Modeling Scams


The Hollywood Group


To Whom It May Concern:

My daughter was scouted in the mall while shopping with her grandmother by two ladies who said she had the look they were searching for. She was given a card (from ETS) to attend an interview.

I did let her attend the interview to feel the water.

A week later, we received a call from a representative of The Hollywood Group in Los Angeles, CA, wanting to meet with my husband, myself and our daughter. They were very persistent that both parents had to be in attendance.

We did finally set a date to meet with them for what we thought was an individual interview with the "boss" E.J.

Instead we were placed in a room with four other families and their kids.

We were shown clips of movies for which The Hollywood Group indicates they have done all the extra work (Spider Man, Max Keeble's Big Move, and a few others, not including all the TV shows they indicate they have and continue to work on).

We were also advised of how he had been a casting director for years, and that he had also written a book on how to get your children into movies/TV.

After we watched these clips and some of this information, we were then told what was expected of us, the parents. $1,395 if we purchased the premiere package.

This package included her acting lessons (which were guaranteed to be at a discount, although we were never given the costs for the lessons); head shots (only to take the picture); a registration fee for an agent for her to do extra work; her ability to attend two showcases a year; for their fees to do her resume and update it as needed (as long as she stayed with them —not sure what this meant as they claim there are no monthly fees); and a few other minor things.

We were then advised that after we paid this $1,395, we would then be responsible to pay $79 for 50 copies of her headshots; $10 (co-pay) for every acting class she attended; $25 (co-pay) for every showcase she attended (as it was put —they have to pay the agents to be there, so this is partly to pay for them). And names were given as to who would be giving these acting classes.

We were then given a book to review; however, we never had the opportunity to review this book as we were ushered into an office to discuss "our" daughter.

We were then given a more high-powered sales pitch in which he used our daughter to say, "You have to tell your parents how much you want to do this," and, "This is an investment in her future," etc.

He discussed all the "big names" they have found and showed us by quickly flipping through a book a bunch of pictures of these kids.

We were then given five minutes to make up our minds!

When we tried to discuss our concerns (paying upfront fees, co-pays for classes and showcases, etc.), he chuckled and asked if we thought an agency like Ford or Savage would pay for our daughter's headshots, etc. He indicated that they would not.

We asked if we could review the book, and he said, "No way," because this was all the information he had gathered over several years.

We were then ushered out the door with a "Well, if you want to prepare her on your own, feel free, and then you can come back to me, but you will pay double to get her ready over the deals I have."

I felt like this was a car sales pitch: they crammed information at you so fast that there was no way in which you could retain everything they had said to you.

After leaving this and discussing it with my husband, he felt that these fees were appropriate, as there is "overhead," so why not just pay them?

We discussed it further and decided that we would look into it.

I have done a lot of checking on the internet, but I could not find anything about this company.

I did check the BBB, which indicates that there are no complaints, and this company is listed as a talent/model placement company.

I even checked The Hollywood Group's website, but there was no information there, either (www.hollywoodhandbook.com).

I did locate a website for one of the names we were given as a teacher of the acting lessons (strangely enough, one of the girls that The Hollywood Group indicates works with them is on this other person's website —where this person represents her —as well as a couple of other kids that The Hollywood Group indicated are with them).

I did send an email to this person to inquire about the classes —I did not indicate that I had received their name from The Hollywood Group —I only inquired about the classes.

The response said classes run $275 for a five-week class (for beginners).

My question are:

How do you find out if this company has ever been under a fraud investigation?

How do you find out if the owner of The Hollywood Group has previously owned a business that was a scam (I have read that this happens a lot; they close down one and open another with a different name in a different place)?

How do you verify if they really worked on the movies and TV shows they indicate they have?

How do you verify if these kids they indicate work really do?

How do you verify if the company that is offering acting lessons is legitimate?

Thanks,

M.H.


M.,

It is highly suspicious. Someone just wrote describing a similar scenario wrt a scout for John Casablancas.

Most of what starts at a mall is bad. Malls are places used by scam artists looking for a lot of people in the same place. It is illegal in some malls to solicit or scout.

In VA a few years ago there was a huge scam company whose mall scouts had been threatened with being arrested if they continued to scout.

They really should just open up a store in the mall with a sign out front: "Classes for Sale."

The typical thing with your daughter was the tired sales pickup line, "You've got the look."

The weird thing in your situation was they tried to use "the look" to sell acting lessons. In other words, they used a modeling pickup line to sell acting.

The look is not the primary basis of choosing actors; it is acting skill. You didn't say they asked her to read a script, so presumably they didn't. Why not? Do you not find that very strange? Put yourself in the position of a casting director. Or even an agent.

The American Idol is a hot show right now. The Canadian counterpart, Popstars, is also popular. These talent shows are not based on looks; they are based on talent. The judges, who are like casting directors, judge based on how well they sing.

Although looks are also considered, they are not the basis of the decisions. They must look the part, but looks mean nothing if they cannot sing and perform. Looks are considered after judging the talent.

Of course this is very different compared to modeling. But casting directors for actors who have written have said looks were not that important to them; it's about, first and foremost, how well they act.

Apply that basic concept to your situation.

Too many times when a company is trying to sell you a "package," it is a scam. Not saying this company is a scam, but the other ones which were trying to sell "packages" were bogus.

What is in the package? A package is basically an attempt to sell you, the consumer, as much as possible, as quickly as possible. Fast, easy money. It is always upfront fees.

Why are they trying to get a major commitment so quickly? Not only has your daughter not been screened for acting talent and passion, but you have not indicated she is even interested in acting. Therefore why should you make a financial commitment and why should they even ask for a financial commitment?

There are much cheaper classes available, $300 or less. You can start small, let your daughter find out if she is interested, if she is talented, then spend more. There is no reason to make a huge commitment at the beginning.

They claimed you would get a "discount" on the classes or the package. Really? How do you know it's not a makeup/markup scam? How do you know they don't just makeup a number, then double it, then say you are getting 50% off, for example?

You need a reference point for pricing from someone who is not trying to make $1,395 off you, or any money, for that matter.

If this casting director has written a book, ask for a free copy, then ask for the opinion of local agents. Since you are in LA, it should not be very difficult to make local calls to local talent agents to get second professional opinions.

In either the modeling or talent industries, there has to be a clear demarcation between schools and agencies. Otherwise there are conflicts of interest. In the case of THG, there isn't a clear line.

Laws in some states (like FL, maybe CA, too), do not allow agencies to charge for acting schools, acting workshops. You have to be either a school or an agency.

The law is there to stop people from scamming talent and parents by signing them up for classes to get work, but then not doing anything once the classes are over, because they already have your money!

This is a very old talent scam. (The laws against this type of scheme are not new.)

A company that used hard-sales pressure to sign people up for $1,400 packages of photos and classes was sued by the federal government in 1999.

Contact the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) to find out if their casting claims are legitimate.

You said they gave you five minutes to make up your mind and they used your daughter to manipulate you. Two common scam techniques are hard sales pressure and emotional parent-child-manipulation.

An agency is not a store; they don't try to sell you anything. Reputable agencies make their money after the actor works.

Shop around. Find out what else is out there. But first find out how interested your daughter is in acting. In such a competitive industry, you really want to pursue it only if it's more than a dream, it's a skill and a passion.

Finally, since you felt, rightly so, the salesman sounded like a car salesman, ask if included with the photos and classes you get a car.


 

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