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July 2, 2021

Alert: Scammers Impersonating Major Motion Picture Studios


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

I've written a number of posts about scammers impersonating literary agents and publishers. Writers should be aware that they're also impersonating major motion picture studios. 

Here's one example, from a scam that does business under at least three names: Orions Media Agency, Fox Media Studios Agency (note the way these scam names reference real companies), and PageTurner Press and Media. Despite their apparent US addresses and phone numbers, all are based in the Philippines (you can read more about the huge proliferation of overseas scammers here). (UPDATE: The scammers have added a new name: Experttell, aka Experttell Media.)

This is the initial pitch--which arrives, as always with this type of scam, out of the blue:


This is not the way things work: literary agents aren't "assigned" to represent you without your knowledge, and major film studios don't randomly stumble on books and reach out to agencies you never heard of, which then cold-call you. In fact, real agents only very rarely reach out to writers directly. For scammers, on the other hand, it's their main recruitment method. 

Any out-of-the-blue solicitation or offer should be treated with suspicion.

If the writer bites, they receive this. 



Note Allison's email address, which doesn't match Universal's email address protocol. It's always a good idea to search on this, and also on the email address itself; you can discover interesting things, such as that the universalpicturesacquisition.com domain was only registered this past March--not very plausible, given Universal Pictures' long history. In another revealing discrepancy, Allison Gray is a real person...but she works for Paramount.

"Allison" doesn't mention money. This is strategic: as any scammer knows, it's harder to say no when an offer is (purportedly) on the table. And money is definitely involved. The writer who responds with excitement to this INCREDIBLE OFFER learns that the "cinematic trailer" will cost them $3,500 (a cost the scammer may promise to share), and the "relicensing" of the book (there's no such thing) requires a further $1,099. 

I shouldn't need to say--again--that this is not how things work. If a film studio is interested in your work, they will pay you, not the other way around. Plus, the demand for your driver's license and passport suggests that it's not just your cash that will be stolen.

Here is the promised "pre-production agreement" (this time from another dba of this scam, Fox Media Studios Agency). "David Benson" does not appear to be an employee of Universal--or any film company. Allison Gray is cc'd, though at a different, and equally bogus, email address. Note also the identical scary pseudo-legal language at the bottom, which is likely intended to discourage writers from contacting people like me:


The money grab in this one is for the "Director's professional fee" as well as the supposed permits and clearances, which no doubt amount to several thousand dollars. Keep in mind that the writer has already paid nearly $5,000 for a (likely crappy) book trailer and the mythical book re-licensing.

Yet again, this is not how the industry works. Authors are never asked to bankroll their own films (at least, they're never asked to do so by reputable film companies). To the contrary: if a film of your book has been greenlighted, you will previously have received a considerable sum of money.

A final word. It's every writer's dream to have their book made into a movie. But the hard truth is that this is among the rarest of all outcomes of publishing a book. The vast majority of books--even very successful ones--never sell or option film rights. Where they do, it's via real, reputable agents or entertainment lawyers with track records that can be verified--not unknown parties who contact you out of the blue. 

Remember: solicitation is the number one sign of a scam. And there are more scams aggressively soliciting authors than ever. Be careful out there.

UPDATE 8/7/21: The scam is also soliciting as Netflix. Some of the language in the solicitation below is identical to that of the first fake Universal email above; note also the identical scary disclaimer in italics, and the fact that, although this came to the author as a direct solicitation and not through the filter of a fake agency, the scammers were too careless, or too lazy, to remove the references to "your agency".

As they often do, the scammers are using the name of a real person--except she's an actress, not a Netflix executive.


UPDATE 9/2/21: The scammers have added a new name: Experttell (aka Experttell Media), which is sending out email "offers" from Warner Bros. that are identical to the emails above.

10 comments :

widdershins said...

They're f**king relentless, aren't they?

Virginia Arthur said...

Indies are the new Gold Rush folks. We're being MINED.

Anonymous said...

Tale Flicks? Anybody?

Sketchy shit with them too I hear.

Victoria Strauss said...

TaleFlick isn't a scam, IMO; the question is more whether it's worth the money for what you get.

They do provide a page of books that have apparently been optioned, but based on the news articles provided on the website, it looks like most of the options are by TaleFlick itself. Founder Uri Singer is a genuine film producer--if a small one--but TaleFlick looks to me like mainly a pool of content in which Singer himself is finding properties. I don't see a lot of evidence that other filmmakers and studios are using it.

