There is a hiring scam in the film industry aimed at production assistants. Their ideal target? Someone who is new and eager to the business, with little experience how the hiring process works.
This isn’t a new scam — it’s been going around for at least six months. The Anonymous Production Assistant mentioned it a few months ago, but the scammers haven’t stopped. It breaks my heart because their target is the kind of person who reads this blog: a hard worker with nothing but a dream and the desire to just get their one chance. And it’s disgusting.
One variation of the e-mail reads:
Company profile: Good Clean Fun’s state-of-the-art production facilities are where the magic happens. Our seasoned professionals oversee each and every part of the process. From creative development, to production and post, it all happens under one roof. Every project is driven by our vision and branded with our unique point of view.
Responsibilities include the following:
Good Clean Fun LLC, will be producing a TV commercial to promote our new show *Barely Famous* and your assistance will be needed. Below are the job duties:
Operate Studio Camera, Audio, Graphics generator or teleprompter
Organize studio sets, cameras and monitoring
Maintain studio and lighting
Use microphones, IFB receivers, and audio facilities
Setup and review graphic elements
Perform other job-related duties as assigned
Note: The production will be done in San Francisco between 10-21-2015 to 10-24-2015 in Blast Digital Studio, Toland Place, San Francisco, CA but you’ll be needed here in San Francisco from 10-19-2015. Both travel/hotel expenses will be covered by the company.
Instruction: Please respond with your contact information such as your full name, address and cell number where a check will be mailed out to, it is for your traveling and lodging expenses (more information will be provided as we progress). You will also be provided an itinerary by the designated travel agent arrangement.
How to Tell This is a Scam
Very rarely is anyone hired so quickly and impersonally with zero mention of who referred you.
When you’re at the entry level of any industry, there’s a lot of people vying for jobs because the barrier to entry isn’t very high. You’re usually hired based on (1) experience, (2) word of mouth, (3) your own persistence, or (4) applying to a job on Staff Me Up. Typically, when you get offered a job, they production coordinator or producer will make mention of how they found you.
If you get approached for a job through email, it’ll read something like this:
Hey M, so-and-so recommended you for a PA position. Can you shoot me your resume?
No production assistant on any REAL project is expected to handle all of the responsibilities.
Unless it’s a student film or some unscrupulous producer with zero concern for doing the project properly and is stealing all the cash anyway, no one hires PAs with the expectation that they will run cameras, lighting, and sound. Those are positions filled by highly skilled and experienced people. Those are the jobs you’re aiming for when you begin as a production assistant, but you don’t start out by touching the most expensive equipment on one of your first days.
Normal PA duties are: going on runs, assisting the production coordinator or assistant director, handling extras, getting releases signed, etc. It doesn’t sound as glamorous, but these are very important tasks that no movie or television show could be made without.
“But it seems to be a real production company with a legit website?”
This is the worst and most clever part of the scam. The scammer will impersonate a real production company — Good Clean Fun, LLC was the alleged company in the example. (And yes, they are a real company.) The scammer will then purchase a domain name very similar to the real production company domain, maybe missing one letter so you will hopefully not notice — and send out the email. As is the case in the example, the domain was something like “@goodcleanfunlc.com” — while the REAL production company’s web address is actually goodcleanfunllc.com. Did you realize there’s one L missing?
The money is too good to be true.
In variations of the scam, the proposed rate is something obscene — $400 or $500 per day, plus travel expenses. Once you reach a certain level, then yes, you can make that kind of money — but let’s be real, this is not a realistic rate for a production assistant gig. The average rate for a PA ranges from $150-$250.
In most cities, production companies RARELY pay for out of town PAs.
In the example, it says the production is going to take place in San Francisco. There are dozens of qualified production assistants already living in San Francisco. Why on earth would a production pay to fly someone in and put them up, especially someone with little experience?
There’s an exception, though: Occasionally, productions from Los Angeles/New York will think the local crew couldn’t possibly have the chops and they’ll fly in everyone, including their PAs. But even then, someone on the crew will have known/recommended the PA in advance.
If you’ve never worked on a film set before, it’s highly unlikely someone would pay for your travel.
In other variations of the scam, there’s a lot more travel involved–probably to make the shoot sound more alluring and exotic.
The cost to travel a crew member isn’t cheap. It usually includes airfare, car rental, hotel, and per diem– the total is often thousands of dollars depending on the length of the shoot. For this reason, only the essential crew members are paid to travel. Everyone else is hired locally.
Sometimes, a production will travel their PA, but only if the PA has been with them for quite a while and is very experienced.
We all want to be successful and land an amazing gig right out of the gate that pays us more than we’re worth and flies us all around the world, and of course, anything is possible — but if any of these other factors I’ve described are true, then unfortunately, you are probably being scammed.
You’re NEVER given money in advance.
I’ve traveled for different shoots for five years now, for multiple production companies and networks. Never was I fronted any money to arrange my travel through a travel agent, it’s all handled by the production. At most, they’ll ask for my full name and date of birth, as that’s required when purchasing airline tickets.
This is how it works: The production coordinator or travel coordinator books ALL flights and hotels for crew. You’ll then receive an e-mail with your itinerary, flight details, and transportation information. You’ll either be given per diem on the ground as cash, OR you invoice for it after the fact. Most importantly and unlike this scam says, you’ll never be told how much your flight or hotel cost, but sometimes you can get reward points if you have an account.
Also, for the most crew and production positions, you don’t get paid in advance for work you haven’t done. There are too many variables in a freelance world to do otherwise: People get sick, cars break down, shoots get postponed or cancelled, etc. You get paid after the shoot, always.
How This Scam Works
It seems these scammers find their victims through various job boards. I’d also be wary of Craigslist postings.
How the scam actually works is tricky, but I know these companies will send fraudulent checks for you to cash to “pay for your travel”. When that check doesn’t clear, that’s where the scam comes into play and I’m not entirely sure what happens — if they ask that you cover the expense, if they steal your bank info, or what — but basically, the gig never materializes and you’re out the cash they were supposedly fronting you.
What to Do if This Happens to You
Alert the real production company that they’re being impersonated so they can take legal action. If you are listed on job boards, alert the job board of the scam. Leave a comment here or at our Facebook group with the details — it could help others figure out if they’re a target.
If you know anyone else trying to get into the film industry, share this post with them. The only way to beat these unscrupulous asses is to educate and prevent future victims — eventually they’ll stop this fiasco.
Variations of the Scam
As of January 2017, these types of scams are still going strong, albeit with a different twist. If you’ve been targeted, forward it on and I’ll add it to the list: