How to Spot Acting Scams in Hollywood

Bruce Edwin is founding CEO of the A-list firm Starpower Management LLC, publisher and creator of The Hollywood Sentinel, and producer of motion picture. His services, based on his years of expertise and success in the music and film industry are sought out and used by some of the most powerful companies and stars in entertainment.

This article series, a precursor to his upcoming book series, is his way of giving back to models, actors and bands, with knowledge, that in its totality and with its unabashed honesty cannot not be found anywhere else – for free.

Whether you want to be a famous model, actor, singer, director, producer, or whatever, the following advice will help you in most any chosen area of entertainment.


The following is a list of ten top things to look out for when checking out a talent agency or talent management company.

1. If they have no presence on the internet movie database (IMDB), proceed with extra caution. Every serious player is not always listed on the IMDB, but 98 to 99 percent of the time they are.

2. They should have a website. A few reputable companies out there may not have one, but again, most should. If they don’t, beware and check them out extra carefully.

3. Search public records and find out if they have been sued and for what. This could indicate a red flag. Most top people in the industry have sued or been sued, but if you are dealing with an agent or manager, you want to know what they have been sued for.

4. Where is their location? If they are in a poor, sketchy area, you may think twice about dealing with them.

5. Do they guarantee they can make you a star before they see you? If they do, run. No legitimate agent or manager will say that they can make you a star – at least not without seeing you first, and then they should rarely say this unless you happen to truly be the next star in the making which is more rare than one in a million.

6. How long have they been in business? Find some factual evidence that shows how long they have been around. If they just started less than a year or even a few years ago, you may want to get to know them better before you deal with them. Agencies and managers come and go in this business, and most fail within the first year. Make sure you find a winner.

7. Are they truly connected? Top agents and managers can reach anyone who is anyone in Hollywood. The Others admit they can not, or merely lie and pretend. Reality speaks for itself, and while you can’t always investigate confidential deals or communications, you can at least try, and after that, try to be a good judge of character when you talk with them. Even the best liar can’t keep up their front forever when confronted with truth.

8. What is their reputation among their peers? When stating this, I don’t mean the opinions of a handful of rejected clients or ex-clients who got dropped for drug problems, or other biased agendas. The best agencies in the world have disgruntled clients who try to sue, attack, or slander for one insane vengeful reason or another. I mean, what is their reputation among those that really count in the business, like the studios, producers, directors, casting directors, and stars? The lower the level of agent or manager you deal with, the chances are the top people in Hollywood do not even know who they are. Unless you read it in the trades, don’t give too much credence to criticism of a person or company on the internet, as anyone can go there and lie. Find out instead what their standing is with those who actually are supposed to deal with them and get you work – the producers, directors, casting directors, and studios.

9. No agent or manager can ask for money up front to represent you, by law. If they do, beware. If an agent or manager or school tells you they are traveling around the country and are set up in a hotel seeing many kids, this is not always, but generally a red flag. Again, if they ask for money – run.

Calling services however, can be legitimate and may charge a monthly fee to submit actors for work. There are not many of them, and you should not even consider paying for a calling service unless you are in New York or Los Angeles. If you are there, and do decide to use one, check them out thoroughly and make sure you talk with at least several people who are with them that are happy and getting paying work.

10. Paying for photos: An agent or manager has a right to refuse signing you. They also have a right to refuse accepting your pictures, and they have a right to require you to get pictures or new pictures to their liking in order to sign you. You have a right to shoot where you want, and with who you want. And an agent or manager has a right to refuse to use those photos if they want to refuse them.

Most modeling agencies for example, have their zeds (comps) made with a certain look, in a certain style, and printed a certain way with their logo on it. An agent or manager is not required to provide their logo art work to a potential client, and they are not required to tell them how they want a potential client’s marketing materials created.

I have had many models I was interested in signing refuse to invest in professional photos, and instead try to insist that I use their photos that they either shot themselves, or that their Dad, Mom, boyfriend, uncle, aunt, room mate or similar shot who thought they were a professional photographer when they were not. Then, they would get mad when I refused to use their poor quality photos, and slander me because they didn’t get their way.

