There's an entire industry out there feeding off the hopes and dreams of naive young creative types and it makes me sick when I think about how much money these bottom feeders are raking in year after year.
In the old days this sleaze pit was less sophisticated. Mimeographed notices tacked to bulletin boards in high schools and public libraries, laundromats: "Become a Model. World-class modeling agency seeks new faces. Open call." Then droves of eager pretty young things would show up to hear an elaborate sales pitch. "To break into the biz, you need a composite shot by a top-notch fashion photographer. Lucky for you, we happen to have connections to a few who just might be willing to take your pictures for a few hundred bucks."
Today the con takes various forms, most of which are far more insidious.
It's impossible to ride the New York subway without encountering an advert for something called the New York Film Academy which proudly boasts branch "campuses" all over the world, apparently, including Universal Studios and Harvard, both of whose names are followed by an asterisk: "Not in any way affiliated with Universal Studios or Harvard University." Okay...
I wonder how much tuition they charge these poor kids who assume that, as their brochures encourage, upon graduation with a "certificate" (A certificate is not a degree, kids!) suddenly the doors of Hollywood are going to fly open to offer them multi-picture deals.
Or how about those brilliant Casting Director Workshops that permeate the landscape of Los Angeles. Here's how it works. Struggling actors cough up anywhere from $200 to $500 for an afternoon of scene work which they are promised will be directed by a "Hollywood Casting Director currently casting several top-rated TV shows." Usually the people who show up are the assistants to the assistants and, although they're being paid a couple hundred bucks for their time, they assume a posture of indifference, which only serves to convince the hopeful actors of their credibility as seasoned industry veterans.
When my first feature, All the Rage, had its world premiere at the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, I was accosted by at least half a dozen "Producers Reps." These are guys who tell you that they can sell your film to Miramax for millions of dollars... for the right price. In fact one of them wined and dined me so much I almost fell for his pitch. He even invited me up to his Summer home in Vermont, promising to introduce me to Jeff Gilmore. Thank god in the last moment a friend of mine advised me to think twice before writing him a check for $2,000. The huckster in question, the notorious Jeff Dowd, is such a caricature of this type of beast that the Coen brothers paid him filmic tribute in The Big Lebowski.
And finally, there are the film festivals. Why shouldn't they get a piece of this profitable pie? Virtually every festival I've attended (in this country, at least) boasts something called a "Meet the Buyers Workshop" or some variation thereof. What is this? Essentially, 3 or 4 low-level employees of actual distribution companies will be paid by the festival to meet with and endure minimal and monitored conversation with young filmmakers about what it takes to get their attention. Does the film festival do this out of the kindness of their heart? Are you kidding? Of course not! The filmmakers, since they're all swimming in cash, are usually charged some sort of fee for the privilege of attending.
With most film festivals boasting impressive brand names among their corporate sponsors, why are they charging steep entry fees from impoverished filmmakers? And when it's an open secret that the biggies such as Sundance don't actually watch all the films submitted, why are filmmakers willing to purchase what is essentially a $50 lottery ticket?
The Dramatist Guild has lately been making a lot of noise about entry fees charged for playwriting contests, arguing that the practice is indecent and many playwrights have adopted a policy of boycotting all such contests.
But I wonder if some legislation may be in order here. I mean, let's be frank. All of the examples above are merely fraud dressed up in fancy clothing. Isn't fraud illegal? Why do we go after shady types in every other business but when it comes to the Arts, all bets are off?
Could it be that this is a reflection of our society's opinion of artists, in general?
You tell me.