A Model Of Acting Talent: Matthew Ryan Marvin
By ABI February 18th, 2010
It would be hard not to be impressed by Matthew Marvin. If you have a myspace account you already know the name. "Wow! What fabulous versatility," begins a testimonial letter I received at the West Palm Beach office, which goes on to praise just about everything about Marvin.
It would be hard not to be impressed by Matthew Ryan Marvin--if you can believe everything you hear and read? If you do accept him at face value, you may start imagining yourself parading down a runway or performing in front of a camera amidst cries of "Lights! Camera! Action!" Images of Marvin give every normal person with a dream of making it big a light of hope. And if confronted by an agent you'll likely sign on the dotted line, as have many, many others, obligating yourself for hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Flattery is a key sales tool with no special training needed.
Many agencies constantly stressed to Marvin the potential for "'a modeling or acting career.'" It would cost, they admitted, but you have to put money into it "'if you want it to be a career.'"
Ever since Matthew Marvin met with his first agency, they've told him continuously, "We're really interested in you," "we have to rush," and "you have to have head shots; the talent agent needs them."
Marvin did not feel much need for "preparation" to go before the camera. Despite many agencies' bait in the form of references to "auditions" or their implications that a job is waiting, that they're the door to a modeling or acting career, or theses classes and photos will prepare you for modeling and acting career; Marvin, the stubborn bastard, wasn't falling for it. "I come from the hood," Marvin says. "The same thing you're going to get for all of that money I can get for free."
One agency's promises to Marvin almost persuaded him to sign a $2,900 contract for a year's acting and modeling classes, despite the fact that he said he couldn't afford them. Marvin managed to negotiated and a free class out of the deal. After he attended the free class, a "talent scout" told Marvin he had 11 jobs lined up for him, but that he needed personal development courses to overcome his shyness. Naturally, Marvin dodged another contract for $1,100 regardless of a verbal understanding that he could cancel at any time--even beyond the 72-hour provision. Later Marvin was told that the agency was happy with him but wanted him to take a dance class--for still another $800. Marvin declined more debt.
Marvin did finally give up and paid an agency "to teach me how to be in front of a camera" only because "[the agency representative] told me three, four, five times, that he had work right now. 'They want you now,' they said. 'You're going to make so much money you won't believe it.'"
As to the scenery that encourages would-be actors and models to sign their dollars away; "Don't trust everything you read," says Marvin. "Do tons and tons of research first. Be careful! Some offices also display celebrity photos on their walls." It was famous male model's picture, tacked on the wall of one agency's office, that led Marvin to conclude that because Mr. Famous was an agency graduate, "they were a very good and successful company." According to Marvin, the agent also explained that Mr. Famous was "in the company," and that that was how he had learned acting/modeling.
Once hooked, what do the purchasers of agencies' services get for their money? Some of them, by this time already disillusioned, don't attend classes or pose for their photos at all. Although Marvin only attend one free class himself, his friend, Joe, attended once. "He said he was in there with a bunch of children," Marvin says. One complainant describes a dance class as "not professional at all . . . like dancing with your brother or sister in the living room." Another says a photo shoot she was told would be done by a top photographer in a professional studio was actually done in a hot, backyard garage. One mother complains that she was promised that her four-year-old daughter would be in a class with her own age group but that not only were the other participants actually teen-agers, the class started a month later than scheduled.
Those who are disappointed in the quality of agencies' services may not be surprised to learn that Mr. Famous, for example, never attended classes at any agency, nor did he consent to the use of his name or likeness by them. Neither, for that matter, according to their agents or close family members, did Heather Lochlear, Barbara Walters, Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda, John Wayne, or Betty Ford. (Although we communicated with a number of other celebrities shown or listed on agencies' websites, they did not respond.)
California law defines a "talent agency" and an "advance-fee talent agent," and contains certain requirements and prohibitions that apply to these definitions. Briefly, at the very least, by promising or implying that they will obtain work for you, the Better Business Bureau believes that agencies fits both definitions. Thus they are required to be licensed and bonded. Some agencies are not.
Although an advance-fee talent agent may collect fees in advance of performing services, their contract must include, in boldface type, your right to a refund within 48 hours of your request for it if you do not receive the services you were promised or led to believe would be performed. It must also include notice of your right to cancel for any reason within 10 business days of the date of the contract. Furthermore, you must be given an original and a copy of your contract at the time you sign it. If these provisions are not included, or if you do not receive your copies of the contract, you have the right to void the contract, which would render it unenforceable by the company.
Whatever an agencies' oral promises or implications, though, they would undoubtedly deny that they are either a talent agency or an advance-fee talent agent. Their written contracts avoid the use of those terms and do not comply in other ways with legal requirements. Nor do their actions.
For example, Marvin realized only when he tried to cancel his personal development contract that the folder he'd been given with his contract in it did not contain a contract at all. And, although he'd been assured that his contract would be canceled just the same, it was not. Months later, the balance was still accruing interest. Marvin did not pay and ever since that incident he still refuses to be employed with an agency.
When Joe requested cancellation of his contract, because of negative information he found about the agency on the Internet, but within the time allowed by law, the agency responded that he had no right to a cooling-off period. And when another complainant, aware of her legal right to a refund for services promised but not received, demanded a refund, it, too, was refused.
Among the prohibitions that apply to advance-fee talent agents is that against making false or misleading promises, verbal or written, of any job or employment.
The Better Business Bureau questioned and requested substantiation of one agencies' claims about its celebrity graduates. The agency's responses were that "direct documentation" has been "difficult to find," the agency schools "in the old days did not give completion certificates," "enrollment forms for the individuals have been lost or misplaced . . . through the ages." Their attorney supplied, instead, a list of reading sources that mentioned the agency's clients and a generic happy birthday letter from Betty Ford, neither of which the Bureau finds acceptable as substantiation.
We question why, if the agency claims some 80 years of success and if they really have so many successful graduates, they don't list celebrity graduates who will admit to this agency's training instead of those who deny any relationship with them. Why must they misrepresent the possibility of employment in order to get clients to sign up? Can we conclude that advertising, misleading as it seems to be, is the real and only power behind most agencies?
Whatever the agencies' answer to those questions might be, its clients are crying, "Cut!"