I want to start by saying that it’s not just money that you can get scammed out of. In the collabo-haters show I talk about people HIJACKING YOUR REPUTATION TO GAIN CREDIBILITY – it’s something I really hate – but something I’ve had happen to me several times. Most recently an international film project used me and my resume to gain favour with a financier. When I left the project however, they didn’t mention this to the financier, and the project continued partly based on my reputation. This happened too on a short film that actually raised some money based on my involvement, but I was never involved in any way.
There’s an incredibly dodgy filmmaker in Scotland, write into me if you get who I am talking about, who has more than once used my name to trick people into getting involved in his projects. Why me? Well I was for a time involved in a lot of filmmaking projects, either helping out directly in a producer capacity for a while or I was advising advising, so my name was out there. I was already aware of this guy as years before it turns out though as after The battle of Stirling bridge, a large scale production which took place on the esplanade of Stirling castle in 1997, he used an image from that show, a show he had had NO involvement in whatsoever, to promote his own dodgy stunt work. More recently he used my name to try and borrow firearms from an armourer friend, name dropping me along the way, and action vehicles - and he actually succeeded with the cars. People like this exist in the world, and they are who I refer to as LIARS.
A liar begins with making falsehood appear like truth, and ends with making truth itself appear like falsehood. William Shenstone Unquote
More recently this same guy has stolen shots from other movies and put them in his own and I have found that actors and crew, especially those just starting out, fall for it again and again because they are often desperate and therefor don’t scratch and sniff the surface of apparent “film producers” like this. I do scratch at them and they stink. Please note that these are similar to catfishers in many ways but these are people that will full you face to face. Their deception can be complex but more often than not is very thin and amounts to a fake IMDB profile and some big talk. Please remember that IMDB is updated not by the film companies but by anyone that wants to sign in and change the details. It’s exactly like Wikipedia which can also be updated by the public. Never take these sites at face value. Always look for a reference and ask for one if needs be. If you are suspicious, STAY AWAY.
Who can I trust? You have to invest in somebody and chances are you're probably going to invest in somebody who's going to deceive you. I've been conned a couple of times, but now I'm a little more savvy. Maggie Gyllenhaal Unquote
A director friend of mine, Tim Courtney warns us of another problem. 1PLAGERISM - He messaged me this earlier. I quote I saw your call out for people who have f*cked you over. And I have a classic where a band’s management got in touch about a music video, saying they really loved one me and a pal did for another band. Asked us to pitch for their band but we didn’t get it. When their video was finally released - they’d just remade our video with a few tweaks and a bigger budget. We tried to get legal involved, we were told they’d drag it out and we’d go bankrupt before it even got to court. That band went on to win several VERY big prizes for the video. Now I know these prizes and believe me they were big folks, and Tim is a straight up trustworthy guy – I’ve also now watched both videos and he ain’t exaggerating. He finished by warning us that Copyright means Jack sh*t unless you have the £££ to defend it. Unquote Tim is @theetimcourtney on Twitter if you want to look him up. He’s a really great director.
I know of another instance of plagiarism, where a leader at a youth project stole a student’s concept for a film and remade it as his own so you really must be very wary with your creative work. Control what you can of it, but as Tim said there, copyright means nothing if you don’t have the cash to back it up. Be aware of it though and without sowing the seeds of paranoia here, I was strongly advise you to look at ways of protecting yourself. Scripts can be protected by services like script vault, but sometimes your idea will be seen and stolen. I must temper this however by also saying that sometimes you get unlucky and someone else has had the same or a very similar idea to your own at more or less the same time. Such is life. If you want to know more about plagiarism and how to protect yourself from it, please look to the show notes. There’s an article from the NEW YORK FILM ACADEMY that I will link to in the show notes on this.
If you are a filmmaker, another thing to look out for are PREDATORY SALES AGENTS. A Sales Agent represents filmmakers who want to distribute their films, and who may be first time directors, or directors who work outside of major studio productions. Good Sales Agents will work with filmmakers to help develop a strategy for marketing the film they want to distribute.
