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Watch for the red flags

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!

It all started with a booking

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.

To the client that booked me:

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.

Moving on...

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.

Importance of Researching Agents

  1. Agents Play a Crucial Role: Agents serve as a link between actors and casting directors, helping actors secure acting opportunities and negotiate contracts. They also provide guidance and support for actors throughout their careers.
  2. Proven Track Record: A reputable agent will have a proven track record of getting their client's work. They will have established relationships with casting directors and a good understanding of the industry. This can significantly increase an actor's chances of landing acting roles.
  3. Avoid Scams: Unfortunately, there are many scams in the acting industry. Researching agents can help actors avoid these scams and ensure they sign with a reputable agent who has their best interests in mind.

How to Determine if an Agent is Reputable

  1. Check for Industry Recognition: Look for agents who are members of reputable industry organizations such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), or in Canada, The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA). This indicates that the agent has met specific standards and is recognized by the industry.
  2. Read Reviews from Other Actors: An actor's experiences can provide valuable insight into an agent's reputation. Look for online reviews or ask other actors for their experiences with the agent. Facebook -aside from what I personally feel about it nowadays, is a great place to connect with other people starting out or those with a bit more experience. Make connections there. Oh, and you'll also find student filmmakers on Facebook that are always looking for talent to be in their school productions. Like you, they are learning, and part of their learning is doing. The best part is they won't be constrained to ACTRA actors only, so those starting out have a shot at lead roles. The worst part, they are broke, so there won't be any pay. Maybe some pizza and beer afterward.
  3. Ask for Referrals: Network with other actors to see if they have had a positive experience with the agent. Personal recommendations can be a valuable source of information, especially if you get the same referral from multiple people.
  4. Verify Credentials: Confirm that the agent is licensed in your state and check to see if they have had any disciplinary actions against them. This information can be found on licensing websites or industry organizations like the above.

Common Scams and Red Flags to Watch Out For

  1. Upfront Fees: Agents, mostly, should not charge actors an upfront fee for representation. This is a red flag and can indicate a scam. Reputable agents earn their income through the commission they receive from actors' paid work. Some agents, if they see strong potential, will invest their own money into the client's skills to expand their hiring potential. It's a return on investment.
  2. Promises of Immediate Work: Be wary of agents who promise an abundance of work right away. The acting industry is highly, HIGHLY competitive, and securing work takes time and effort. Agents who make unrealistic promises may not have the industry connections or experience to deliver on those promises.
  3. Pressure to Sign Quickly: A reputable agent will give actors time to research and make a decision. If an agent is pressuring an actor to sign quickly, this may be a red flag.
  4. Lack of Transparency: Agents should be upfront about their commission rates and what they can offer. If an agent is not transparent about these details, it may be a sign that they are not reputable or are hiding something.
  5. Headshots: Now, this is my territory. Some agents and photographers (no names here) have struck a pact. The agent sends over their 'new' clients, and the photographer provides them with their "Actor's Package" -which costs a fortune, I might add. It seems like it's above board and all. I don't know any photographer that wouldn't like referrals, including myself. But what isn't mentioned here is the agent is making bank. The photographer kicks back a hefty sum to the agent for sending the client his way. That's why it costs a fortune. Half the cost of the session, your money, is going back to your new agent. Here's a short story that happened to me a few years ago. I started getting calls from potential clients asking if I was a certified headshot photographer. What struck me was they all said the exact same phrase, "certified headshot photographer." This is a ploy that is used to confuse people and try to make sure that the agent's client sticks to the list of accepted photographers (aka, the photographers that are giving the agent a kickback). Don't fall for this one. There is no such thing as a certified headshot photographer. There are professionals, and there are beginners. You can tell those apart by their work.

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.