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Episode 67 | SCAMS, LIES & DOUBLE DEALING (Part 1)

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

So here we are at the final episodes of season 4 and today I’ll be delving into another of my TELL IT LIKE IT IS topics as I’m going to be talking about creative scams. That’s scams that are aimed not at the general public but specifically at those working in the creative industries… and I have 15 pages of notes on these scams so I have decided to spit it over two shows.

In last week’s show I chatted with a very good friend of mine; marketing and social media expert Gillian Dick of the GoTo agency in Glasgow, about marketing or more specifically personal branding and how to go about it. In the past, marketing and promotion always felt to me to be somehow unimportant in the world of the arts and theatre and film or something that I just had no interest in, but as time has gone on I have begun to realise that if we can get our product out there, whether it be a short film, a podcast, a piece of art, or even more importantly our own selves, into the marketplace and into the minds of the people who will buy from us or employ us, then we are doing ourselves a great disservice. Gillian gives a mass of incredible advice on this topic and if you want to do yourself a favour then you must go back and check it out.

It was the heart of any scam or fiddle -- keep the punter uncertain, or, if he is certain, make him certain of the wrong thing. Terry Pratchett Unquote

Today I’m going to shine a light on a few of the scams that I have either fallen for myself or that others have told me about in order that you can have a heightened awareness of them and avoid the same sort of thing yourself in future.

I was not too long ago invited to collaborate on a project by a colleague that I’d worked with many times before. In those previous projects I’d set them up and invited them on board or vice versa and as things went on with those we had shared the costs for them entirely from our own pockets. They were, in effect, zero budget creative projects made for a bit of fun but we took them seriously, did our best to make them high quality and they were generally well received.

I want to say here that I am not talking about the associate that I made the short films Dead End, Dead Drop and Dead Ringer with, but I am talking about someone I at this time regarded as a friend. If you want to know who I am actually talking about, then maybe I’ll tell you in private at some point, but like the other stories I shall relate in this episode I am not going to publicly name names. If I were to go down that road it would only lead to trouble and I don’t want to POKE THE SLEEPING BEAR …or BEARS, as I proceed here.

Anyway I’d worked with this person many times before and it had always been on the same premise. That we put in a more or less equal amount of cash, never an awful lot and that we give our time for free, working as project co-producers. Ownership of the project was either joint or in a single name depending on which of us had brought the project to the table.

In this particular instance we got a few thousand in backing from an angel style creative partner, that we both knew, but I didn’t realise till after we had completed shooting and I was considerably in the hole - to the tune of a nearly £1500 of my own money, that they had at some stage found a second backer and were now receiving a further £2000 in exchange for a producer title. This however I found out about purely by accident. So they were receiving as I remember this now, £4500 for a project we would normally have had little or no budget for. Sounds great yes? Well, not for me.

As co-producer I had already asked to be included in the communications with the first backer but had been sidelined, and it was then that I started to realise that I’d gotten myself into a bit of a problematic situation. I emailed the 1st backer and asked them to include me in the comms as I was coordinating and co-producing the thing, but this just made the nightmare I was getting pulled along with even worse as it infuriated my fellow collaborator.

Please note that as I’d worked with this person many times before, I didn’t take much action at this point as I thought them to be fair, but also to have a bit of a volatile personality, and to be honest too, I was confused by what was going on. I just didn’t have enough information to follow what I was getting in to. What I can say looking back is that controlling the narrative and the flow of direct information was important in this kinda bait and switch scheme, so having me circumvent communications was clearly not going to be allowed to happen. I say clearly now, looking back, but at the time I was mostly just baffled.

Shutting collaborators out of communications is a manipulation technique which I talk about in my Bad Collaborations episode. Go back and have a listen if you want to know more about all that. It’s episode 20 I believe.

So there I was with £1500 or my own money in a project co-produced with this supposed friend, expecting to see some of it back from the funds that had been raised. The trouble however, and this is why you must have a collaboration agreement with someone even if you have never had one before – or like I did - you regard them as a friend, but the trouble was that he kept the £4500, yes using it to fund the film but also for his own upkeep, and I never saw a penny of my money back.

After a month and a half of my life spent on the project, I realised I had been had, and that as I’d put all agreements in his name also I didn’t have a leg to stand on.

They got their project made by paying no one, and yet they received what was, in effect, a fee for their involvement, and walked away with retained full ownership over it. This broke the cardinal sin of low budget filmmaking. Either everyone gets paid or no one does. I will talk more about doing stuff for no pay a little later though.