With my feature Fast Romance, we very nearly signed by a sales agent but ducked it just in time. Unfortunately for a friend of mine however, who made a film that was distributed quite broadly and sold on the shelves of ASDA, that’s the UK’s Walmart btw, represented by the same agent, he never saw a penny. The scam he got caught up in saw the money being taken in from the sales by a sales agent with a similar name to the one he had signed with but when he came to claim it he discovered it was another company. I can’t recall the exact name, but it was something like London Sales that received the money but he had signed with a sales Agent called London Sales UK. I don’t fully understand the intricacies of the scam but he chased one guy, who said he had to chase the other, and was sent in circles. That agency stole every penny the film made. With Fast Romance we nearly signed with a sales agent who had a clause in his contract saying that the 1st £50,000 went to him. That film, might never have even made 50,00 so we dodged that one too. From start to finish Fats Romance was raked by sharks and misfortune. It was never a scam, but it never really stood a chance. I gave away every penny I had wrapped up in it and to this day have never seen any return on the effort.
My penultimate warning is again for filmmakers and it’s about SHADY FILM FESTIVALS. A “Film Festival is an organized event at which many films are shown” but what some of you may not realise is that you 99 times out of a 100 you have to pay to be considered. That in itself is not the scam as reputable film festivals need the entry fees to pay for venues, to pay people to watch and judge the films and to advertise the festival when it comes along. I know many people who are involved in film festivals but I’m going to say this nonetheless. I could easily do a show called THE GREAT FILM FESTIVAL SWINDLE as I have my doubts about the validity of a large number of them – and from the little bit of research I have done on this topic so do many others.
Steve McCarten - Yeah seen that. I had submitted my film to several festivals via film freeway and one in particular in Ireland had sent the usual letter oh there so many applicants and the standard was so high etc etc and I didn't think that much on it. Then a little while later I read an article about festivals not even watching the films and you can check using the vimeo stats for the film. So I went in and had a look and there it was staring me in the face, no views in Ireland. Only conclusion to be drawn, they took the fee but didn't view the film. I was annoyed but at the time thought it's only a tenner. But with the benefit of hindsight I really should have reported it and challenged it. Perhaps because the fee is so low they're banking on people not following up.
Now I’m not talking about legitimate Film Festivals organised and carefully planned and marketed by people who are passionate about film, or about festivals that play to large audiences and allow your films to be seen and enjoyed and which amplify your profile. I’m talking about the shady film festivals that are set up simply to make money or who mislead you into believing that they are going to bring you fame and fortune if you get a win. These wins if you get them, however, mean very little other than making you feel perhaps a little better about what you have made. Some even sell their prizes in a kind of pay to win set up. @AliceDCooper sent me this message on Twitter as I was prepping this - One of my films got selected in a Spanish festival. “Congrats you won a prize” but I would only get it if I sent them 360 euros so that they could ship over the trophy. I offered to fly over and get it as it would be cheaper, and that’s when they got all shifty. A Con festival! This smacks of a classic pay to win scheme. Selling you your own prizes at an outrageous price. You must realise too that these prizes mean very little beyond a day or two of social media well done’s from your friends and colleagues. It’s what Gillian Dick last week called Vanity Metrics. You can end up paying a lot of money to film festivals that mean very little, just to make you feel better about a film you have already made. This is not a fair trade. I can’t say however that these are all scams, but my problem is that Film Festivals are not monitored by a legitimate overseeing body, and they are multiplying exponentially.
I’m not trying to disrespect all small film festivals but this whole racket needs to be looked at and I want you to be aware of what you are dealing with before you go dropping a vast amount of cash into your festival campaigns. I know for a fact that some of them are 100% scams because when we released Dead End to the festival circuit, one of the festivals, a Hong Kong Short Film Festival which we were very keen to get involved with as the film had been mostly shortly, never actually happened. This left us with egg on our face as many of the cast and crew were Hong Kong based and we’d told them it was happening. Julian who was one of the actors in the film tracked the festival location down at the time it was meant to be on and discovered an empty room in a university. No posters, no films, no people. It was just a scam. This can’t be the only instance of a fake festival being set up to target filmmakers.
