LA Times reports that the Better Business Bureau is warning models of scam agencies that charge upfront for headshots or portfolios, yet offer few actual auditions. Over the past 3 years, the BBB has collected over 2,000 complaints. I'm surprised, however, that it isn't in the tens of thousands.
Back in my hometown in the Pacific Northwest, I went to a couple of these kind of agencies that required me to pay for photo sessions. That was part of the deal. No photos with their photographer, no chance at representation.
Unfortunately for those in Seattle, the opportunities are slim to none, so the agencies got away with it. I even went to an audition where the photographer wanted to charge me for "test" photos. I went for it, and yes, I was stupid, but at least the photos were decent. How much did I pay? $65, which was a decent amount of cash about 20 years ago. I've talked to a few others who came to LA from other hometowns and they had similar stories of checking out their local agencies, only to find they would pay more in upfront fees than they would ever make from bookings. The lucky ones saved their money and moved straight to LA. The unlucky ones wasted a few years getting had.
Recently, a neighbor asked me in the gym if I did some acting and he explained that he was thinking of getting into doing commercials on the side. I gave him my usual tips on headshots and getting an agent, but he was hesitant to do it because he had no experience. And then I told him to try it anyway.
About a couple weeks later, I found myself in the unusual position of having to direct a promo video for my church for one of the ministries I serve in. This may seem like small potatoes to you, but to me, the opportunity to challenge myself like this was too great to pass up. Plus, the HD camera I'd use would cost a would-be filmmaker quite a chunk of money. I somehow (God?) got the opportunity to write, direct, cast, shoot and edit my first video since college.
My neighbor also happened to go to my church, so I asked him to star in the promo. We shot it on Friday and I'm now in the process of editing — well, learning to edit — it. We'll see how it goes. I haven't directed or edited anything since college, so the learning curve will be huge.
But this video is a perfect example of how someone just starting out can get some experience under their belt. One, I needed an actor eager and willing to work for free. Two, you need some tape to show an agency, or just something to put on your resume. It's a win-win. As long as you're not doing something exploitive, don't worry about getting paid for it. If this person makes money on it without your talent release, you have cause to sue, given of course that this person actually makes money on it.
If I can get the video done by this week, I'll post it here.