keep their creative dreams financed. I get it. It’s a time when survivors are finding ways to cut it, wannabes are finding a way out of the business, and those in between are desperately clinging to anything they can do to try and keep their business model going without having to do something truly innovative. Or something tough. Like earning an honest buck somewhere.

That’s what we’re seeing here. This is an agency that doesn’t want to have to lay off employees, doesn’t want to have to cut expenses any more than they probably already have in the past two years, and doesn’t want to shut its doors entirely. So, they’re reaching out to their clients to try and get them to cover the expenses related to doing business. I can tell you right now, no one in casting is going to start seeking out agency-run websites to shop for talent at the level this agency represents. Nor is anyone in production. Nor at ad agencies. Nope. Never gonna happen.

Recently, I’ve been bombarded with emails from people who’ve been suckered into a “hot, new” MLM/pyramid-based sales site. They’re being encouraged to pelt their friends’ lists at social networking sites (as well as signing up their friends for emails they can’t — or won’t — stop them from receiving when asked to do so) because, of course, “everyone makes money” when people come in below the level of those who “started early.” Well, after having to insist that a well-meaning but misguided actor JUST! STOP! EMAILING! me about the damn site, I noticed her Facebook status update. It was about how bold, innovative ideas are always met with resistance at first.

Yeah. So are obvious scams.

So, before anyone reaches out to me to defend this new shady practice by this agency (or the “hot, new” MLM site, for that matter), let me be crystal clear: Any California-based talent agent who is making money off its clients before they book paid work (meaning, they’re making money on anything other than a commission-based arrangement) is trying to get your bucks before doing so would mean they are breaking the law.

From the press release by BizParentz.org:

AB1319 Takes Effect 1/1/10

This bill outlaws Advance Fee Talent Representation (reps should only get paid on commission — AFTER you work) and regulates several new categories of Talent Services, including:

  • Talent Listing Services (websites that post actor profiles and breakdowns)
  • Talent Consulting Services (those who charge a flat fee to advise you on how to get into the biz, etc.)
  • Talent Training Services (acting schools, seminars, workshops, etc.)

Paying for a job opportunity is illegal, as is “selling” an agent. This bill was supported by an unprecedented team of law enforcement, the BBB, BizParentz, SAG, MPAA, and every major movie studio.

This law tights up the current “Advance Fee Talent Act” that already exists in CA. The law regulates those who charge fees to meet agents, bait and switch operations, long-term acting class contracts, and other common talent scams.

Special thanks to Mark Lambert of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office for spearheading this project. See the press conference (BizParentz speaks!) and other news links here.

That about covers it, eh?

Hey, I get it. Fear is a beast and we have to find ways to be resourceful when it comes to staying afloat when times are tough. But victimizing a population that already feels indebted to an agency — hopeful that the reps will get them into rooms they cannot get into on their own — is simply wrong. And soon will be illegal.

Congratulations to all who worked so hard on passing AB1319. This is a victory for all actors in California!

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 http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001103.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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