Film Job Scams and How to Avoid Them – Take Two

I’ve written about it before, and I’ll likely write about it again — there’s many people out there taking advantage of folks desperate for work, a large percentage aimed directly at those trying to break into the film industry.

I actually had to push back on publishing this blog as more and more scams were outed daily on Facebook. Here we are going to look at some examples and discuss how to tell a job offer is actually a scam.

General Advice:

  • Actors should never be charged for a role or an audition. Never.
  • Actors do not pay to be represented by a casting agency. A legit agency makes money when you book roles. There is no upfront cost.
  • Anyone: If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.
  • Beware of jobs offering weekly rates instead of day rates.
  • Be cautious with a job that seems to put the wrong duties on a job description (like a PA being expected to run sound or do payroll).
  • Do not trust someone who tries to send you a check before you do the job.
  • Be very cautious of anyone offering a big position above or below the line without seeing if you meet qualifications (I.e. Director of Photography job being offered without them seeing your resume or reel first.)

Check Cashing Scams

One of the most common scams we see in this business is the check cashing/phishing scam. In this one, the fake job provider sends you a check BEFORE the job in order for you to purchase equipment, pay other crew, or something similar. Usually this is aimed at production assistants and people new to the industry.

Nobody will send you a check before a job and nobody will expect a PA to purchase equipment or personally pay crew. The scam only serves to empty the unwitting person’s bank account, usually of thousands of dollars.

A play on this scam was posted on a Facebook group by Randy Swieca, adding in the New Coke flavor of Bitcoin to the mix. An applicant to the job said he was sent a check in the mail and told to deposit it in his account and send bitcoin to an undisclosed location. As the Facebook poster explained, money matters are a production accountant job, not something a PA is expected to do. The would-be applicant rightfully determined it was a scam and immediately posted a warning on the group where he saw the original post.

The Trying-Too-Hard Scammer

Zach Barry posted about a scammer going by the name Ann Gendry who sent an enormous block of text via e-mail.

For your sanity, I detail the red flags in the e-mail with this bulleted list:

  • Bad grammar examples: “I will like to thank you.”
  • Claiming the job will lead to a long-term opportunity. How?
  • Production assistant job that includes A LOT of duties that aren’t typical PA duties like check processing. She claims she is doing a short documentary, so it’s hard to believe she’ll need travel booking, making/distributing copies of scripts (for a documentary, remember), getting approval of copyrighted clips/music, assisting with pilot logistics (wasn’t it a documentary a minute ago?).
  • “Run errands such as purchasing supplies, props and other necessary items for the project.” This part is the check cashing scam. They will claim you need to purchase things and you will be reimbursed or they’ll send a fake check. YOU are the one out the money.
  • “Basic wage is $900.00 first two weeks preparation period and after which you will be paid Rate: $200./10hr on set.” No. You will not. This is not normal.
  • Then my favorite, the “About Me” section. Gendry claims “I have been short movie producer director in many places in Europe…I will travel a lot, hence the reason why I need an assistant to handle affairs for me on the home front when I am away on business which is usually quite often. This position is home-based.” This is very similar to a car selling scam on Craigslist where the scammer pretends to be abroad or in the army.

The Copy/Paste Scam

I’m calling it that because I’ve seen the exact same scam e-mail with only names and titles changed. For instance:

“I’m Vincent TONG I’m a producer for Reforma films I saw your profile posted on film production directory, I want to inform you about a upcoming short film project coming up in your area Titled ( Grateful ) Start date: May ‪25-30-2020‬, pay is $1800, I’m in search for effective FIRST CAMERA ASSISTANT kindly reply with your updated resume for more information and consideration thank you.

Kind regards
Stay blessed”

Vincent TONG (make sure you shout that last name!) e-mailed me May 4 2020. But then there’s also:

This particular scam usually comes in via e-mail, though I’ve seen it in a text message before as well.

