Writing from experience, and also reading other peoples experiences, I feel that this is something that needs to be talked about. This is prompted by encountering a dizzing number of online scams this week.
As an actress and model myself, this winter, I have encountered a record number of issues personally (although no stranger to them before) and wanted to pass on warnings, and ways to help keep safe, to others. (and do feel free to use the comments section on this blog entry, to discuss further).
In some ways, we are a vulnerable lot. We often rely on finding castings online, or messaged offers. We show our work – photos, videos, etc – off online, and network online more and more. This is a wonderful way to start conversations with a wider network, to get our work seen, and sometimes to get involved in new projects.
However, this also leaves us open to charlatans and perverts. Often, you never know until a conversation has begun. These are some of the common things to watch out for, and the way in which I personally reduce risk for myself and anyone whom I am acting as an agent for.
The most common ones are to ask people for money in order to be “guaranteed” fame or fortune. You may be asked for an upfront fee to join a casting agency. This in fact is totally illegal. What should happen is that if they like your work enough to invest in representing you, they should take a small percentage, to cover their fees, from work gained through them. Do make sure that these contracts are “non-exclusive” otherwise you could find yourself expected to pay them a percentage of work that you find for yourself.
Another version of this scam is for the agency to charge signed artistes, upfront for a “portfolio photoshoot” as a condition of being signed. Now you may indeed be asked for a portfolio – you will be expected to provide industry standard photographs and a showreel video, however you should not be charged upfront for these, and you should be able to supply your own if they are of an acceptable standard. Very often an artiste is invited to join an agency, who then ask for often large amounts money either to join, or for this photoshoot. In that case, the best course of action is to decline politely.
I have also been offered large roles in supposed big name film production alongside Alist Hollywood stars, if I pay the production company large amounts of money.
While sometimes crowdfunds for independent films may offer extra or walk on roles as a reward for supporting a film, you are not going to be contacted by, for example, Universal Studios, demanding several thousand dollars from you to star alongside some big name A-List actor.
* Salary/ expenses
Another common one from less reputable production companies (usually set up for a short time, to then vanish again) are to find talent online, often via the independent film forums. Some work may be advertised as paid, and some expenses only. The film shoot happens, but the details of what payment you will receive, is not set down in writing beforehand. Afterwards the production company does not pay you what was agreed, and you will find it hard to take any action, without the details in writing. So always get things in writing beforehand – whether that is an email, a social media conversation (either of these may be more common with student projects) or a formalised actors contract signed by all parties. The rule of thumb is to get everything in writing.
If you find that you are the victim of a financial scam in which you have paid money, you may be able to reclaim that money via your bank or credit card, or launch a dispute with Paypal. You are also encouraged to report such situations to Trading Standards and to Equity, the union for professional actors.
Social media safety
(additional note, if you are under 18, and using a social media account for acting or modelling work, make sure you have a parent with access as well)
I personally have two facebook accounts. One that I use for friends, and people whom I have met in person – friends and professional contacts whom I have spoken at length with and verified that they are who they say they are. My personal account is locked for content to be viewed by friends only.
I have a second account so that I am openly contactable by anyone, which is also important – you never know who sees your work, and genuinely needs to contact you. Having an account where anyone can contact you has its dangers. There are a large number of people online who are using social media to look for sex, victims for people-trafficking, and other illegal purposes.
When I receive a friends request from someone I do not recognise (I have not spoken to them online before, or met them), I always send them a private message to say hello, and to check who they are and what the friend request is about. Immediate warning signs that they are up to something less than legitimate, is when they ask for information which they can easily see on your profile, or that they would know if they were contacting you about work. Eg, the conversation quickly turning to “send me extra photos of yourself” - which is usually a request for nude photos, being bombarded by unsolicited video calls – usually seeking cybersex, or personal questions about, for example, your marital status, family, etc. As soon as these occur, block them. Some will ask directly for marriage, or sexual favours. And until you are satisfied that the person is genuine, do not give them any personal information. There seems to be a trend of them targetting actors, musians, and models, so be especially careful.
As for information on your public work profile. Keep it to work only. Don't post anything that gives personal details. So for example, post showreels, portfolio photos, film trailers, etc. Do not post personal messages to friends, or information about where you are going out that evening, or going on holiday leaving your house empty.
Which brings us on to offers of work.
I have had, and indeed taken up offers of work, received through social media.
Now unless you already personally know the person offering the work, check your facts.
As an example, I was once offered modelling and commercial work, supposedly for Gucci, to take place in Dubai. Now despite the unlikelihood of this, everything on the face of it checked out. Contract, salary, I was able to bring a friend as a chaperone, their expenses also covered. The name of the commercial video director and his previous experience (for Playboy) all checked out. I was so far along as to be arranging with a friend to attend as my chaperone. As final checks, I then went online, researched the contact details for Gucci, and telephoned the Gucci head office, to confirm the details. They immediately put me through to the correct department who informed me that they had no commercial shoots taking place in Dubai at that time, and that they have never worked with that Playboy director. Basically, it was a scam, one can only assume a people-trafficking scam.
