Usually the scams at the highest levels of the entertainment business are different from those at the lower levels. The producer of $100M+ films doesn’t work from the same playbook as a guy trying to make his first webisode. Lately though, there’s a practice that’s been cropping up at both ends of the spectrum. This is the increasingly common gambit of asking actors to invest in the projects in which they’ve been cast.
There’s nothing obviously illegal about this. But as quid pro quo arrangements go, it’s particularly insidious. And actors and others need to be wary of these dubious deals.
CASE IN POINT: WORLDVIEW ENTERTAINMENT
A recent case in point involved Worldview Entertainment, the film finance company best known for “Birdman.” Worldview and its CEO Christopher Woodrow happen to be involved in multiple lawsuits. The most recent move by Woodrow was his attempt to stop an arbitration set in motion by Parnassus Enterprises. This, in turn, has shed light on the dealings between Worldview and Parnassus.
Parnassus put up $2 million to finance Worldview’s films. Apparently, they were enticed to put up that money in part by a written promise by Woodrow that, in return, a relative of a Parnassus principal would be given acting roles and producing credits. The relative, Adriana Lena Randall, was promised roles in Worldview films, auditions, introductions, and other networking assists to key industry players. Significantly, she wasn’t promised the specific roles she wanted, but Woodrow did agree to aim for those roles, plus others, or roles of worth within two years.
Poor Adriana never got the roles. That doesn’t worry me too much. But over the past year, I’ve seen enough deals to suspect this practice is widespread in the industry, and probably growing.
THE LITTLE GUYS ARE DOING THE SAME THING
It’s more distressing when you see this kind of con foisted on actors who, unlike Adriana, don’t have big investors to cut deals for their benefit. More and more, it happens with starter-level projects. In recent months, I’ve seen both young and mid-career performers who’ve been asked to pony up, in one way or another, for the film and TV projects in which they want to perform. Sometimes they’re asked to donate cash in return for some kind of producer credit, and sometimes they’re asked to bring in other investors. Either way, the mere fact of such a request ought to cause you to be wary of the folks with whom you’re dealing. You shouldn’t have to pay to play.
WHAT TO DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF
1) The first thing to do is check out the people and the project. Look at their track record. Ask yourself, or someone with experience in the industry, what the odds are that they’re truly going to get this movie made or this TV show on the air?
2) Be skeptical, be very skeptical. Don’t believe the hype. When someone tells you what they are “going to do,” it’s more likely to be a statement of what they would like to do (but may not, in reality, be able to do). Realistically evaluate the odds, or talk to someone who can give you a realistic perspective on the chances for this project.
3) Don’t ever agree to contribute funds without a signed contract. And don’t ever sign such a contract without first having it reviewed by a qualified attorney. The contract they hand you is almost certainly slanted very much in their favor, and that needs to be addressed before you can even consider the proposition.
4) Don’t give in to pressure from your would-be producers.