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How to tell Baloney from Opportunity
I got a tale to tell
A listen don't cost a dime
And if you believe that, we're gonna get along just fine- Steve Earle, Snake Oil.
We have all been there. You come across someone who says they work in the film industry, or are close to someone who is very high up on the food chain in the food industry. Like you, they think you have something to offer the industry, all you need is a foot in the door. At least that is what they say. So, you swap contacts. You send them your screenplay or showreel.
They get back to you. [INSERT NAME OF FAMOUS ACTOR/ACTRESS/INDUSTRY INFLUENTIAL PERSON] was bowled over by your screenplay or showreel. Definitely, this could be the next blockbuster. Your new friend reckons they can get [INSERT NAME OF FAMOUS ACTOR/ACTRESS] interested. Let's work on a budget.
You are excited. Your ship has come, at last. True to yourself, you work hard on that budget. You have further discussions with your new friend, fleshing everything out. They dispense advice and encouragement. You ask if it is okay to make an announcement on social media. Sure, why not? your friend says. You go ahead, and drop names. Your followers celebrate with you your big break.
Then, the months become a year, then a year and more months. Your questions about progress are met with excuses, then outright rudeness. Eventually, you have to face the fact; this is not the big break you thought had come your way at last. You were had. The other person was playing a cruel joke on you.
If only it were a simple case of shrugging and moving on with your life! However, the cost of this little joke on your career is immense. You have spent many hours pursuing this project. A more rewarding opportunity might have come your way during that time, but you were so engrossed with this project, you had stopped searching for new ones. And even if you had encountered a new project, would you have left what you were already working on? A bird in the hand and all that.
In monetary terms, such an encounter may have otherwise cost you very little. Unless, of course, you live in Zimbabwe, where you might add the high cost of sending material across the internet, transport to meeting venues etc.
We've all been there
We have all been led up the garden path in this manner. The industry, whether in Zimbabwe or abroad, is full talkers and braggers. In many circles, this is considered acceptable. I have been on a course, in the UK, where the tutor told us that the done thing is to say you have a project "in development", when you really mean that you are not actually going anywhere with anything at the moment.
For us Zimbabweans, whether at home or abroad, our culture makes us even more vulnerable. We have very high expectations of those who represent that Promised Land of Hollywood, or the film industries of the UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria and India, places known to be more rewarding than our own. If our own offered the prospect of commensurate remuneration, we would not have our sights set elsewhere.
So, while merchants of that pie in the sky may be considered quite normal industry, the fact still remains that no one deserves to have their time wasted. The following is a rough guide to spotting that purveyor of bull manure. It is based mostly on my own experiences. You might not be able to catch all of them this way, but if you can spot at least one, that is several months of work and dashed hopes saved, right?
Spotting A Fake A Mile Off
- Outrageous Name-Dropping
If I told you that I was friends with Jay-Z and Beyonce, how would you be able to prove that I wasn't? You can't ring them up to verify this. Many celebrities are vulnerable to this sort of thing- they cannot ordinarily respond to protect their names from those who would misuse them. Eventually, you might decide that I was taking you for a ride when I said me and the Carters are tight. But, by the time you figure this out for yourself, I would have wasted your time and made a fool out of you.
- Fictional Name Dropping
Your average fake is not above claiming to know people who do not even exist. One lady told me she was in a relationship with Laurence Fishburne's younger brother and if I had a script, she could show it to the famous American actor as she was going to meet the family soon. Fishburne's biography is on hundreds if not thousands of websites, and not one of them mention a sibling.
- Change in Attitude
First they were keen on the project, and said their famous friend was keen. They even told you to revise your budget and ask for more money. Then, when the time comes for that meeting they said they had set up, something happens. This disappointment may be repeated a few times before you are ready to face the fact that you may not be furnished with the full facts about the whole matter.
Your fake will get irritable if you start to ask questions or confront them directly with your suspicions. They are not really mad at you. Displays of anger are a ruse to get you to back down, which you almost certainly will do if you are afraid of upsetting your key to hobnobbing with film industry bigwigs.What you need to do in such a situation is go with your gut feeling, and disassociate from the fake immediately.
What do next
- Do your own checking.
It's not hard at all to do your own investigations.
- Act on the information you have uncovered.
Once you have discovered that you have been lied to, walk away from the association. You don't want to come across as rude or antisocial, but you are not the one with a psychological problem here! You owe it to your career, your interests are your priority, not the ego of someone who has a problem with the truth.
- Warn others
Warn your friends. You might even discover, when you compare notes, that they too were seeing red flags but did not think you'd listen to their warnings. Once the fake realises that no one in your circles is interested in the lies they peddle, they will do what every unscrupulous salesman does; fold their tent and move on.