A quick warning about a new impersonation scam.
I’m getting reports from writers who’ve received email solicitations from what appear to be real film companies. Here are a couple of examples:
Note the identical language.
Roth/Kirshenbaum and Bluegrass Films are real enterprises, with real track records. So if the writer–who may be a bit dubious because of the out-of-the-blue contact and the poorly-written text–does a websearch, they’ll learn that these companies actually do exist. There are some odd discrepancies: there’s no “&” in Roth/Kirshenbaum, and Scott Stuber left Bluegrass for Netflix in 2017. Still, the realness of the companies themselves makes it easier for hopeful writers to dismiss any niggling doubts.
Of course, the whole thing is a bait and switch. The clue is the “trusted literary firm” that can “furnish” the screenplay that the writer undoubtedly doesn’t have. After some back and forth, the writer receives this:
“Trusted literary firm” TransMedia Agency*–aka the scammer that’s running the whole scheme–has what’s essentially a placeholder website, providing just enough web presence to deflect the suspicion that might arise if it had no website, but containing virtually no meaningful content. The ungrammatical text and generic, unverifiable “about us” information are both major warning signs.
The writer also receives a “Screenplay Agreement Form” with a lot of legalistic mumbo jumbo about warranties, security, limitation of liability, blah blah blah. It’s all window dressing for this:
So TransMedia is guaranteed to get at least $5,000 even if it never actually delivers the screenplay, and even if the writer smells a rat and doesn’t hand over the installment payments. Not a bad payday for sending out a few emails and a fake contract.
As is the case for many scammers, TransMedia’s Illinois address is a virtual office. Its LLC is registered in the name of Colin Carroll of 1063 Inverness Drive in Antioch, IL; most likely Mr. Carroll is just a beard, and TransMedia is really operating out of the Philippines. I would also guess that Roth/Kirshenbaum and Bluegrass Films aren’t the only real companies that TransMedia is impersonating.
Remember, writers: REPUTABLE FILM COMPANIES DO NOT OPERATE THIS WAY. They don’t contact you out of the blue. They don’t refer you for paid services. You’re safest if you treat ANY unasked-for solicitation as a potential scam.
* Not to be confused with this Transmedia Agency.
UPDATE 9/6/21: TransMedia is also soliciting in the name of Todd Phillips Productions. Much of the language is identical to the two solicitations above; note the addition of some fulsome flattery.
UPDATE 10/26/21: This fake production company solicitation was sent out by New Leaf Media LLC, posing as producer David Ellison. It’s word for word identical to the Todd Phillips one above, sent out by TransMedia Agency. The writer was referred back to New Leaf Media to get their screenplay written, to the tune of several thousand dollars.
UPDATE 1/30/22: This scam is now soliciting as Roy Lee of Vertigo Entertainment.
UPDATE 2/21/22: Adding Brian Burk of Bad Robot to the list.
UPDATE 5/3/22: The scam is still impersonating film people, and the basic pitch is the same (we love your work and want to collaborate but you have to send us something first, and if you don’t have it we can tell you where to buy it). In this iteration, it’s asking for a “cinematic trailer” rather than a screenplay, but the basic pitch is the same (see the last paragraph). So far I’ve seen identical solicitations from “Mel Gibson at Icon Productions” and “Mike Hopkins at Amazon Studios.”
UPDATE 5/29/22: Additional names used by this scam in emails I’ve seen recently: Atlas Entertainment, Neil Marshall Productions.
UPDATE 12/30/22: The latest solicitations from this scam impersonate Steven Spielberg and Dreamworks.
UPDATE 3/4/23: Add Matt Tolmach Productions to the impersonation list.
