5 Cons Filmmakers Fall For - Raindance

I have published various nuances and variations of this article since I started Raindance in 1993, and always hope I never ever have to publish it again. But facts serve me differently.

Filmmakers and screenwriters can be easy pickings for an alarmingly great number of fraudsters. With fragile egos, newbies are ripe targets for fraudsters preying on the hopes and dreams of new and naive filmmakers and screenwriters.

My point is, there are no shortcuts in film (or in life for that matter). These low-lifes pretend to know how to take you to the top via Easy Street.

Have a look out for these 5 favourite cons, and make sure you stay well clear of them. They are always easy to spot. The perpetrators of these frauds are always cocky, smarmy and insincere.

1. The So Called Festival Consultant

Who would ever think that you, a filmmaker, needs to employ someone to take you around to film festivals. You’ll be told that they have the necessary inside connections to get your film in, but at the end of the day, quality shows – if you’ve made a good film, it will get screened. If you think your film needs a consultant to get it in, and you’ve the money to spend on one – well, maybe it’s not such a great film (and why didn’t the money go into production?)

The Gambit:
The festival consultant hangs out at a few film festivals, socialises and networks, prints up a business card and then opens up shop waiting for a naive newbie with money to wander past. They spring out, pouring hyperbole on the filmmaker’s work, and pretend to be well connected. They then promise a festival strategy which will virtually guarantee a filmmaker success, with the vague (and totally fake) promise of a distribution deal, and often an Oscar nod.

Another variation of this gambit is to hoodwink a couple of film organisations into thinking you have a valid service and convince them to promote their services in a vain attempt to get publicity. Beware.

The End Result:

After weeks or months of fruitless representation, and after lifting money from the filmmaker, the phoney consultant blames fickle festival programming policies for their failure to deliver.

Cut the grain from the chaff:

There are some really great producer’s reps and festival consultants out there. They have years of experience, and their CV’s and business cards are filled with testimonials from satisfied filmmakers and festival programmers. They specialise in the major film festivals like Sundance, Cannes, Raindance and Toronto. Don’t get stuck with an amateur. Check their credentials. Speak to past or existing clients. Call festivals to verify credentials – if they’ve worked with them before they’ll be happy to recommend them.

 2. Paying Money Upfront For Sales Representation

Believe it or not there is a new wave of agents and agencies that are disguising upfront sales rep fees in various forms including so-called membership schemes and/or upfront festival expense fees.

The Gambit:
This con preys on a filmmaker’s fear of festivals as well as the filmmakers inner desire to be flattered. The film sales rep whips out their business card and barefaced lies about how well they know programming teams and distributors. They collect your cash, and may never even submit your film. Often they need your cash to finance their own networking, champagne-sipping tours of festivals.

The End Result:

No one of any quality or honesty charges upfront for selling your film. If you ever get asked for money upfront, head to the door real quick and check to make sure your body jewelry is still intact. If your film is good and they truly believe in it then they will have confidence in it getting sold and making their fee as a percentage of that. If they’re asking for money upfront then they’ll probably take any film, regardless of quality. Not only does that decrease the time and effort they can put in, if they’re continually shopping round crappy films, yours is going to end up tarred with the same brush.

Cut the grain from the chaff:

The worst thing about this fraud is that it gives everyone selling films a bad name. You have two options here: find a good sales agent, or sell the film yourself.

How can you tell if it’s a good sales agent?

Talk to successful filmmakers about who helped them. Talk to the programming team at the festival you are pursuing. Festival programmers rightly detest this new breed of fraudsters. Remember, no decent agent charges money up front.

 3. The Friend of …

Often a fraudster will claim that they know a big name, like, say Harrison Ford or Harvey Weinstein. For a fat fee they will offer to present your script or film with the promise of riches and glory.

The End Result:
Of course there is no meaningful relationship with the celebrity or movie mogul. I had an incident just last week where one of these underbelly types pretended to be an associate of industry heavyweight, Bingham Ray. After Bingham’s untimely death at Sundance 2012 this 2-bit phony posted fake sympathy messages to Mr Ray’s family! I don’t think this person even knew who Bingham Ray was before extensive industry coverage of his death.

Cut the grain from the chaff:

It’s a people industry. It’s not what you know, but whom. If you’re paying to know someone, it doesn’t really count. Your job as filmmaker and screenwriter is to make sure you develop personal relationships with the people that can help you.

Remember too: knowing a lot of people doesn’t mean that you have a meaningful relationship with any of them.

Have confidence. Build your own relationships.

4. The 5 year Exclusive Deal

The on-line world is full of content aggregators who specialise in building libraries. That’s the way it is. But certain aggregators insist on an exclusive 5-year deal, which could mean that you can’t sell your own film off your own website. It’s a bit like having your T-shirt only sold in one store.

The Gambit:
It goes like this: you will make so much money from us that we need it exclusive, OR, the costs of putting your film online are so great we need an exclusive deal to cover those costs. Bollocks.

The End Result:
You sign a 5 year deal you are likely to see your total income total less than $100.00.
Read How Much Is My Film Worth

Cut the grain from the chaff:
Don’t limit your options or fall for this one. Everyone is looking for content, so you dont need to rely on just one shop window. Use the entire high street.

5. What a great idea – let me run with this for a week

This is one of the most common ways that screenwriters are exploited. Often a writer will fall to a producer with nothing but good intentions. Other times, writers are simply ripped off.

The Gambit:
“I can get your script to Harrison Ford” is usually the opening line. But, says the producer, I need to have an option on your script, and I am not going to pay you any money until Harrison Ford accepts your script.

The End Result:
When a producer calls up a production company with a new project, they often pitch it over the telephone. If that works, then they email over the script. At every stage your script is logged with Title, Author, Length, Genre etc.

If your script is rejected for any reason, it is then logged onto that company’s computer. And why was it rejected? It could be that the producer simply pitched it wrongly. You, as screenwriter, can never ever go back to that company with this project, unless you: change your name, change the title of the project, or completely rewrite it.

Never allow a producer (or agent) to ‘shop’ or present to anyone without your prior written permission. To sell your script you need a viable strategy, and you, the screenwriter needs to be in control. It is your script after all.

Fade Out

A lot of things have come into focus for me over the past few months. Maybe it’s because Raindance is firmly in Year 20, or maybe because I now have a terrific team that allows me more thinking time.

Whatever, hope this helps.

Happy hunting!


Your Comments Please

Just want to say Thank you so much to Elliot, just when I was feeling the weight of making my film, just to know Raindance is there and it cares. Your support means so much and I’ll watch out for the insincere characters that are out to con. Back to the hard work and detail,

I had a “producer/actress/agent” who wanted me to sign an agreement that she would have exclusive rights to any project I write, forever, and that no movie could be made from my work without her being an executive producer. She had zero money, and zero clout. She was on a TV show once, and has had some small roles.

I obviously didn’t sign that deal. She then offered to rep one of my screenplays for 33% commission. When I mentioned agents only get 10% she scolded me for not knowing how hollywood works.

We eventually worked together on a project which was optioned, but that’s the last I’ll work with her.

It’s amazing what I was almost willing to give away just to have someone with “the know” read and pitch my work, and its equally amazing what people will do to rip you off.


Do you know of a con artist who overstates their influence and position, takes your money and then rips you off? Please tell us. we need to stamp this out.
Send your comments, please: click here



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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