I've been in the headshot industry for long enough to have had the displeasure of crossing paths with unscrupulous characters in the acting community -indirectly, that is. The seedy part of the acting industry is out to take advantage of other people's hopes, dreams and desires. Most importantly, separate people from their money. They use the yearning desire to make it as an actor. They know that this industry is filled with a lot of rejection, and they use that to keep their targets hooked. How do they do that? Simple, they dangle 'possibility' in front of hungry eyes with little experience. That sweet phrase, "Sure, I can take you on as a client." It's precisely what you want to hear when so many others have said no.
Remember back when your parents told you that when things sound too good to be true that they really aren't? This is one of those times. There's something that is not being said out loud here, which is that this agent's method of making his money is not from the work he gets you (because there won't be any) but from the "things you're going to need to get started." And as it just so happens, the agent is also the purveyor of these career essentials. It's a one-stop-shop, no need to go elsewhere. What a convenience!
Recently, I had a client book a session. They were a little disorganized, very quiet and reserved. They also showed up a half hour before their session time. Now for some, that may seem like a good thing. The eager beaver gets the worm and all. But showing up too early is as much of a problem as showing up too late. People aren't ready for you; it throws them off their schedule. Ok, ok, Don't get me wrong; this is not me complaining. This is me observing a person's behaviour and personality. We all do this, especially casting directors. A person's behaviour and presence -or lack thereof, can make you feel a particular way about them. These initial traits gave me the feeling that this person doesn't have what it takes when it comes to be a successful actor. But it wasn't a done deal. I needed more to go on.
We spoke for a bit to get to know each other better, as I usually do, and I had them tell me about where the drive to get into acting came from. Expecting answers like "it's what I've always dreamt of doing" or "high school drama class! It got me hooked being on stage." The answers I heard didn't come from someone with an evident passion and a solid direction. My follow-up questions opened pandora's box and clued me into what was happening. Here's the just. They sporadically reached out to an agent a few weeks back and were immediately accepted. But, they needed some things before they could 'get started' as it were. The new 'agent' had them fork over a couple hundred for the 'Get Started Acting In 21 Days' boot camp -I've searched online and can't find anything that matches this anywhere in Toronto. The next requirement they needed was to have good actors' headshots (I'm humbled I passed the test). But that also stopped me in my tracks.
Allow me to paint the picture here; money is tight these days, and we all must watch our pennies. Before this client had really done anything resembling acting -they hadn't done any drama classes in school or any small plays at all; this agent had him forking over cash for an acting course and had him prepared to drop another $400 for headshots. This is before this person has even come to the solid decision that they even did like acting as a career.
In answering one of my questions earlier on about what got them interested in acting, the first answer was, "I like to watch movies." Well, acting in a movie, tv-show or stage play is very different than watching said entertainment. Movies and TV shows can elicit a sense of connection and draw you in. But that's what they're designed to do. That's editing, a fantastic soundtrack and good writing. The reality of being on a set, learning your lines, being on call and waiting for hours for your time on camera is an entirely different thing. It's not for everybody.
I refuse to join others and take people's money for the sake of making money. I had to have a long talk with this person and get them going down a slightly different path. No, I didn't talk them out of pursuing an acting career; instead, I encouraged them to continue. But, I had to explain that not everyone in the industry has their best interest in mind. They had no idea about any red flags at all. They had done no actual research. They hadn't asked around. They hadn't thought of going on Facebook and talking to people in the actor's communities there. I even suggested the production groups there, too, as student filmmakers are always looking for people to cast in their short films. So with this new information in hand, and a clear next step, they thanked me for the advice and went on their way.
Yes, I talked myself out of a paying client. Am I crazy? It frustrates me to no end when I see people take advantage of other people. I didn't want to see this person fork out more money (which they may not have been able to afford) when they weren't at a point where professional headshots would do them any good. They didn't even have the first few steps of starting an acting career.
If you're reading this, I'm sorry if this comes across as blunt and unfeeling. Don't take any of this as a criticism of you. You did nothing wrong here. I hope that you've made some progress moving forward. I hope you've made some connections and, maybe, have something lined up! You'll know when you are truly ready for that headshot.
To the best of my knowledge, I try to do the right thing. Part of my job, as I see it, is to help people get what they want but also get what they need. Sometimes that's just some better advice than what they already had.
For the uninitiated, keep your wits right next to your dreams. Question everything and take everything with two pinches of salt. I've gathered a couple of points to keep in mind when starting down this challenging path. Go through these, and if you've already started your journey, ask yourself if you've kept a proper eye out. Perhaps others might read this list and chip in their advice too. If they do, I'll add it here.
By taking these steps, thoroughly researching agents before signing with them. And being aware of red flags -and not just these; there are many more. New aspiring actors can increase their chances of finding a reputable agent to help them achieve their goals in the acting industry. A good agent can make a significant difference in an actor's career, so it's essential to choose wisely and safely.