The red flags in this “job offer” are:

  • film production directory (for some reason a lot of scams reference this vague nonexistent service)
  • Bad grammar/spelling/awkward wording from a non-English speaker
  • “Stay Blessed” and “Kind Regards” are often used to sign off on scam emails.
  • Unusually high pay for a position (especially for Production Assistant)
  • Job offers for jobs you don’t do — I’ve gotten this same one for Makeup artist.
  • Weekly or lump sums (“pay is $1800”) instead of day rates.
  • Scam emails will sometimes steal famous peoples names and production company names to try to sound legit.

Casting Scams

Alan Baltes

A community member in the Atlanta Film Production Group recently posted about Alan Baltes, a scammer who is well known for casting scams.

Alan gets his own heading because he’s made it a point to be a jerk scamming prospective actors time and time again. Baltes has previously tried to con people by pretending to cast for Jurassic Park: Dominion and sequels to Crazy Rich Asians. You can read about his exploits here in this article related to his Crazy Rich Asians scam. Now he’s focusing on John Wick 4.

Baltes claims he’s casting for movies while insisting on a $99 fee to submit, ironically to his own Cash App.

Actors — you do not PAY for casting calls or auditions.

NDA

Another similar scam popped up on a Facebook group where someone said they were asked to pay for an NDA (non-disclosure agreement). Again, that’s not a thing you pay for.

You can read further on how to avoid scams targeting actors here. And another helpful Backstage.com article on identifying scams here.

Modeling Scams

Vina Kent shared screenshots of a modeling scam that targeted her family and probably many others. Screenshots are attached and we’ll touch on a few details that mark this an obvious scam.

  • Models are asked to pick the date of the shoot
  • The locations for the job hasn’t been determined yet
  • A “modeling coach” could be provided for new models.
  • Weird hourly rates
  • A depot of $500 will be sent before the job (possible check phishing scam)
  • Weird wording/bad grammar
  • Giant block of text with no breaks

This one is clearly aiming to scam aspiring models out of their money.

So…How Can I Tell if a Job is Real?

Use your best judgement. If you’re uneasy, do your research. Google whoever is contacting you, the company, the producer, whoever you can. If someone has worked with them before, ask them before getting into a potentially dangerous situation. Keep in mind that scammers often steal the names of real production companies and producers. Chances are that Steven Spielberg won’t be contacting you personally for a production assistant gig, sorry.

Usually, legit jobs are really basic and to the point. For some reason many scammers send giant blocks of texts overexplaining everything. You could see that in the modeling scam and the email bullet point summary by Ann Gendry. They’re backpedaling. They’re trying to overwhelm you and get you to let your guard down.

Many of the gigs I’ve gotten boil down to this: “Are you available July 23-28? We need a cam op for a reality show.” I respond with my availability and then we discuss specifics like rate and job specifications.

Scammers try really hard to get your money. Don’t let ’em. Come across a scam? Feel free to post a screenshot on social media and inform your friends in the industry. A well informed community is safer because of it.

Special Thanks:

To everyone who allowed me to use screenshots and their personal interactions with the scammers to write this blog: Zach Barry, Vina Kent, Cyntoria Mccarroll, Alexandria Denise.

References:

Fake Production Assistant Listings

Crazy Rich Asians 2 Scammer Responds, Claims He’s the One That Got Scammed Movie Web

13 Signs of an Acting Scam – Backstage.com

How to Spot a Casting Scam – Backstage.com

“It’s a F–king Scam”: Beware the Hollywood Con Queen – Vanity Fair

Common Film Job Scams and How to Avoid Them – Bridget LaMonica

Networking in the Digital Age

Earlier this year I borrowed a book on networking from the local library. Build Your Dream Network by J. Kelly Hoey was not likely to help me much in my business, and I knew this going in. The film industry is less about LinkedIn and corporate ladders as it is about building a reel and meeting people who want to hire you again. Reading this book was slow going–

–and then the pandemic hit. Suddenly a book on networking just seemed ironic when everyone was stuck at home and every gig and job for the year was cancelled.

Thanks to a very generous library return policy, I finally finished this book and wanted to share some insights on networking as it applies to working in film.

I’m also keeping in mind the quarantine aspect of our current situation. Going to any sort of networking or meet-and-greet event is currently out. Stay socially responsible and do make your connections from home while things are still slow and social gatherings are not possible.

