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The $600 Web Page – Just Kidding? (Trisha Simmons and

LETTER FROM L.A.: The $600 Web Page – Just Kidding?
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


                In the acting world, kids and their parents are not only the most vulnerable group to target, they are also the most profitable. After all, tell a parent their kid is special, and how many will disagree?

                I suspect this is equally true in New York and Hollywood. And both cities are home to companies that market their services elsewhere, tempting small-town families with the glamourous lure of these larger markets.

                Even in Los Angeles, though, there is a steady supply of naïve locals. One company calls families and says the kids can come in for a free ‘audition’. Where do they get the numbers? One person suggests they have access to school rosters. Several approach kids and their parents in malls – a virtual vivarium of the uninformed – and sell them packages that ost about $1000 or more. For what? Sometimes training, often sessions with casting directors or agents where the kids in question can display the talent they - of course! - have.

                The California Labor Commission looks askance at places that charge for access to industry gatekeepers. But their focus at this point has been the cold reading workshops that hold these sessions almost daily. Will they go after schools that do this less frequently later? We’ll see.

                Also, when it comes to children, the boundaries between representation and teaching become fuzzier. I don’t know of any manager for adults who sells courses to their clients. A number of managers for kids do. Is it ethical? In some cases, perhaps. Someone who manages children may indeed be concerned that many lack training. But clearly it offers immense opportunities for abuse.

                How can parents know which teachers are legitimate, even those who appear to have solid credentials?

                Take the case of Trisha Simmons, who runs the site. The site informs us that “her class has been featured in Elle Magazine, Showbiz Kids, The Times and on CBS, CNN, TBN, The Tonight Show, Letterman and The Rosie O'Donnel Show.” It also lists impressive results for her students: “15 Series Regular Roles - 7 Series Recurring Roles -36 Roles in Feature Films…” Etc. Solid enough references, it would seem.

                Things become a little iffier when you look at the calendar: “Casting Director & Industry Guest Weekend – Last chance to make an impression before they get too busy with pilots! “ Clearly, parents who pay for this weekend will be paying for their kids to “make an impression” on gatekeepers in the industry – that is, for access. How is this different from the kind of activity the Labor Commission has condemned elsewhere?

                Cut to an offer that recently came to my attention, made privately to Trisha Simmons’ students – one of whom was so shocked by it that they passed it on to a friend for advice. The gist of this is that students can have their headshot, resume and a brief blurb put on a Web site for…. $300 for six months.

                For comparison’s sake, bear in mind that you can readily get a whole DOMAIN for well under $300 a YEAR. So, is it the extra service of putting up a headshot and resume that justifies this? Castnet, one of the major on-line casting services out here, has done this over the years for between $40 and $75 a year. If you are in the Academy Players Guide (an industry standard), The Link will do it for free.

                On the face of it, this seems doubly abusive: both of people’s naivete about the business and of their naivete about Web sites for actors. But since there are two sides to every story, I contacted Ms. Simmons for hers. Her answer was two-fold: 1 – since the offer was made privately to her students, she was surprised I’d heard of it (!) and 2 – “this site is not intended for a general is tied into my classes, etc...therefore, much of the value is not garnered by simply going to the site!” Fair enough – then what is the value?

                I can’t tell you. My follow-up question was never answered. Which leaves me wondering why anybody who wasn’t very naïve about both the Industry and the Internet would even consider paying $600 a year for a Web page. Unfortunately, both are true of many families with stars in their eyes.