To borrow a line from Cinderella, a dream is a wish your heart makes. If acting on the Disney Channel is that dream, a company that’s coming through town this weekend wants your attention. That company, however, is not Disney.
"Guys, girls, do you love the Disney Channel? How about TV shows like Crash and Bernstein or Jesse? Well, how would you like to be on the Disney Channel?" the ad says, announcing an exclusive upcoming event for the “first 200 callers.”
The commercial doesn’t list a company name or other details, just a phone number for listeners to call: 877-966-1107.
Call the number and the person at the other end will collect your contact information and register your child for an audition on Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Ramada Tampa Airport.
The company, which now calls itself “TALENT” and has a history of name changes, declined to be interviewed but sent a long email making it clear they weren’t affiliated with Disney and that they are “NOT engaging in training, procuring, promising, or attempting to procure employment or engagement for artists.”
“In this particular case the company and shows mentioned in the advertisement have been listed on our site as casting opportunities available for our members…Those individuals who do elect to become members are exposed to many resources and networking opportunities through our website, including a large variety of entertainment industry casting calls,” said an email that does not list any person’s name on it.
The company hasn’t responded to follow-up questions, including the registered name of their business in Florida and how much memberships cost.
Recent Canadian news reports indicate the same 877 number and similar advertising are connected with a company that’s gone by the name “Modelandtalent.tv” and “Castinghub.” It also indicates those acting dreams can cost a few thousand dollars with the company.
According to Florida business registrations, “CastingHub, Inc.” changed its name to “MAT Entertainment Inc” last year. Since 2006, the company has gone through a series of name changes, sometimes months apart: Meridian Entertainment, Inc., GRD Investments Inc., Iactandmodel, Inc., IAM, Inc., CastingHub Inc. and MAT Entertainment. It lists Goran Djenadic, who has a Chicago address, as president of the company.
The Word document sent to interested Tampa parents is unsigned, but sent from the email address email@example.com. (Answerally.com is a website for a call center.)
It provides sample commercial scripts to practice along with directions to the Ramada and directions to bring a “non-returnable photo.” The only company identifiers are vague: “Talent is a commercial networking service granted to only a select few who meet industry standards through live evaluations by an talent Talent Advisor [sic].”
It sends readers to 855-677-2350 for further questions. A call to that number leads to a message identifying the company as “Model and Talent.” An agent who later answered confirmed it was “MAT Entertainment Inc.” Another agent said their “trade name” was “Talent Inc.”
“Talent” did not respond to a request for names of people who have found success through the networking service, but the end of the Word document includes two headshots from apparent child actors, congratulating “Gianna” for booking two films this month and “Sasha” for booking her first national commercial. A reverse image search reveals the same photos were used in a press release on a PR distribution website, touting the same accomplishments for the two, but both announcements were made in 2012 by the company Casting Hub.
Gianna’s Philadelphia-based agent, Mary Claro, said Talent’s claim wasn’t true – Gianna had not booked two films this month. Her family had no idea the photo was still being used by the company, she said. “Gianna did go to an event a few years ago and signed up to work with them for nine months,” Claro said.
Claro wasn’t sure if the “Talent” company sent her Gianna’s photo, but said she advises families interested in acting to go through the Screen Actors Guild to find agents, rather than using companies that come through hotels and whose advertisements suggest a link with current stars or TV networks.
“What I try to say to them is, Disney does not come into a hotel,” Claro said when reached on the phone in Philadelphia. “What they pitch are photography sessions for quite a bit of money. They’re talking to people about spending $1,000, $2,000, even $7,000.”
Claro says she charges clients $150 to have their photo and information posted on her website.
Disney Weighs In:
A spokesperson for the Disney Channel says producers hold open casting calls a few times a year that are promoted as “official” casting calls and advertised on their website and social media pages.
“There is no affiliation between Disney Channel and any advance-fee acting school or acting workshop, and Disney Channel has not authorized talent searches or casting through any advance-fee event organizers,” said Patti McTeague, adding there’s no fee or contract associated with official Disney Channel auditions.
Attorneys General Weigh In:
The Florida Attorney General’s office says it has received one complaint about MAT Entertainment and one about Casting Hub since January 2014. Both are from parents who are upset about payments of a few thousand dollars to the company, which did not live up to their expectations.
“Be cautious of any talent agency representative tells children that ‘they have what it takes to become a star,’” spokesperson Kylie Mason said in an email listing tips for parents. “These agencies often use an emotional pitch to convince parents to pay exorbitant fees for hair, make-up and headshots.”
The Ohio Attorney General’s office sued “The Event in Orlando, Inc.,” another talent company, for violations of Ohio law.
“This business exploited families' dreams of stardom and took thousands of dollars from them,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Parents should take this lawsuit as a warning: Some so-called talent agencies take more than they give.”
The business uses a similar model: radio ads targeting young talent, announcing an audition that’s usually held at a hotel.
In December, “The Event” agreed to pay $6,095 in consumer restitution, $15,000 in civil penalties and not violate Ohio’s consumer laws.
Here are some tips from the Florida Attorney General’s office:
- Be wary of any audition that charges a fee to be seen by a casting director;
- Be cautious of any talent agency representative tells children that “they have what it takes to become a star.” These agencies often use an emotional pitch to convince parents to pay exorbitant fees for hair, make-up and headshots;
- Be wary of any company that charges consumers a fee to be listed in a talent database or requires prospective actors or models to have headshots taken on-site for a fee;
- Shop around for headshots and demo reels to ensure the best price;
- Consider a talent agency that charges a commission for any money earned rather than an up-front agency registration fee;
- Search online using the name of the company and scam as the search terms to see whether the business’ clients consider it a scam or are satisfied with their experience;
- Check the credentials of any casting or talent agency to ensure they are legitimate. Check with the Better Business Bureau at www.bbb.org and the Attorney General’s Office in the state where the company is located to determine whether there are any complaints against them; and
- Make sure that the company is licensed. Talent and/or modeling agencies have to be licensed with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.