Networking in General

Networking is defined as “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”

Making connections is how you get jobs. Sure, you can get gigs by applying to online job postings, but if you’re a freelancer, much of your work will be through repeat hiring by people who like you and projects that received your name as a recommendation. Expanding your network is a way to get some sense of job security. The stronger your network, the more likely you will work. See what I did there?

Also, networking should be considered an ongoing process. It’s not just something you do until you get the first job, or for the first year of your career — it’s continuous. Contacts come and go and production companies can move. You don’t want all your eggs in one basket.

I also highly recommend having some sort of network in place before you move to a new place. Reach out to some folks in the area you want to live, ask questions, put examples of your work out there. You’ll be more established than if you go in blind.

My Networking Experience

When I first moved to Georgia, I spent the first few months living off my savings and reaching out to as many people as I could. I also went to some networking events with varying degrees of success.

Most of my connections were made through Facebook groups. Thanks to Atlanta Film Community’s bi-weekly “Self Promotion Posts,” I was noticed by a local DP and director, both of whom have continued to hire me on their projects.

Networking is connecting through shared stories and experiences. Its building a human connection, not simply stating a need to be filled (or, in the case of startups, a check to be written).” – J. Kelly Hoey

I’ve connected with other people by seeing their online presence on social media, reaching out and having a chat, exchanging resumes and reels.

One sound designer I networked with put up a self promotion post on a general film page. I saw it, looked at his work and contacted him. After seeing his quality of work and interacting online, I knew he’d be a talent to have on set. After our first film together, I continued to recommend him for numerous jobs, and he’s done the same for me.

A fellow camera assistant posted about wanting to connect with like-minds in Atlanta. I reached out, and we’ve both recommended each other for jobs. She even had me over at a dinner party (ahem, in January, pre-COVID) where I was able to connect with even more people.

You should be getting the sense that networking is not about saying “hire me,” it’s about developing a relationship and mutual respect with another person. This should be done delicately. Don’t spam post anywhere, don’t eek out desperation, and know the right time to send an unsolicited message to someone you don’t yet know. You should know when the time is right.

Reach out to people you admire, whose work you appreciate. Check out someone’s work on Instagram, Twitter feed or their website and demo reel. Send them a quick message if you like their work. It means a lot. That might even open up a dialogue, but you shouldn’t try to force someone to hire you.

Thanks to these weird times we live in, the latest film festival to show my short The Road Less Traveled — Cat Fly Film Festival of Asheville, NC — held an online streamed event. I reached out to two people — one in Atlanta who I hadn’t met before, and the director of the film I liked the most in the festival By Sunrise, a superbly done short horror film. Thanks to interacting at this streamed film festival, I made excellent connections I may be working with in the future.

Networking fails

Build Your Dream Network also had some great pointers on how not to network.

One such piece of advice is very sound: don’t just reach out to someone when they’ve landed a big job or coveted position.

“But,” you argue, “Didn’t you just say to reach out to people whose work you admire?”

Sure! But did you establish a relationship with someone, only to ghost them until that success and it looked like you could get something out of it? Don’t be selfish. Keep up on your contacts, check in with the people you like and recommend people for jobs. It’s all good relationship fodder.

Now, you can say “congrats!” to them if you feel necessary, but if that’s the only time you’ve contacted the person, the contact might be too little too late — at least according to J. Kelly Hoey’s book.

I’m proud of my friends and colleagues when they post their successes, and I try to do my part by sharing what they want shared, supporting a fundraising campaign or posting when they’re going to do a livestream or a radio interview. It means a lot to have that kind of support.

Conclusion

If you have a garden, do you only water it when the tomatoes are ripe? Think of that daily watering and maintenance as a way you should approach building your network. In the film industry we meet scores of new people at every job — you don’t want your name to disappear in a thrown away call sheet.

So, while things are still slow, this is your time to reach out to people, make those connections, and maybe polish all your public profiles and make sure things are up to date. You’ll want to hit the ground running when production starts back up.