Giving so much to a project with no expectation of ownership, then being disrespected, used and abused, left me feeling right royally shafted. There is more to this story which made me walk away before completion but I think the details of the financial skulduggery that I experienced may be enough to make this lesson hit home.

My question perhaps is - was I scammed here? Or just tricked? I certainly feel like I was scammed - I went into it without asking the questions I usually would because I already trusted the person I was working with but does that mean that this is partly my own fault – it probably does. When all is said and done, I lost time and money and came out with nothing, but I’ll never let it happen again.

The proverb perhaps here is: Never trust anyone who cuts you out of communications.

As you are either getting talked about or lied to, or almost certainly, both.

We can all be conned but at what point do we realize that we're being conned and to what point do we allow ourselves to be conned? Guy Ritchie Unquote

As I approached this episode I wasn’t sure if I have been just a total chump whose good will allowed me to be scammed more often than most over the years. I wondered if others out there maybe don’t know or don’t believe that they’ve been scammed, or perhaps just don’t want to talk about it… or indeed if they’ve never actually been scammed and I’ve just been very unlucky.

During my research I reached out on social media for other people’s experiences to add to what I’ve been through and it certainly seems that I am not the only one. I didn’t get a mass of responses but I had enough to help this show along a little.

It not the only person to be drawn in by a deceitful and unstable personality. A fight directing associate of mine David Goodall was scammed out of thousands when he was hired onto a feature film a number of years back and it was no small involvement either. He directed fights and composed the music for it and is still to see any payment. The way he tells it he also didn’t realise till it was too late that he was dealing with someone who was genuinely unhinged. Sometimes people who present projects are so deluded that they actually believe their own lies, and sometimes they are just liars who never intended to pay out in the first place.

It’s hard to give clear definitions of some of the scams I came across as there’s really not a lot of info about them. I’d describe my own example there as a form of BAIT AND SWITCH scam. I got baited into committing to the film, but as it proceeded, I realised I’d been misled and ended up with nothing. I’ll talk about a few other bait and switch scams later on.

A lot of these scams use DISINFORMATION, that is incorrect or misleading information to cheat you out of your time, your creative energy and/ or your money and so I want to cover this area further as it’s quite broad and likely the most common sort of deception that you might face. Certainly it was part of the bait and switch scam that I found myself embroiled in.

A small example of a scam designed to mislead you was highlighted for me by a Scotland based make-up artist that gave up her time up to a photographer in a TFP or “time for prints” agreement.

Now giving up your time to get high quality content for your own use is not uncommon and in itself is DEFINITELY NOT A SCAM, but not receiving any prints of the work or only receiving a single photograph which is what happened in this instance, definitely is misleading and fraudulent. If you enter into an agreement to take part in a time for prints photo shoot then you absolutely have to have a deal in place before you do so. If you expect prints digital or otherwise for your involvement then you need to agree first; how many, how they will be delivered and perhaps most importantly WHEN you will receive them. With this information you can go into the deal with your eyes open.

Now that’s the sort of scam that may catch a model, or a makeup artist or a hair stylist out but it’s exactly the same for actors and crew that give their time up to take part in short films. The lines with these however can be less clear, especially if you are dealing with people who are inexperienced on both sides of the agreement.

I will very often help filmmakers for free and in turn I’ve had people come in several times to help me on my own projects. I know it’s a bit of a joke to say “for exposure” as you can’t pay your bills with exposure, but at the same time I did have to start somewhere and for a time, I worked on peoples films and theatre shows for little or nothing just to get experience. I know that many people listening may feel their temperature start to boil over this, but I believe that you should be willing, especially if you are just starting out, you should be willing to work on occasion for free. Not just for exposure which is a joke, particularly if the film you do is absolute garbage which many are, but because you will gain experience as you do so.

If you have no experience on camera or behind camera, the chances are you are not going to be very good. I’m just being honest about it. I’m not saying that someone can’t be naturally talented but it’s rare.

By gaining experience though you will get better. Gillian raised this on last weeks show. Even in marketing she gave up time for free to learn more about the job, to broaden your understanding and to get better. For years and years and still now I gave my own time for free. If a project appeals to me and I have the spare time, I still do as many local Scottish filmmakers will attest.

My point is that if you agree to work on a short film for little or nothing then that is OK. If you feel you are above this, or that it somehow devalues your skill set, then just say no. Don’t agree to it then moan about it afterwards and believe me, that happens.