Every top agency and management firm in the world generally wants their client’s marketing materials made in a certain way. This is the company’s brand and identity. If you are not willing to go along with that identity, then find an agency or manager you fit with, or find another industry to work in. Agents and managers are not obligated to pay for your photos and portfolio and reel, and generally will not. Be prepared to invest in photos, and I suggest taking direction from the agent or manager you are signing with.

Never spend more than four hundred on headshots which should include at least two looks, comparable to 68 images that are yours to keep, that you own, in a digital format. And I suggest not spending more than around double that for your zeds and book. Your zed (comp card) shoot should include the equivalent of at least three looks (ideally four at this rate) for most agencies, and around 100 images.

A small handful of agencies out there use only two looks on a zed, in which case you should spend less, closer to 400. Prints are usually extra, and you never need to have more than 100 printed at a time, which should not cost you over 100 dollars for headshots, and not over 150 for zeds which can be a bit more since they are usually double sided. Blow ups can range around 10 to 20 per blow up, depending on the size and quality. You don’t need more than six to ten blow ups as a beginning model. Your portfolio book should run you around 50 dollars. Don’t spend more than that on a book, which you can get at any art or photography store.

If you are worried that an agent or manager is making money off of your shoot if you decide to shoot with a photographer they suggest, realize that the big agencies including Ford were started this way. Most agencies make money off of photos if a client needs new ones. They can say they don’t, but the fact is, most do. Deal with it. The point is, are they a good manager or agency and can they get you work? If the answer is yes, then if they make a few bucks off of referring you to someone, it should not make a difference to you. With that said, laws have changed once again over the past year, making it illegal for an agency to make money off of any referrals in any way. So, here too, proceed with caution.


My son responded to a commercial on Disney XD for an open call audition. I took him yesterday and they did a LOT of name dropping. Even had a Disney Channel kid there (who was actually the one that the kids read for) Call backs are today. It appears that the kids who have the “It” factor are being invited to Hollywood for The Acting League’s Film and TV program. Yes, if your child is talented enough, you can pay $5100 (plus all travel expenses) for them to go to Hollywood for 5 days and get filmed doing a scene with real celebrities! Oooo, ahhhh…right? HA! Except you have to put down $1000 by noon and come up with the rest in 48 hours…and when you get there in a few months, some casting guy will tell you if your kid is ready for this. -yes, after you shell out $8k, they will tell you IF your child is ready for this…

I tried a few times (not really very hard) when I was younger to get an agent and be a singer. Seemed like every time I tried I was told that they could get me work singing if I just took this $1000 acting class or if I bought these $1200 headshots… Whatever right?! I never found anyone legit. Now I’m grown and my son is interested in acting/singing. I don’t know how to help him. I’m not really sure I want to as it is more important to me that my son grow up to be a good person than to be a rich and famous person … Being a celebrity often seems to ruin people. Any guidance you can offer would be appreciated.

Miss Whatever

Miss Whatever, you did not state your name, but based on your e-mail and what appears to be a candle company you own online, I will call you Holly. So Holly, first of all, you really kind of answered most all of your own questions it seems, but I am replying to you moreso for our readers, who should read this information. Here it goes; If your son responded to an open call audition on Disney XD, it doesn’t mean that Disney is involved. Disney XD is a cable channel owned by Disney, and is the official website of Disney XD for the channel. Disney is a professional, renowned film studio, and they do not and would not charge kids for auditions which is illegal. If they had a Disney talent there, that also does not guarantee anything.

Studio System Vs. Star System

Stars are independent players these days. We have a star system, not a studio system, so every move made by a star is not monitored by the studio as it was in the early days of Hollywood. This actor perhaps got paid by the outside company to show up, not knowing it was shady. Disney certainly would not have known, or their lawyers would not tolerate it.

Bringing A Child to Hollywood to Be A Star

Bringing a kid to Hollywood is usually a bad idea to begin with, unless they are amazingly talented in some capacity, which – nothing against kids – many are not. Paying an outfit to have a kid do something in Hollywood like make a movie or product, is a bad idea unless you have tons of money, are dealing directly with a producer, and know how you will get a return on your investment and have that all in writing. These days, a company doing fund raising with talent or parents of talent for a project, should have detail of the project online, for all investors to track. Also, there are strict laws regarding this, which must be followed. The scenario you described sounds like a major scam, to me, and I found no information on the company you mentioned.

