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Report: #712102

Complaint Review: Universal Talent Agency - Totowa New Jersey

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  • Reported By: Kay — Phillipsburg New Jersey United States of America
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  • Universal Talent Agency 809 Riverview Drive Totowa, New Jersey United States of America

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I just returned from an interview with "The Actor's Studio" which was still called Universal Talent when we answered an ad for movie extras in the Star Ledger last week. My partner and I left feeling that this was not legitimate, so I looked it up and found all the reports in your site about this scam.  I wanted to make sure to get the word out that these low lifes have moved to Totowa, NJ, and taken the name of "The Actor's Studio" of all things, one of the most respected and cherished acting institutions in the world.  The scam is pretty much the same.  We called them and they set up an appointment. We arrived at a small, nondescript office building and went upstairs as directed.  There was a photo studio on one side of the hall and the agency was on the other side. They are still moving in and some guy was painting the walls.  Jim greeted us and asked if we had pictures. We didn't so he insisted on making us pay $10 each for a polaroid shot before he would let us be interviewed by his assistant.

We asked why we couldn't be interviewed first so we could decide if we wanted to work with them, but he said he needed the pictures for the file so we reluctantly (kicking myself now) agreed.  We went into a small office and talked to his male assistant, (I don't remember his name) he said he was new. He proceded to tell us how they could get us extra work in movies and TV, siting some recent examples of shows they'd, worked with and then proceded with the usual scam: We needed to pay for photos, only their photos would do, as other photographers put their names on the pictures and that created a problem with copywrite laws and for $595 each we would also get a months free acting classes. We would get 50 photos and they would keep 50 and the photo disk. We could pay half and they would take the rest out of our pay when they got us work. We asked if we could take the contract home to review but he would'nt give it to us. He wanted us to sign it right then and there.

My partner and I have acted, directed and modeled before and knew this was not the way things worked, so we left, but not before Jim offered to give us a discount of $100 each on the photos. I'm so sorry I didn't look this up before we went, but I hope this will warn other people about the name and address change. We were lucky they were still using the old name last week. It's much more difficult to look them up using a famous name like "The Acting Studio".

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#4 UPDATE EX-employee responds

Universal Talent is OK but the initial investment is too high

AUTHOR: Diego - (USA)

POSTED: Monday, April 16, 2012

I agree with alot of what you say, however, my experience is that Universal Talent has worked for some people, and it hasn't worked for others. People who are available monday thru friday obviously will have better chances of getting work. However, if you can only work a few days (or only weekends as some people) it will be very tough to get much work. Universal Talent will also give more work to those who they can count on around the clock. So I guess my suggestion is it can work for you if your availability is flexible. If you already have a full time job and can only work a few days then I say pass on it.

But I do agree with you on one thing. I think the $600 investment to start working gigs is too steep, especially in this Recession we are in. Times are tough, and I think Jim should really try to undestand that for many people forking over $600 is really during times when rent/foreclosures are through the roof. The truth is the acting classes and pictures are not worth $600, they are worth much less. And on top of this they get 15% of what you make when you work for them.

My take: Yes, I think Universal Talent is a decent agency as I know people (including myself) who have found work with them (depending on your flexiblity and availability). But, the downside is the $600 investment, which I understand, not all of us can afford during these tough times.

My suggestion: Jim, try to lower that $600 fee and trust me you will get more people to sign up with you. I think a fair number would be $300, and no you dont need 50 photos to work as a movie extra.

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#3 UPDATE Employee

Actors studio / Universal Talent

AUTHOR: Momma - (United States of America)

POSTED: Friday, November 04, 2011

 I have just read your report about The Actors Studio. I have been doing business with the Actors Studio for about 3 years now. I came to them when they were in Wayne. At that time they were called Universal Talent. I have 2 daughters (16 and 19 at the time) that wanted to work as extras in T.V. Movies and Commercisls. We made an apointment and arrived with my husband and 2 daughters. We had head shots of the girls. The gentalman that helped us was polite and professional. He explained that they need to use their own phots and he would keep the disk. When I asked why he explained the girls need a few different looks and depending on the job he would submitt the look that would get them the most work (casual look, Upscale partty look ect)

We agreed to pay for the pictures. The photos were great better then what we had. With all the work my girls have gotten the pictures have payed for themself over and over agin. In addition to that we got 50 head shots so the girls can net work. We were also asked to sign a contract when we were there. I took only a few minutes to read, it was stright foward no leagal mumbo jumbo.

     My girls have had many wonderful experiences on set thanks to the professionalism of The Actors Studio. I do not understand how you can bad mouth a company you have not dealt with. I think you should go back have your pictures taken and see for your self just how wonderful the people at The Actors Studio really are. If you ask my girls they would say signing up with The Actors Studio was the best thing I ever did for them. Thats why they asked me to respond to your bloog. They would have done it them self but they are filming all day today and tomorrow too.

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#2 General Comment

Represented by Universal Talent since 2007

AUTHOR: D Justyn Ryan - (United States of America)

POSTED: Thursday, June 16, 2011

I have been represented by the agency, the Actors Studio, formerly Universal Talent since 2007.  Within that time I have had a fairly open schedule; so, I have worked several times per month, when there is work and have been in hundreds of productions.  I have managed to recieve my SAG letter of eligibility within that time.

Yes, it is true they require you take basic acting classes and make photo's with them in order for them to represent you.  However, it is a non union agency that specializes in background work intended for people with no experience to break into the business.  If the casting directors choose to bump you up, they will. Many other background organizations such as Extra Mile for example, make you pay a monthly membership fee.   Also, it is a non exclusive contract, so you can join these other services if you want to, and feel yo0u want to work full time.

I entered this agency with some modeling experience and the background of Highschool Theatre.  Now, I can join the Screen Actors Guild any time I choose until the day I die, and I am rather young.  This would not have been possible without their preperation.

The only caveat I have while writing this, is that when I joined I was told that they represent SAG actors as well.  I believe at that time they did, but by the time I was eligible to join the union I will lose their representation when I join the union and need to find other means to get work.

Overall, I am very reliable, so they have continued to work with me.  Many people are unreliable, and the agency takes a risk every time they choose to represent them, so I fully understand the need for them to make the person seriously make a commitment with them.  I have never paid for a service with Actors Studio formerly Universal Talent that I have not benefited from. 

However, if you are looking to be a main actor right away and already have the experience to do so, I suggest you look elsewhere.  If you are a nobody hoping learn the business and to be discovered and you have a flexible schedul that allows you to work on a moments notice then this is the place for you to start.

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#1 General Comment

Kay - If you and your partner are so experienced in the industry, why are you following ads to a New Jersey agency that specializes in extra work?

AUTHOR: Smile=] - (United States of America)

POSTED: Monday, April 11, 2011

Dear Kay,

I think your experience had a lot to do with your attitude! I signed with "The Actor's Studio" a couple months ago and have gotten heaps of work (American Express Commercial, New Years Eve [the film], The Good Wife twice, and Damages) and have taken invaluable classes with their coach. They explained to me during their interview that it is a hobby, not a part time job. It is fooling to go to a prospective acting job without headshots and you should know this as your partner and you are so experienced. Even if you did not plan on bringing one, they atleast told me on the phone that they need me to bring a picture, or they can charge $10.00 to take one.

More jobs for me! :)

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