A Halifax casting director says those wanting to try their hand at acting in television or movies — especially children — should think twice about attending "cattle call" style auditions.
Undiscovered Talent Group, a U.S.-based scouting company, is expected to hold a free informational seminar, auditions and interviews for prospective performers and their parents in Halifax on Saturday.
If the company feels someone has potential, they sell programs to people to hone their skills that can range in price from $250 to $11,000.
Company CEO Brandon Harlow told CBC News sometimes the group offers full scholarships.
"It's a learning process for most of these performers and parents and we happily offer our guidance during and after the program," Harlow wrote in an email.
Local productions, free opportunities
But Erin Hennessey, the owner of Halifax-based Hennessey Casting, said anyone looking to break into the entertainment business can do it locally without having to pay thousands of dollars.
"There are so many local production companies that have Facebook groups that do their own casting in-house and they post casting calls all the time," said Hennessey.
"And you don't have to have experience depending on what kind of commercial it is."
Hennessey said she is wary of companies like Undiscovered Talent Group because they use images of Disney and Nickelodeon stars in their advertising.
On the website for Undiscovered Talent Group's Halifax auditions, there are pictures of Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus.
"They throw those names around to get people excited, to get parents and their kids excited to go down and attend these auditions. What they're not exactly upfront about is how much it will cost," Hennessey said.
Company faces criticism
Undiscovered Talent Group recently defended its practices after an audition in Saskatoon drew online criticism. One auditionee voiced concerns that the company was misleading about the fees it charges for services.
Harlow told CBC News in March that the company trains and develops talent to showcase to other agencies.
"All of our talent over the years who have completed any program have been happy with our services," he said at the time, adding that performers have gone on to work for Disney, Nickelodeon and other recognizable brands.
Local aspiring actors can sign up for Hennessey's website for free to find out about auditions or opportunities to be a background performer.
She makes money through production companies that want to check out her talent roster; the talent doesn't pay her anything.
'Not a big cattle call situation'
When she's casting a principal role, she'll contact local talent agencies.
"It's not a big cattle call situation. They're particular about the people they represent," she said.
Talent agents, Hennessey explained, earn a percentage of what their clients make from a role. They don't ask their clients to pay money in exchange for being represented, she said.
For those wanting an opportunity to try more dramatic roles, Hennessey mentioned Facebook pages like HalifACTS often post about student film opportunities. That page is volunteer-run by actors as a community group.
She said local actors often offer acting workshops and film students frequently look for talent, too.
Building a portfolio
"What you want to do is build your portfolio by volunteering on small things," she said.
"Try and get into as many auditions as you can locally through the production companies, keep an eye on the Facebook groups for student film auditions. Once you start looking for these opportunities, you'll find more and more of them."
Decent quality headshots are needed but even those don't need to cost a lot of money for people just starting out.
"I would suggest in a pinch go to the Iris Booth in Scotia Square and spend your $20 [to get a photo]," said Hennessey.