We’ve all been a part of an audition experience the felt …less than professional and made us question our own judgement. It happens. After 20+ years of auditioning in the professional world, I can attest to sharpening my intuition on a few duds. But it is REALLY hard to set hard and fast rules for discerning fraudulent audition notices and requests.
Independent film is filled with plenty of true artistic hopefuls as well as truly incapable wannabes. I don’t love labeling anyone as incapable, but it’s true. There are a ton of auditions that are for movies that fully intend to get made and DO! There are also a ton of auditions that are for movies that fully intend to get made and miss by a mile. And there are predators who do not ‘fully’ intend to get a movie made, but feel like they are important enough to request the labor of hopeful actors and bank their performances to stroke their ego.
Actors’ labor is wasted on delusional wannabe creatives all the time. Not so often that anyone should be on the look-out at every turn, but just enough to recognize the signs the first time.
Just in case you didn’t know, the prestigious self-submission audition sites have basic security measures and perform minor background checks to consider the validity of auditions. If your “director” engages in verifiably questionable online behavior, those casting notices may be flagged and taken down. If you are in a prestigious audition studio and you report a room for certain behaviors, that contact will be blacklisted from that audition studio. If you see something and say something, most – if not all – legitimate acting and auditioning systems will investigate the concern and root out predatory behavior. This hasn’t always been the case, of course, but it is now.
But what if I’m genuinely concerned about the validity of the auditions I’m receiving directly?
GREAT question. Here are a variety of steps you can take, not in any particular order, depending on the situation, to help suss out any possible fraudulent auditions:
- If you have an agent or manager, ask them to verify the project for which the audition is requested.
- Look up all listed personel, affiliated companies, and previous projects associated with affiliated companies.
- Request a reel, bio, and distribution plan (distributor letter of intent, festival plan, or ANY evidence that the team has even considered releasing the movie)
- ALWAYS request the full script. ALWAYS ask, but be ok with not being able to receive one. If your script sides do not have page numbers or scene numbers, keep digging.
- Social media stalk the team (without following or ‘liking’ anything or making yourself known in any way) on every site, clicking to see everything they ‘liked’ or looked at for the last few months. Pretend they are dating your best friend and you are seeking out whether or not they are a safe person by painting a full non-judgmental portrait of their public persona.
This is a no-brainer, but also a tip people often forget – CHECK THEIR REFERENCES. If someone says they have a “contact at Paramount,” then go on LinkedIn, go on IG, go everywhere you can online and see if/how/when this person could have crossed paths with or exchanged information (overlapping film festivals, conferences, screenings, alumnus) with a professional at Paramount. Give lots of space for grace, but if nothing comes up at all, be skeptical.
This online research may seem like crossing a line, but I want to be clear that a professional filmmaker’s PUBLIC online life is ok to examine to discern a level of personal safety. I do not do this for every audition. I rarely do this at all anymore. But when that oooooooooone audition comes around that asks ya to say some pretty questionable things or do some questionable hand gestures… or it is a self-tape submission and you KNOW they will be able to freely own footage of you doing or saying that thing forever, without recourse – then you better believe I pull out all the stops and verify the validity of every person requesting an audition from me.
But how do I know if a movie is really happening?
Another GREAT question. No one should be requesting an audition from you and wasting your free labor unless they are seriously crossing the line from feature film development into pre-production (at this time or soon). Here are a few ways to check on a film’s development schedule:
- Check your Secretary of State’s office for a filing of an affiliated LLC, request the LLC’s name from production (if they don’t have one, they are not in business, this may be the single most important step in the process of verifying a production company moving from development into pre-production)
- Call SAG-AFTRA to verify the film’s status and calendared start date
- Request the name of the payroll company, equipment company, or production office address (if they don’t have these, they should answer why they are auditioning actors so early in development
There are plenty of reasons why a production team may move forward with auditions without being ready to move forward with production – but if they haven’t filed an LLC or are not willing to verify details – not only are they not seriously producing a feature film anytime soon, but they may not even be aware of the inappropriateness of demanding actor labor without the possibility of employment, which is audition fraud. Audition fraud is requesting an audition from an actor without means, plans, or action towards a legal paying acting job. There is no job if there is no movie. At the very least, a legitimate film should be filing paperwork with the government or affiliated unions to offer legal employment.
If your thoughts are on how fast and loose non-union feature films can be, then you are not understanding the point of this article. The point is that some films get made and some films don’t – but audition fraud occurs when a film has no chance of being made and the team responsible is aware of that. A non-union movie that fully intends to be made will have the appropriate answers to all of these questions, otherwise it is a gamble and it is not a real job.
But what if I am a developmental actor and am willing to take a chance on a team’s FIRST movie? And they may be very green?
GREAT question. Then they will have NO problem answering every single one of these questions, knowing that they have more to prove in this Season of their career and could not possibly be offended by your requests. And you may be satisfied with their genuine answer: “We have not done that just yet, we’re still raising money.” There is nothing wrong with auditioning with more information, it’s called informed consent.
I’ve been a first time filmmaker. I’ve been an actor in a director’s first movie. I’ve made the run-and-gun movie with no permits or money. And I’ve made a movie that released in AMC Theatres. I have a variety of experiences and knowledge in this area of discerning the genuine hopeful from the incapable or even the predator. You will know when you know if something is ‘off.’ As always, “safety first!”