How To Avoid Getting Scammed In Hollywood

[Headshots Photography by Vanie]

It’s unfortunate, but it happens.

There are unscrupulous people in the industry just chomping at the bit to take advantage of vulnerable actors.

Towards the end of last year, I received a phone call from a manager. He’s a bit of a “talker” and he showered me with compliments about my work saying he’s going to send his clients my way.

Nataliz Jimenez: Grad Student / Urban / Love Interest

Months passed, no one ever credited him as a referral source, and I had long forgotten him when I received another call from this manager. He re-introduced himself and asked me what kind of group discount I could offer his clients. I tried to come up with a number but couldn’t do so without more information such as how many clients, how many looks, makeup or no makeup, etc.

HE WAS EVASIVE and hard to pin down with details. He continued to call me multiple times but didn’t have new information to offer me. It was like the Groundhog Day of phone calls. I finally sent him an email with some pricing. I gave him options on the number of looks and provided him with a date for the sale to take place just for his clients.

Cheyenne Courvoisier: Girlfriend / Hipster

Allison Love: Edgy Trouble Teen / Student

Then he called back

first asking if I could provide a sooner date and when I couldn’t, the phone call loop began again. Having never responded to or acknowledged my email, he called again to ask me how much he should write a cashier’s check to me for. Hello! Hold it there. RED FLAG ALERT.

I knew in the back of my mind, nothing would come of dealings with this elusive and evasive character, but my suspicions suddenly turned into certainty. I suspected he was looking to mark up my prices to his clients and take a cut for himself.

Thomas Ignatius: Office Guy / Gamer

Judy Clement: Upscale Country Club / Anne Rutter: Outdoorsy Grandmother

Janina Colucci: Student / Edgy Teen

A SURE SIGN OF SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T HAVE YOUR BEST INTEREST IN MIND. You, being the actor. Perhaps on that first call, he was hoping I’d say, “yeah, I’d love your business and I’ll give you a percentage of earnings.” Because you know there are photographers who do give kickbacks and there are managers and agents who take them, giving every other honest manager and agent, not to mention honest photographer a bad name.

There’s more to this story, but on a side note… Here’s the deal. First and foremost, as an actor, you should know that ANY manager or photographer willing to make money at your expense and not for helping you does so because he is lousy at his job to begin with and can’t make money in the legitimate market. If you look at a photographer’s portfolio and you’re not impressed, scratching your head and wondering why your agent or manager referred you to that particular photographer and only that one photographer, and something feels off, well the answer is pretty clear. It’s likely that photographer and that manager have a mutual arrangement which involves making money off of you, and not by providing you with amazing headshots or by working hard to get you auditions.

Scott Wordham: Blue Collar / Desire Peoples: Hip Friend

The story continues… When I refused to take a cashier’s check from this manager and in no uncertain terms, made clear that I don’t want to be associated with any manager who pays me directly, he mumbled he wasn’t trying to mark up my prices. I explained that (as I mentioned in my email) I have an online system setup so that his actors can book their own time slots and pay me directly. Of course I never heard from him again.

A month later, an industry connection, a coach I know on Instagram asks me if I have a working relationship with this manager. Long story short, I find out that her client had given him some money for headshots that he was supposed to setup. Her client was told he would be shooting with me but after some time, he was told that I canceled. Then he was told he’d be shooting with Jeff Ellingson and after some time, apparently Jeff also canceled. Hmmm.?

Stacy Howell: Best Friend / Blue Collar

Amber Techel: Edgy Down and Out / Disney Friend

So the headshot session didn’t happen for this poor actor

… who had already paid this manager for headshots as I suspect other actors had. Fortunately, this particular actor got his money back with a little bit of pressure on the manager from his coach.

IT’S HARD TO BELIEVE that in the age of free information with Google and social media, actors still don’t know to never pay a manager or agent up front for ANY reason. Perhaps the ones that do want to please their manager because they feel they have to. Perhaps they know better but don’t listen to their gut because they are so desperate for results. I get it. I get that acting is a tough business and there is a lot of competition, but operating from a place of desperation ALWAYS ends badly. Ask me how I know!

CJ Leedy / Creative Professional / Musician

There are some great people in this industry working as agents and managers who genuinely want to help you succeed and who work VERY hard at earning an honest living. FIND THEM and set yourself up for success. Always Google reviews for agents, managers and photographers you are considering working with. If you have a funny feeling, Google their name and the word “scam.” Never pay money upfront to an agent or manager, even if the reason isn’t the most obvious one you’d say no to… like for headshots, acting classes or any other reason. An agent or a manager who is good at their job doesn’t need to supplement his or her income by hustling you. Period.

The best conversation about this topic is going to take place right below in the comments. Please share your story and tell me if you’ve acted out of desperation and what your thought process was at the time.  Others can learn from your wisdom and the industry will be better for it.


I love helping you by putting out this free information (often written on weekends and evenings) so please help me spread the word by commenting and or sharing this post on your social feed!????????


  1. Alonzo

    I’ve read a lot of complaints from actors who have been subjected to unscrupulous agents who get a kick back from photographers the agent referred their potential talent to for photos. Along with complaining about the crooks out there……provide a list of reputable agents who don’t play games and try to rip a potential talent off. We can bitch and complain all day; List the good agents!