If you do agree to take part in these terms though is check first, if you will get a copy of the film after its all edited and complete, when you will receive that copy and I’d add, that if the film is never released that you can get a copy at the very least of the footage. Be warned though, especially in low budget short films, that it may take an age to complete. Don’t go hassling the director or producer for footage 2 weeks after its shot as it will take a time to cut and even then it will often have to complete its time on a film festival circuit before you can use the footage.

Go into these things with your eyes open and all will be well though. You could maybe strike a deal to have 1 minute of non-plot related footage released to you whilst it’s in competition if you want it faster. Talk to the filmmaker and agree on what you are getting. It’s the best way to do this…

But I’ll balance all l that by saying never work on a film that isn’t at least offering food and travel costs. If they aren’t offering you that, then they are simply being lazy, cheap and disrespectful. Without respect on a film set, you will be extremely unhappy.

There is a TRAVEL COSTS SCAM on these things that is basically - when all is said and done they don’t pay up on owed expenses. This happened to me whilst I was acting with the Rainbow Theatre Company in Glasgow about 20 years ago. They not only didn’t pay us our expenses, but they also ran off with the receipts we’d handed in for them so we couldn’t claim against tax and as an aside they ran off with charity box office money too. We were contacted by the charity after the production who explained that not only did they not have any money but that they’d not asked that theatre company to do the show on their behalf either. That was a 5 week start to finish scam. There’s a few lessons from it. If you are an actor approached to get involved in a project -

1. Check who you are talking to. Get a point of contact.

2. What’s their previous work like? If it’s crap, that’s a sign to dodge it.

3. Do they have a bad reputation? If so, get the hell out of dodge.

4. If giving your time for free, what are you going to get for it? Footage? Stills?

5. When are you going to get it?

6. When exactly will you receive your expenses? I’d expect to have them on the day or within 2 weeks of filming. Do you have to give receipts? Or is it a flat fee to cover costs.

Now this is a two way street and if you are a filmmaker you also need to be wary of unscrupulous actors trying to take advantage of you. If an actor can’t provide a filmmaker with a receipt then it’s perfectly reasonable not to pay for travel. It’s a fair trade. All you need is the receipt. I know of a filmmaker who had an actor approach him a year or so after the completion of the film and ask for money. Not only is this way too late, but the actor wanted £200 for travel costs, which was way beyond what would be reasonable and some 10 times what the most expensive of the other actors had requested. This actor tried to extort the filmmaker by smearing him on social media. Now this is at least partly the filmmakers fault because they should have been on it, and details of this travel fees arrangement should have been included in the release agreement that the actor signed. The end result was a messy situation for all concerned. Check your agreements, and check the distance which the actor or crew member has to travel first – and this sort of thing can be avoided. Talking from experience, and other producers have verified the problem, my advice would be to always cap the expenses for individuals, as some will always take the p*ss.

I have several times been involved in productions where an actor suddenly changed their availability halfway through a production and had to get paid more to come away from one job to continue on another. I know in two of the instances I know of this happening, that the actors concerned had no other job to go to. They were in effect, just scamming the producers for more money. In both occasions the companies had no choice but to pay them, however these actors reputations took a massive dive as word travels fast in this game. A third time I know of this happening, the actor concerned was written out of that series that day, and replaced with another actor.

One big scam that targets actors and I think more specifically extras is that of paying to be part of a HALF LEGIT AGENCY. If an agency is legit they don’t need you to pay them to be a member, and whilst you are at it check the percentage they plant to take from you. There’s some extras agencies out there wanting 25% - avoid them. You can do better. I won’t say anything more about this here but I will link to an article by which will give you lots of good advice. Please go to the show notes to read that one.

On a final note my acting friends, please let me add:

  • You should never be alone with one other person when auditioning or shooting. I sometimes have to interview for fight gigs. If I am on my own that day, I pay for a female to come and assist me. This is just the right thing to do.

  • Be very wary if you are auditioning in an isolated location like a warehouse in an industrial park.

  • You should never audition at someone’s house or apartment. Low budget filmmakers, I know you don’t have a budget, but hire a room someplace for auditions. It’s the right thing to do and its cheap.

  • Avoid nudity in auditions. It’s a clear sign that you are dealing with a potential crazy person. Just say no (unless of course this is your 10th audition organised by your agent for a Netflix series and it has been pre-agreed) then maybe you might consider it, but don’t feel railroaded.

There is no doubt that the Internet brims with spamming, scamming and identity fraud. Having someone wipe out your hard drive or bank account has never been easier, and the tools for committing electronic mischief on your enemies are cheap and widely accessible. Evgeny Morozov Unquote

My next warning is to watch out for FAKE ACCOUNTS ON SOCIAL NETWORKING. It is well worth reviewing your followers profiles as they come in with social media and certainly before you just automatically follow them back. If they are suspicious block them.

