Mailbox #1: Agents Asking for Money

Acting Q&A

In the Mailbox series of articles, experienced performers, casting directors and acting teachers will answer a variety of questions from actors in the United States and the United Kingdom on the subject of education, craft of acting and the business side of it. Send us your questions to [email protected] and your question will appear in the next week’s Mailbox article.

Acting Agents Asking for Money

Question: I auditioned for an acting agency, got signed and was told to pay £200 for headshots, Spotlight and workshops. After paying that money I have been put on Spotlight and attended workshops with casting directors through them. However, it has now been a year and I haven’t gotten any auditions through them.

I received an email last week from them stating that its time for us to renew our contracts and would have to pay £215 to get new headshots and renew our Spotlight page. They said that if we didn’t pay, our contracts would get terminated. Now I am stuck and do not know what to do. I really do not feel like this agency has done anything great for me and would rather leave and look for another agent but at the same time I’m scared to leave in case I don’t find a new agent any time soon.

– Ebony

This question couldn’t be more relevant to how today’s acting industry is exploiting aspiring actors. Unfortunately, it appears that you’ve been one of the many victims of the popular scam that’s spreading around the entertainment business like a virus, and here’s why.

The first red flag should have been their initial request for you to pay £200. The most any reputable talent agency interested in signing you can do is recommend you a photographer, and even that is uncommon among known agents. Agents receive 10% of every one of their client’s paycheck and that is the only money they get from actors.

The second red flag was them forcing you into a workshop. Again, that’s not what real talent agencies do — they have plenty on their hands, and arranging casting workshops is not one of the things on their agenda.

The third, of course, is the fact that you haven’t received a word from the agency for the period of 12 months. Sometimes, after signing with an agent, things can be slow, but the least that you and the agency do is trying to stay in touch. And even slow would usually mean 1-3 months of no auditions, tops. If you don’t hear from them for longer than that, it’s never a good sign.

Finally, them emailing you about paying an additional £215 in order to extend the contract obviously rings an alarm bell. No agency will ever pressure you into anything, let alone extending the contract. They will only be interested in you as a talent if you’re going out to auditions and getting jobs; if not, they will simply drop you as a client.

It is very sad that Equity isn’t taking any actions to protect actors from such scam artists, whose practice in the UK has become so popular that actors now find it normal to pay “initial fees” to their so-called acting agents and managers. The threats of being dropped by the agency is what scares these actors into submission, but it shouldn’t — you must stand up against them and find a way to fight this unfair battle. Aspiring actors all across the world are poor enough already; how much longer will this industry keep sucking them dry?

Now I’m not taking anything from our inquirer Ebony, as the person simply is one of the very many starting actors who have been caught into this trap. It’s fair that they weren’t aware of how reputable talent agencies work and what kind of scams are out there. For the future, this is what actors in the UK and US should remember:

  • No real agent will ask you for any money in advance
  • Agents only get paid 10% from whatever acting gigs you do
  • If there’s not a single audition from the agency for the period of 6 months, consider looking for different representation

As for our inquirer, what you have to do right now is to leave this agency immediately. It’s unlikely there will be much use from these people and you’re better off spending the hard earned money on some acting classes.

SAG-AFTRA in the US market is doing a slightly better job of keeping these scam artists under their thumbs. While it still is happening on a daily basis, talent can report such instances for immediate investigation and make other actors aware of the names involved. In the UK, actors have to fight their own battles against these people and making everybody aware of these cases is one of the better things you can do for yourself and your fellow actors.

It sure is difficult to get signed by a good agent, but when you do — it will be worth the struggle.

And I would like to thank Ebony for getting in touch about the case and letting us know the name of the agency. Acting in London will try to do their best to attract attention to such scams and protect budding actors from being tricked into these situations again.

For our readers: Anybody who’s been in the similar situation of agents asking for money before releasing a contract or signing for representation, please do not hesitate to get in touch and report the name of the agency. Our email is [email protected]. Communication is the key to minimizing the number of cases of these scams.

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