  2. Jaimie Paulson

    My first agent in LA was sketchy as hell. I mean, they were an agency and did send people out on some auditions, but they also pushed every new client to take shots with their (terrible) photographer and take a commercial class with their (okay) teacher. I refused the headshots with some pushback but I did need a commercial class so I took it. The info was fine…but…every single student in the class was a new client of this agency. It was very clear to me even then that this was a kickback situation, but I was straight out of college, new to the LA industry and, like so many new (and not so new) actors, I made way too many decisions based on fear of not getting other chances. I’d give the warning of the agency name but he’s not there anymore, so no need.

  3. Jenn

    Did you sue for deformation of character? Because by the lie of you canceling on the talent so he could steal from him…that is in fact just that!

  4. Sarah

    I am an actor in a city in the south, by way of New York City. When I first moved down here, a co-worker of mine who was also an actor referred me to her agent. I went to the agents office, had a meeting, and auditioned for her with a monologue. After the audition, she looked at my headshots and told me she would like to work with me but that she couldn’t send me out with my current headshots (although I’d just had them taken three months prior in NYC by a very good/respected/well known photographer, and everyone had commented on how they were very good/I felt good about them.) She said they were “out of focus” and not flattering.

    She then told me she worked with a photographer and she would be happy to sign me if I paid $300 down for headshots with $250 due at time of service. She also told me I needed my headshot to make me look like the “pretty, girl next door” type, which totally IS NOT how I read, what I get called in for, or who I am. I’m Amy Schumer if she were southern. I read as sassy, bold, salty, and sometimes kind of bitchy. I told her I’d consider it and then decided not to sign with her and ended up with a different agent who submits me and helps me get work constantly. For a long time, I felt like I’d missed out working with that agent, like I should’ve just paid the money and gotten new headshots with her guy even though I’d just dropped hundreds of dollars on mine just a couple of months prior. After reading this, I think I made the right choice.

    • Vanie Poyey

      You absolutely made the right choice Sarah. Good on you for going with your instinct, not holding back and saying “you’ll consider it.” Under pressure, we forget that we don’t have to make a decision right than and there. We can always give ourselves time to digest what is being asked of us and respond with a clear mind.

  5. Sueanne Edan

    I have heard of Managers that do this, it is so unprofessional. I give my clients a full list of photographers including you Vanie, that I feel have done amazing work for other clients and that I know I can trust to take care of my clients.
    A manager or agent should never ask for money for anything other than the commission, and that doesn’t get paid until the production company sends a check for the booked job. Thanks for getting this info out Vanie.

    • Vanie Poyey

      Thank you for the input. We all appreciate managers like you Sueanne and I hope you shared this story with your clients, you never know who might need this information.

  6. Sam West

    I actually forgot this kinda stuff happens. Thank you for sharing Vanie. Of course I’m no exception. I got hustled in New York back in 2011. Young, naive, and desperate. Didn’t do my research, Went to a photographer that my acting class suggested and claimed were the best. Showed up, checked in with the receptionist, met the owner, paid my $250 up front. I was told to wait in the next room, “we’re almost ready for you”. Photographer comes to me ready with her camera – it’s the damn receptionist. Yep. Same person that checked me in and took my payment. And you guessed it, the pics came out horribly bad. Lesson had to be learned.

    • Vanie Poyey

      Oh man, so sorry. No one should have to learn that lesson.

      • Tom Bruno

        1986, NYC. I had freshly minted BFA from one of the top acting training programs in the country. I had been taught the advice above and STILL fell for the “Pay me (the agent) upfront for new head-shots with my photographer”. I paid a $25 deposit to this unscrupulous person knowing the whole time this was a scam! Why? Fear, desperation, youth . . . I was told I could pay the rest at the shoot next week. I walked out of his office into the waiting room knowing I had been taken. I thought about it for a bit, screwed my courage to the sticking place and decided to use my four years of training. I humbly asked the receptionist to let me back in to see the agent (Jay) and gave him my sob story that my grandmother was in the hospital (true) and that I needed the $25 back in order to buy her some flowers as I had no other money (false). I still remember the look of disbelief on his face as he reached into his pocket and returned my cash! I think he knew he was being lied to but was powerless to resist. Maybe it was chutzpah. Maybe it was my acting. 😉

        • Vanie Poyey

          Amazing! You would have been mad at yourself forever if you hadn’t mustered up the courage to ask for your money back.??

    • Corrine

      I went to an agency here in Nashville, TN that a lot of the young people here go to. They have mass auditions and then at the end offer headshots for a deeply discounted price (under $100) + extra for retouching or additional poses. I was brand spanking new and had no clue about anything. I went to this audition and got my headshot and when I got it back it was so terrible that I literally took better selfies. But hey for under $100 what do you expect!? That same agency also offers classes to their students for modeling and acting. I never signed with them, but knowing people who have they do run a legitimate agency, just with some very scammy practices because it’s TN and our market is not well monitored or union covered yet. But agencies like this, as Vanie said, often make more money on their classes and services at times than their assets. These agencies aren’t taken seriously by casting directors. Their “actors” frequently get “casted” as extras in local projects, the same extra roles anyone off the street who isn’t even interested in acting can get. But they focus on young people, especially kids, and when you are a parent trying to get your kid into modeling and acting you don’t know that it’s not hard to get casted as an extra.


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