Cute kid cash grab?
Parents of starstruck kids are being warned about talent agencies who charge high fees and make big promises.
The US-based Premiere group, who claim to be "leading global specialists in launching young talent", regularly host "evaluation" sessions in Australia and overseas. The sessions claim to give young people exposure to the 'who's who' working in the lucrative entertainment industry. However, the group has been under fire recently for hard sells and high fees for very little return.
The 'Disney touch'
Premiere regularly refers to Disney in its sales pitches and plugs the attendance of young Disney Channel stars at its events, however the business is not affiliated with Disney at all. Despite this, much of the Premiere sales material implies that the young talent the company recruits will get their foot in the door of the lucrative Disney brand.
Additionally, it's been reported that many of the young hopefuls attending these sessions are being pressured into paying for expensive acting classes and portfolios that cost thousands of dollars.
Jenni Anderson is the head of Brent Street Casting, an Australian kids casting agency that's been in business for 25 years. She says she's seen an increase in parents wanting to sign their kids up to talent agencies and at the same time a sharp increase in audition and casting scams that can see parents shelling out money for very little return.
Anderson says she's been contacted by many parents who saw Premiere's advertisements and were keen to participate. "Parents have to be wary," she says, "especially of organisations that offer to take your child overseas, charge high fees and promise the world."
Premiere has been "very clever with the way they market themselves and how their ads are worded," Anderson says. "They aren't actually affiliated with Disney but it reads like they are."
How to spot a good talent agency
Anderson says good agencies will be upfront about a child's chance of success at the first meeting and realistic about the industry. She says some schools and agencies offer expensive trips to the US for casting sessions but they're unlikely to be fruitful: "The fact is if a US group is looking to cast an Australian child they will most likely do the casting here anyway."
Anderson says the reputable agencies in Australia are unlikely to conduct mass recruitment campaigns like Premiere's or make over-the-top promises.
"It can be a real racket if parents don't know what they are looking for," she says.
Tips for avoiding dodgy talent agencies
Anderson says while there are always parents and kids hoping for a big break, "the reality is that 99% of actors are out of work most of the time". She says for children interested in the entertainment industry it's best to approach it as something fun to try and that if paid work does come out of it, that's a bonus.
However, if you think your child has got what it takes and you're keen to sign up with an agency, be wary of agencies that:
- sign your child up with no audition process – good agencies will insist on an audition in person or a filmed piece of work
- guarantee work for your child
- demand high upfront fees (while there is usually a fee for a photo portfolio there shouldn't be excessive fees in the thousands)
- have hundreds of children on the books already – the more children the less chance there is of being cast.