I was sent a really great mini doc that had been made by filmmakers from California who had attended the Swansea Bay Film Festival in 2010. The Jim Reaper @iamjimpage was there at the festival the same year, and he described it as an absolute racket. The film is hard to watch s you immediately feel the pain of these dedicated filmmakers who traveled thousands of miles to attend a festival that turned out to be, as Jim says, a racket. Although it took place, the festival had no advertising so the only people who knew it was on were the other attending filmmakers. The films also had no time slots so you couldn’t easily promote your own film and the times and locations they were given were changed again and again. The filmmakers film was eventually scheduled to take place at the same time as a gala dinner and award ceremony, for which tickets were bought at a premium price, and the filmmakers were relegated to a small room below with a the awards screening to them on a television. The disrespect towards the filmmakers was difficult to watch and it was a festival run by an egotist called Mr Binda Singh that you have to hear to believe. According to the posts about the film on youtube, the Mr Singh keeps changing his name, and I suspect is a serial time waster and chancer. I will post a link to this film in the shownotes, but here are a few comments I read on the video to drive the message home.
Oliver Crocker said I entered this festival in 2007, and had exactly the same experience. In fact, they had lost the DVD of my film - I happened to have one on me, or they would have not been able to show it. They also put the lights up three times during the screening, and didn't play the end credits, so people who had bothered to travel there didn't even see their own credit. I really hope your documentary has helped put Binda Singh out of business
Shashwati Talukdar said What a horror show. Thanks for making this and posting this. Lots of bogus festivals, run by crooked people out there. Filmmakers beware!
James Price wrote I live opposite the Dylan Thomas Center and I had no idea that this was being held. I am thoroughly ashamed of how these people were treated by the 'organisers' of this event.
There’s a lot more but I’ll finish with this comment from Jon Weimer We got ripped off the same year. At least these guys' film got shown, even if no one saw it. We had one of our cast go for another film, and he said our film never got screened. This, sadly, is a scam and the guy who runs it is not just rude, but a con man. Beware of any film festival associated with this guy.
This is the reality of film festivals. Apply to them, spend your money by all means do, but do it with your eyes open and understand as I said before, that winning an award may do nothing more than make you feel better about a film you have already made. Look to reviews about the film festivals you apply for – Both withoutabox.com and filmfreeway have reviews. If you have spent a lot of time and money already on your film, then don’t waste any more on dodgy festivals. If you truly believe in your film go for it, but if you do not think your film is awesome, then spend as little as you can on applications and move onto your next film. I have come to this opinion regarding my own films over time - If I have a truly incredible film, it will open doors and win prizes. If it’s Meh, then it won’t.
Finally, let me recommend a Facebook group you should join – it’s called Protect Yourself from Predatory Film Distributors/Aggregators and it’s moderated by Indie Film Hustle and Alex Ferrari. It was originally called the Protect Yourself From Distribber group - It was created as a platform for filmmakers to share information and discuss how to protect themselves from the film aggregator Distribber and now all other predatory film distributors.
This group highlights what Indie Film Hustle calls THE BANKRUPT REBOOT SCAM and I’ll post a link to Indie their take on this in the show notes. It’s the 13th and final scam which I want to highlight in these shows and I’m not going to say much about it as Alex Farrari has this well covered and understands it far more fully than I do. As you can probably tell though this amounts to a company taking money in as an aggregator for the filmmaker – a middle man if you will, then declaring bankruptcy. The Distribber situation that’s still in process though and there are some signs that filmmakers owed money may still get to see some of it. As it’s still in process however I don’t want to comment on it. If this is something that concerns you though, as well it should, then please go and join the Facebook group.