Beginning in June 2022, someone from Matt Tolmach kept leaving voicemails saying that they were interested in my book and wanted a script. Finally, I talked to a Chloe Young, head of the acquisition team, and she gave me detailed info, claiming that my book made it to the top 10 list after being culled from 200 other titles. How they found this book, buried under millions of others, is beyond me. I get scam calls every week from different companies wanting to market my book, but it’s always the same one, a title that I was going to have a less than reputable firm publish (I smelled a rat and changed my mind at the last minute). Anyway, I kept in contact via phone and email with Chloe. I Googled her 800 number and found that it was in the same locale as Matt Tolmach studios. One day, she suggested that I might hire one of their screenwriters for $30,000. I could put up half and they would pay the rest I said no and she basically said no problem, just find an experienced trustworthy person to do the script. I did just that and paid the gentleman, who was a seasoned screenwriter, a nominal fee (a fee I could live with). She continued working with me until the holidays. That’s when I submitted my script (there was a January deadline). I didn’t hear from her until two weeks later and she said that she was no longer on the acquisition team and apologized for not answering sooner. Chloe had told me in November that they would probably select two scripts from a field of eight (two had dropped out). On March 31, they were supposed to announce the winners. Well, March 31 came and I received no notification. I sent emails and made phone calls but to no avail. Then I discovered this site I knew I had been had. But it was a weird and pointless scam. I didn’t lose that much and the scammers got nothing. I was left with a nice script that I might submit in the future to an agent. Basically, easy come, easy go. If these people prey on self-published authors, which seems to be the case, they’re fishing in the wrong stream. Most of these folks, like myself, aren’t that well-off and certainly can’t put up $15,000 or anywhere near that.
I had someone emailed me posing to be from Blum house and a month later someone emailed me posing to be from Columbia pictures. I left my number for the person to call me. The person had no idea of any of the names of my books so how did you know of my book then. They said someone had brought it to their attention. Sounded fake right there. So I didn’t entertained it at all. But a month later someone emailed me supposedly be from Columbia Pictures but now this person knew my book and was telling me how they think it could be turned into a movie or a Netflix film but I realize after asking the person their name it was the same person posing for both companies. He told me his name which is supposedly be “Marcus Miller,”. Mr. Miller gave me his phone number for me to call him after I decided on what decision I wanted to make. His number was a cell phone number. I asked him how come he doesn’t have a regular landline from a company with an extension for me to reach him. He couldn’t give me a reason. I also noticed his email which had a “gmail.com” after it, which of course was a personal email but definitely not a actual film company email. I contacted my publisher company, and forward the email to her and she told me it was a scam. She informed me that no film production company can go directly through me without going through them first. A real company will contact them and they would contact me. Please be aware of these scammers. They sound so professional and legit when talking to them. Just like myself and other authors, we get extremely excited when reading these emails and receiving these phone calls but they are a scam. Believe me everyone, when it’s our time to shine, we will shine and it will be the real thing, and not someone trying to scam us out of our hard earn money. So sad that people do this kind of thing.
Yes, they do sound professional and legit. What threw me for a curve was that Chloe wasn’t that concerned when I declined the offer for a Hollywood screenwriter. She continued the charade for three more months, telling me to keep her updated on my script. Why? Most scammers have a sense of urgency. Not this one. I suspect this is all a large operation but I also suspect they are failing. Who can put up thousands for a script. Nobody unless they are filthy rich with money to burn.
My wife, Christine Chatterton, just got an offer from Icon Productions. They mentioned her book by name, and said they needed a cinematic trailer.
It sounds like that “offer” is identical to the one in my 5/3/22 update.
I received a letter eerily similar to John’s mentioned above. But it was from Michael Deluca Productions. The difference was that initially they suggested I get a screenplay from the WGA or if I chose, a freelancer, but it had to meet industry standard. I unfortunately did shell out some money but not nearly the amount mentioned above. However, unlike the others, I did receive a screenplay and a press release. I’m sure I got scammed but at the very least they seemed to put an awful lot of effort into it, returned phone calls and emails promptly. But the initial email was nearly verbatim to one above.