Suspicious to me would be pictures of big busted ladies or men in uniform or even believable pictures of people who neither share, nor post, nor like anything at all. These robot profiles will typically follow hundreds of people but only have a few followers themselves. They may be new accounts but not always - more sophisticated scammers have historical accounts.

The reason you want to dodge these is that once they are friends with you they can send you direct messages and these can lead to phishing sites or worse. I received a message today in fact from someone that got through my scammer net on twitter. They were called Steve and had the hashtags #Scriptwriter & #Filmmaker on their profile – They private messaged me to say (Please copy-paste this link for your security) and a link to a hidden account. Needless to say I didn’t click it, and neither should you. These are straight scams aimed at us, so avoid them.

There are similar scams which involve CATFISHING. They have an article titled Global Scam Ravaging Hollywood: Silver-Tongued Impostor Poses As Top Female Producers To Catfish Victims – An elaborate global scam is being perpetrated on below-the-line Hollywood professionals, some of whom have lost sums as high as $150,000. The victims find themselves seduced by the promise of a dream career job, offered most often in a call from a knowledgeable and very convincing woman claiming to be a powerful female producer-financier.

The woman is an impostor however. She drops casual reference of professionals that the victim knows, people who would make a recommendation in a business that is relationship-based. The impostor, who always calls and receives calls on a cell phone, sets the hook by offering these men their dream jobs, for large sums of money. She gets them to sign non-disclosure agreements — which dissuades potential victims from going back to their friends to see if in fact a recommendation was made, or from calling the actual offices of the female film producer-financier. This is a similar controlling of information to that which I have faced.

I can’t cover the full scam here, it would need an episode all of its own, but it involved shady wire transfers that take days to clear and the victims having to pay out from their own finances in the interim. There are slight changes to the scam, but the playbook is remarkably consistent in that it begins with a call from a wealthy female producer who over a series of call phone calls builds a personal relationship but sets the hook with irresistible bait: a dream job that could be a major stepping stone in a career. The scam is made more believable by the use of name dropping and has full a lot of very intelligent people.

If you want to know more about it then go to the show notes for the full article: Basically though, if a call comes out of the blue involving a dream job from a person purporting to be a high net worth individual, it is likely a scam. The best course of action would be to call the offices of the power player. Chances are, it won’t be the first time the producer has been called with bogus claims, and they will be able to verify that it is in fact a scam in the making.

Minutes ago, I received a text from a fake HSBC account asking me to click a link. Never click links in emails social media or texts to your phone unless you know the sender and even then, only if you have read and understood what it is you are clicking. All too often friend’s accounts are being hijacked and you need to be aware of this - If you do click these links, you are in for a world of pain.

Who is going to believe a con artist? Everyone, if she is good. Andy Griffith Unquote

Recently FAKE TAX TEXTS were being sent to people working in the film industry in the UK with wording specifically targeting them. These were all fake, and escalated to automated phone scams saying that you had missed a deadline and were going to get into trouble. Never EVER trust this sort of message. Got it?

Gillian when she was on last week told me of another online scam, although perhaps not specific to creatives I have certainly seen similar scams that do. She was working with a company and they were raising money for charity. They became aware however that someone had built a fake account and was diverting money to a fake go fund me page using their images and promotional materials. Please be cautious when interacting with supposed charities online too. Verify everything you can as it’s a virtual nightmare out there. Remember that when a scammer gets your financial details that they have you by the proverbials.

A lot of hackers set up scam sites. They can impersonate a site like PayPal, for instance. Michael Demon Calce - who was a famous Candian Hacker.

And with that I am going to end part 1 of this 2 part scams episode. If you want to hear the rest where I will discuss HIJACKERS, LIARS, PLAGIARISM, PREDATORY SALES AGENTS, SHADY FILM FESTIVALS and THE BANKRUPT REBOOTS SCAM, then part 2 is available right now. I just didn’t want to roll out an outrageously long episode on this topic. In part 2 I will also lay out some ground rules that will help you to avoid scams as they come your way.

I’ll end this one with these words from Ben Stein, who said: Hollywood is largely about scammers and con men. It was my main livelihood for about 25 years, and the scams were beautiful and ugly, cheap and expensive, but, wow, were there a lot of scammers. Unquote

Now, take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’ and join me for part 2 of SCAMS, LIES & DOUBLE DEALING on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!

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