Stephen King wrote that The trust of the innocent is the liar's most useful tool. And for a number of years, possibly still now on occasion, I know that my naivety was taken advantage of by individuals and it has to be said in all honesty, by supposed friends too, with no care other than the accumulation of money. The feelings of others, to the scammer, are less than irrelevant and I suspect that they revel in their accomplishments with no pangs of guilt at all for the most part.
Don’t let your keenness, or politeness or good heart lead you into trouble in the world of creative scams. You can spot them more easily if you are aware of
I’ll end with these simple pieces of advice.
Learn from the stories I have laid out here. Listen to them and heighten your awareness. This isn’t by any means all of the scams I have faced, these are just the ones I have chosen.
Be sceptical of anybody who approaches you in this business. If someone approaches you claiming to be a successful director/producer/executive or other member of the “industry,” but is not someone you or anyone else knows, do not meet up with them alone until you have verified their credentials and/or place of work. Some people are very skillful at name-dropping and assuming industry attitude. This does not mean that they are legit. I’ve been in this industry a long long time. I can spot a bullshitter at a hundred yards yet even I can be fooled, if only briefly, by some of these shysters. Ask for that person’s business card (if they are what they claim to be, they’re going to have one). If you have any suspicions or concerns at all, investigate the person online; call up the agency or company they are supposed to be working for to find out if that’s really true. Also, try and bring a friend with you to your first meetings. Make sure that your family and friends know whenever you have a meeting of this type, and where are going for it. With some of these people, it may lead to other darker areas so stay aware and sensible.
I’ve said it many times and I’ll say it again. Only go into deals with your eyes open. Read and understand the agreements. Never assume as they say as it makes an ASS out of U and ME.
Don’t be afraid to ask reasonable questions and if they get ratty or annoyed or show their true colours in any way, get the hell out of dodge.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more time. Never let yourself get railroaded as you are being polite. Take a day to read over a contract. Don’t sign it or read it after the job. Ask for it to be sent to you. Question it if needs be. I understand every contract I issue. If you have a question about it, I can answer it. This should be the same for anyone issuing you contracts.
On a more general note the met police have a something called THE LITTLE BOOK OF BIG SCAMS you can download from their website. I’ll link to it in the show notes. If you are concerned about everyday scams please give it a read.
Now if I can have your attention for a few more minutes I’d like to finally share a quick interview I did with a fellow filmmaker Darren S Cook from Scruffy Bear Pictures who is doing very well at the moment but who kindly took some time out to talk me through his experiences with a scammer who he’d got caught up with a few years back. He gives a blow by blow account in just a few minutes of what happened to him and it’s well worth a listen. Here he is:
I’ll cut it short there as this is a long episode but with that undignified exit and I have to say Many thanks to Darren there for having the courage to talk us through that and bear his soul about the whole thing. I’m very glad to report that he is doing very well with his films now and I think he’s gotten over the experience. I’ll post links to Darren’s website and social media in the show notes.
I hope that you’ve found these two shows informative and interesting and that it will help you to avoid a few of these scams in future. Look to my episodes on time wasters, toxic people and bad collaborations for more of this sort of thing, if you feel it would be helpful. These are very popular episodes and I go well into topics that many avoid.
SPONSOR: Juvenile Delinquents / Big Bull Production
This is the last episode of season 4 but I am not going to announce a season 5 yet as I have to take a break from the show for a while. This isn’t the end, I just need time to get other stuff done. Thank you for listening. Stay subscribed and you’ll catch new random inbetweenisodes as they are released. Be safe out there, be happy and enjoy your life.
Better to be occasionally cheated than perpetually suspicious. B. C. Forbes
Let me end today with the words of Eddie Izzard who said:
Cats have a scam going - you buy the food, they eat the food, they go away; that's the deal.
Now, take control of your own destiny, dodge these dodgy scammers, keep on shootin’ and join me next time, whenever that may be, on FILM PRO PRODUCTIVITY AND SUCCESS!
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