Too Much For an Acting School

$1000 for an acting class is too much, unless it is for a long term cycle, and the instructor or school is outstanding, with major proof of successes with known stars who have trained there. The name Acting League you mention, is not known, and I would not pay them a penny, much less over one thousand. Further, even if the school checks out as solid, which this does not seem legit to me, one should never pay this much for a kid unless all they talk about is acting and they really, really want to do it with all their heart. 1,200 for headshots is ridiculous. Even when headshots were needed more so as they were before the Internet become acceptable for castings, 500 would be the maximum to pay, closer to 400. For kids below 18, that price should actually be closer to half of that figure.

Under 12? Don’t Pay For Pictures

For any kid up to around 12 years of age you should generally not pay anything, as the child will be growing so fast, their pictures will be obsolete in a matter of months. Simply make a few hard copy prints at a copy shop from some good digital prints and don’t pay any significant amount of money for it. These days, most submitting is done digitally, so one only needs hard copy headshots to bring to auditions or go-sees. Two hard copies should be brought. And unless one is auditioning daily, which many actors are not, then you don’t need that many prints right away – though you do want to have them always on hand so you are prepared. One should never pay to get an audition.

New Laws In Entertainment

Entertainment laws have changed in the past year, making it now even more strict concerning entities that try to charge actors or models to get auditions. What this company is doing is illegal.

Too Legit to Quit

You state you ‘never found any one legit’ when you tried to get an agent for your singing. That is unfortunate, but really, you didn’t try hard enough. There are plenty of legitimate agents and managers out here. You just need to know where to look, and be educated as to how Hollywood works.

Knowing What You Don’t Want Is Knowing Something

You state that you “don’t know how to help him.” First of all, stop saying that to yourself. You know many ways how to ‘not’ help him, which you have just described to me here above. Avoid scams. Don’t be duped. Don’t be a bad person. So, therefore now, since you do know what you should not do, you actually do know some things you should do. You do know some ways to help him. Deal with ethical people. Have integrity and honestly and insist on it from all you deal with. Be business savvy to the way Hollywood works. Tell yourself that you do know how to help him, and then do it.

Read How to Succeed in Hollywood at The Hollywood Sentinel

Read all of the back issues of my articles ‘How to Succeed In Hollywood’ here in The Hollywood Sentinel, where you can click on the ‘Archives’ button to the left of the page and read a wealth of information of free advice on exactly what you are looking to learn in this regard. Call my office for further free advice if there are other questions you have that you do not find answered after you read all of the back issues of this article series.

Stop Blaming the Rich and Famous

You also stated, “I’m not really sure I want (to help him) to as it is more important to me that my son grow up to be a good person that to be a rich and famous person … Being a celebrity often seems to ruin people.” You admitted a big part of your problem right there. You stated right there that you are not really sure you want to help him. You have a counter intention to what you are discussing. You can not help your son be a success in Hollywood, and at the same time not be sure if you want to help him.

Get Rid of Emotional Baggage

It is apparent to me that you have some mental wounds concerning Hollywood and your failed purposes of being a pro singer, and you are upset over people who tried to take advantage of you. Until you get over that, you will never be able to successfully help your son with his goals in Hollywood, and on the contrary, you will be hurting his objectives. Like attracts like. If you feel that Hollywood is all bad and everyone will try rip you off, then you will be putting that energy out there, and that is what you will find.

Don’t Talk Dirty Laundry

I have had countless aspiring actors and models come into my office over the past decade when I used to see new faces, telling me stories like yours the first minute I met them. I am guessing you may have done the same. Treat every meeting like a job interview. Would you go into an office trying to get a job and complain about the past employer? Don’t do it in Hollywood either. After you get signed, and know the agent or manager – fine. But no one wants to talk about dirty laundry on a first date. And similarly, agents and managers don’t want to hear about your baggage in the industry the first time they meet you. Unless they happen to directly ask, keep it positive. You also state a position that you feel being rich and famous is the opposite of being a good person.

To read the rest of this story, visit The Hollywood Sentinel at the link below, and go to the table of contents column on the left of the screen, for the Letters to the Editor.