Victor Acquista said...

Got this the other day (clipped below). I went on their website and did a Google image search on all the pictured personnel, including the Victoria Powell person writing to me. Not surprisingly, all the images I searched for their executives and staff were stock photos from a variety of sources. I will say their website is pretty slick.

The scammers are out there for sure. What novelist wouldn't get excited about the possibility of having their work adapted for film?

Be on your guard!



Film2.JPG


Dear XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX,

This is Victoria Powell, a Production Manager from Filmways Pictures Agency. We came across your material "XXXXXXXXXXXXX" on our pursuit of a qualified piece for our sponsorship program for the International film rights acquisition submission for the year 2021.

We have identified fresh and timely concepts embedded in the framework of your piece that is in demand of our target market. The evaluation report from the Editorial Board shows exceptional remarks that made you qualify for our preliminary screening.

We hope to carry on with the assessment by first validating the ownership of the rights and some legalities concerning this material. I also need to know any achievements or milestones within your writing journey to help me better assess and identify your degree of sponsorship grant. Moreover, I would also need to check some materials that you may already have that can be of use for this project so then we’ll be to customized an effective project scheme suitable for its subject and target market. I feel that a phone appointment would be extremely beneficial to launch a strong project momentum.

I prefer you respond to this email with your contact details and a convenient time for a phone call so I may appropriately book our appointment. Generally, I am available around 4 pm to 7 pm Ruislip UK time (GMT+1) at 1-888-214-1757 ext. 189.

We look forward to building a strong business relationship in the future.

Best Regards,

VP SIG 2.JPG


WHO WE ARE

Filmways Pictures LTD is a UK-based film and multimedia advertising agency. We specialized in independent film productions, media, and internet advertising, screenplay licensing, and rights management service. We have acquired a vast network of decision-makers from the film and literary industry due to our strict compliance with International Standards for Entertainment and Literacy Rights Management. Please visit us at https://www.filmwayspictures.com to know more about us.

About Us | FAQs | Submissions | Latest News

Victoria Strauss said...

Filmways Pictures was a real production company founded in 1952, as the current Filmways website claims. However, it no longer exists: it was acquired by Orion in 1982 and lost its name. The current Filmways (a scam, as you point out--I caught the stock photos too) has appropriated the name and logo of the original company, as well as some of its origin narrative.

I've heard from a number of people who got the identical email. Given the website's focus on "sponsorships", my guess is that writers are told they must fund the difference in cost between the purported whole price of creating a screenplay, and the "sponsorship" amount supposedly defrayed by Filmways. No doubt thousands of dollars are involved.

Dr. Brian Alikhani said...

I get emails and phone calls exactly the way described. They all have heavy foreign accents (heavier than mine) but use names like "Tom Stevenson".

Unknown said...

Just received this email. Does it look legit?


image001.jpg



Dear Rossana,



This is Miranda Fox, a Production Manager from Filmways Pictures Agency. We came across your material "The Perfect Tenant" in our pursuit of a qualified piece for our partnership program for the International film rights acquisition project for the year 2021.



We have identified fresh and timely concepts embedded in the framework of your piece that is in demand of our target market. The evaluation report from the Editorial Board shows exceptional remarks that made you qualify for our preliminary screening. We hope to carry on with the assessment by checking some technical aspects and rights ownership to fully check your eligibility for our program.



Filmways Pictures LTD is a UK-based film and multimedia advertising agency. We specialize in media, internet advertising, screenplay licensing, and rights management services. We have acquired a vast network of decision-makers from the film and literary industry due to our strict compliance with International Standards for Entertainment and Literacy Rights Management. Please visit us at https://www.filmwayspictures.com to know more about us.



You can reach me at +1-888-214-1757 ext. 639 or, you may also respond to this email with your contact details and the best time for a quick call.



I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

Victoria Strauss said...

No, it's not legit. Filmways Pictures was a real company, but it was acquired by a bigger company a number of years ago and stopped using the name. A scammer has appropriated the Filmways name and logo, and is claiming to be the original company. It's not: the scheme is to get you to pay for a screenplay that will never be delivered. I've gotten many reports of solicitations by Filmways using the identical email you received.

Unknown said...

I received an email from James Wright from Adaptations Tide about adapting my book for movies. It sounded like a scam and I was so glad to find it on your list of scams. Thanks so much for all the work you do to keep writers safe.
Narjorie Jamison Douglas

 
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