If a rash of solicitations over the past few months are to be believed, there’s a major rush down in Mexico to acquire film rights to books.
These virtually identical emails are, of course, laughably bogus–from the peculiar capitalizations, to the anonymous “Hollywood Movie Agents”, to the implausibility of these supposed directors bollixing up their own movie titles, to the unlikelihood of famous film folks personally soliciting authors via funny-looking Gmail accounts–but they have been briskly doing the rounds since this past summer, and I’ve collected quite a trove of them thanks to the many authors who’ve sent them to me.
Obviously a scam, in other words. But what’s the endgame?
Writers who respond to their “Mexican Film Director” receive a long spiel about turning books into movies, in which the Director claims that the writer’s book is in his “top 5”, and promises a “guaranteed film” with a huge budget and “advance royalties” to the tune of “$400K – $2M”.
Just one thing is needed for all this to happen: a screenplay! Does the author have one on hand? If not (or if they do and it inevitably fails to meet Hollywood’s exacting standards), the Director is happy to provide a referral to a “movie investor” who will foot 70% of the cost of creating one.
(Charlie McDowell, by the way, is another well-known film director. In what appears to be an earlier, nationality-neutral iteration of the scam, his name is used in solicitation emails identical to the ones above.)
Here’s The Spotlight Media Productions. Its homepage is plastered with Netflix content scraped from other websites, and things go downhill from there, with a false origin story (the claimed 2002 founding date is belied by a web domain that as of this writing is just 125 days old), a page of sad-looking current projects that are all “coming soon” (and are definitely not Netflix), and fake testimonials with the names of real authors attached. Impressive! If perhaps not in the way intended.
If you’re not put off by all of that and make the call, The Spotlight Media Productions will promptly send you a welcome email.
The email includes two attachments: a Movie Project Screenplay Service Agreement (see it here) and a Movie (Film) Non-Disclosure Agreement (see it here). The Service Agreement reveals the hit to your bank account:
And what you get for the money:
But wait. A screenplay, yes; the other stuff, very nice–but “submission to Film Production Companies”? Your Director promised you a “guaranteed film”, not a bunch of screenplay submissions! Hang on, though. Maybe everything’s okay, because the Non-Disclosure Agreement definitely comes from Netflix–well, at least the logos do–and even though you haven’t gotten a contract yet, it definitely says that there’s going to be a film of your book:
It’s even signed by your Director!
Note all the confidentiality/non-disclosure language in this crude document. It’s followed, on page 2, by an Indemnity clause that threatens legal action for “any use or disclosure of Confidential Information”. A similar notice appears at the bottom of every page of the Service Agreement, claiming that sharing that document “may constitute criminal lawsuit” [sic] . The scammers really, really don’t want their marks to pass these documents on to people like me.
I can imagine what my readers are thinking right now. Who on earth would fall for something so transparently, painfully bogus? But if it didn’t work, the fraudsters wouldn’t keep doing it. Like the Nigerian prince scams, they only need a small percentage of people to respond in order to make a killing. None of the many writers who’ve shared “Mexican Film Director” solicitations and documents with me have handed over $33,000…but without a doubt, there are those who have.
Remember: other than a fee for a service you shouldn’t have to pay for, out-of-the-blue solicitation is the number one sign of a scam these days–especially if it seems too good, or too outlandish, to be true.
POSTSCRIPT: What about “Brullen Excel Film Production”, whose logo appears on the Service Agreement alongside The Spotlight Media’s?
Google can find no such company, but there is a Brullen Excel, a “website design, SEO, and digital marketing” enterprise with a cheesy website and content that links it to another scam, Vellumme Innovations, which also does business as Impact Media Press & Publishing (you can see how convoluted these operations can be). It’s a reasonable guess that Spotlight Media is run by the same people, but apart from the cohabiting logos, I don’t have independent evidence of that at this point.
UPDATE 1/11/23: Diego Luna has been added to the list.