I’m sure it was the same scam–they use a variety of producers’ names.
As to actually getting the screenplays, I’ve heard from a writer who was approached by a scammer to produce a screenplay (for an insultingly tiny amount of pay), as well as a handful of people who did get the screenplays they paid for. In all cases, however, they felt it was a seriously substandard effort–in some cases just pasting dialog from the book into screenplay format.
I’ve also heard from a number of people who never got anything (including a refund). So it’s a crap shoot–and even if you get something, it won’t be worth the money.
On 5/26/22, I received the email below from firstname.lastname@example.org. I sent them a PDF of the script but haven’t heard from them? Is this a scam?
Dear John Likides,
21-Laps Entertainment proudly announces that your published material (ATHANASIA: Humanity across the Multiverse) made it to our Preliminary screening stage out of 250 archived selections after a rigorous evaluation process done by our board of evaluators. Bravo!
You are right on track to move forward to our final screening stage; therefore, we would like to invite you to submit your screenplay. We would like to check your material (script/screenplay) and see if we can work together in creating a film adaptation, TV series or movie series project for the years -2022-2023 based on your published material.
Here are the guidelines:
• The screenplay must be written by a distinguished screenwriter
• Must be completed in 3 months
• PDF/Word format of your screenplay
In the event that you don’t have a screenplay available, we would want to show our support by forwarding your information to any of our trusted firms who can meet the guidelines we have set as well as meet the conditions of our timetable as long as we have your approval to share your contact details and book title to them.
During the final screening stage, our board of evaluators, movie critics and executives will stringently go through each script to assess its praiseworthy aspects and opportunities making sure that there are no biased judgments made. Details about procurement of a contract follows after the final screening stage.
The work and talent you have put into your material deserve a spot on the silver screen and we have every intention to work with you to see the success of this movie project.
All the best,
10201 W. Pico Blvd., Bldg. 41, Ste. 400
Los Angeles, CA 90064
The content of this email is confidential and intended for the recipient specified in the message only. It is strictly forbidden to share any part of this message with any third party, without the written consent of the sender. If you received this message by mistake, please reply to this message and follow with its deletion, so that we can ensure such a mistake does not occur in the future.
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21 Laps Entertaintment is a real company, but reputable companies don’t solicit out of the blue, and this isn’t how film rights are sold or screenplays are acquired. Given how similar this solicitation is to the ones mentioned in my post, my guess is that this is the same scam, just impersonating a different film company.
Received the sameTodd Phillips Production crap this afternoon. Immediately headed to his blogger.
I received the same "form" email from Todd Phillips Production and after I sent an inquiry response, a James Russell called me. He was very professional and said my book had been sent to them by Balboa Press (who had republished it) and was in their archives and that I was one of 13 out of 800 books they had reviewed. He had done his homework and was even on my website as we spoke referring to some of the features of the website. He asked if I had a screenplay and if I didn't he could refer me to agencies that write screenplays and they would pay half of the fees. I asked him to email me a list. He said he'd see if any were available to fit their time constraints and he'd have them call me. Same day, TMA called me – Laura was very informative, professional and believable – B. Johnson, who she said worked on "The Joker" screenplay would be working with me etc. My half of the $20,000 fee would be $10,000 and payments were possible. I didn't have that kind of money and asked her to email me more information. I did not get an email and when I tried texting the number I also got no response. Calling went to a voice mail.
I am so glad I found this Scam Alert site and read your information. How do we report them and get people to stop preying on self-published authors like myself who love to write, believe in our books, want our work seen on the big screen and are just trying to make a living as an artist? Thank you for your alert.
Thanks for the alert. They used the Todd Phillips Organization on me. You have to do the hard week. Send out to literary agents or movie agents. There are no shortcuts.
Film companies absolutely do not operate this way.
Anytime an unsolicited email leads to asking for money, it's a scam.
Good grief, does it never end?