If you are offered work, first of all ask ...
- What the salary/ fees/ expenses/ etc are.
- Where and when the project will take place
- What your acting role or modeling will entail. (Do you have personal boundaries, like no nudity, or not wanting to work with spiders? Make sure that boundaries are discussed and that both sides are happy with the details. )
- Do you need to supply anything for the role (and if yes, are you happy to do so?)
- Who the production company are.
- For examples of previous work by that production company/ director/ photographer
- Independently go online, Google the production company and contact them via phone or direct email, to confirm the project details.
Safety on set
This presents especial issues as it is relatively cheap to purchase a camera, and call oneself a photographer. While this does not make someone dangerous, some people do use it as a way to contact ladies who want to be models, and to create compromising situations.
Models may find themselves working in a small team, or even alone, with a photographer. If this is photographer whom you do not know, then ask if it is okay to bring a chaperone. The chaperone does not interfere with the shoot unless you find yourself in difficulties (unless they are asked to carry some equipment or help with some task like that). Some genuine photographers have had problems with chaperones who try to interfere with projects and are reticent, but the reaction should give you a clue as to the safety of the situation.
If you are shooting alone, is it in a fairly public place, or a studio with other people in the building? If it is at the photographer home, is their partner at home? All of these are signs of things being fairly safe. Always let other people know where you are going.
Ask to see previous work by the photographer. (You can also Google their work)
Always agree the nature of the photoshoot beforehand; for example, the theme, and what you are happy to wear or do. If that is exceeded, or if they attempt to persuade you to something that was not agreed, which you are not comfortable with, then feel free to leave immediately.
In a film or theatre set you will be in a fairly large group of people, but remember you may not know the people there. As a director, I have had people attempt to get involved in productions, simply thinking that actors are probably more promiscuous, and therefore seeking romantic or sexual encounters.
While I take a hard line on people found to be doing that, sometimes things happen before you are aware that there is a problem. If you find someone is acting inappropriately towards you, inform one of the senior production crew, ideally a producer, as soon as possible and make sure that the situation is noted. Do avoid flirty behaviour, especially with people whom you do not know. If it is to someone you do know, someone else could get the wrong impression, and if it is to someone whom you do not know, they could be offended, or take it as an “offer”, you have no way of knowing.
Film sets and theatres have health and safety policies, and leaving aside inappropriate people, it is important to follow them, there are usually a lot of cables, and electrics and heavy equipment everywhere.
Running a production or photoshoot safely
So far, I have written about the actors points of view. Now, I also direct and photograph as well as heading the admin for a production team. These are some ideas for keeping everyone as a safe as possible. Leaving aside everyone’s well-being, which is critically important, an inappropriate situation could destroy a project, and the production teams reputation.
These are the steps I take with our team
- We have a permanent website, where our safeguarding, health and safety policies, and rules of conduct are publicly displayed.
- When casting a production, we mention that we expect appropriate behaviour within the team, (no sexual advances, no bullying, etc) . We also draw attention to the aforementioned polices on our website.
- A summary of these policies, as well as profit share/ remuneration details, and production requirements are included in actors contracts as well as in any audition packs. Extra contract copies are provided for cast to retain for their own records.
- We introduce our production team, and identify team members to contact immediately if there is a problem.
- We have chosen to have a professionally trained safeguarding officer on our team.
- We make it clear that the production team is friendly and approachable, and that if you are worried about speaking to one person, then you are encouraged to speak to another. This is initially in strict confidence, but if there is a serious issue, the production team may need to discuss action – but you will be fully informed as to who will be informed. If it is serious enough, the authorities may be involved.
- Men, women and (if involved in a project) children, have separate changing spaces.
- Under 16s are accompanied by a parent at all times. All parents are also added to production discussion groups or mailing groups.
- If a show involves young people, then the script is made available to parents ahead of time, for perusal.
- If a production contains a romantic scene (kissing, flirting, romantic touching etc) the scene is discussed in detail with the actors involved to make sure that they are all comfortable with the scene. If someone is not comfortable, then that scene is reworked.
- If a production contains a violent scene, then again, it is discussed with the actors, and rehearsed carefully. If the actors are not comfortable, it is re-choreographed. Fight training is provided as needed.
Even if you are a small group of people getting together to create a project, it is well worth considering these things, and as soon as you get people whom you do not already know, joining, you, then it becomes imperative. It may seem time consuming, and the chances are that nothing will happen, but if it does (you cannot predict everyone's actions at all times) then you need to make sure that you have been seen to take as much care of everyone as you can, and also have clear policies which you can refer to, when confronting someone who has caused a problem.