Directors impersonated by this scam:
Guillermo del Toro
Company names associated with this scam:
The Spotlight Media Productions
Above the Line Film and Media Productions
Blue Screen Production
The FilmHouse Production
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 (not to be confused with Spotlight Media Productions AG, a real production company in Germany–though confusion is certainly the intention). 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.
UPDATE 7/25/23: The scam is also impersonating filmmaker Carlos Bolado, and has added a new “production company”: Blue Screen Production. In keeping with the generally slipshod nature of this scam, check out Blue Screen’s Projects page, which not only duplicates the content of the other two “production companies”, but their errors as well.
UPDATE 9/4/23: A new “production company” has been added: The FilmHouse Production. It has the same obsession with Netflix. The About page has been re-worded, but is basically the same as the others, and the Testimonials page features the same bogus quotes…but oops, they slipped up:
UPDATE 10/10/23: I’m reprinting this recent comment, which gives a good overview of how this scam entices and entraps writers, and pushes them to pay huge fees.
It all started around September 2022 when I started getting E mails from Amat Escalante, saying my book…had reached his desk and qualified for international film. This was exciting since it is my biggest dream to have my book become a movie. I had also been to pitchfest in 2020 so I believed my book could have hit his desk.
I emailed back saying I didn’t have a screenplay yet for that particular book, but I would find a way to provide one. Then I started getting calls from Spotlight Media, saying they would provide a screenplay and “movie investors” would front 70 percent. And this would only cost $33,000. I even received a non-disclosure letter from Netflix, which looked like my book was definitely going to be a movie. Even signed by Amat Escalante himself! I seriously considered this, since I know screenplays can be costly.
Then I started getting calls from a UK number from Amat Escalante himself. He said he wanted to make sure Spotlight Media was doing what he had asked them to do. In the end, I said 33k was way too much and I found a cheaper way to provide one. I told Amat I would send it over when it was done. He seemed disappointed, but agreed.
So 6 months went by until the screenplay was done, and I e-mailed it over to him. I got a phone call from “Amat” saying he sent my screenplay to a company for review, and it was good, just needed a little tweaking. But now we just needed to provide a cinematic trailer. He wanted me to work with Above The Line Media Production, and said movie investors would be fronting a large amount. He said he wanted to make it so I paid nothing. But when I spoke to Above the Line they said movie investors would front 50 percent. My obligation was just 17k. But I had come so far, and the thought of my book being a movie was so overwhelming I went with them. They were able to arrange a payment plan so I thought that could work.
Well, there was little communication, although I did receive an E mail with the press release which was supposed to go to many production companies. Also a poor quality screenplay or part of one even though this wasn’t part of the deal since I already provided one. This confused me, since I thought this was already a guaranteed movie. I also did another book video through the same company I had used for my screenplay since I wanted to compare. Anyway, when I finally got the book trailers back, the one I provided, which I paid less than 2k was much better quality than the one I was supposed to pay 17k to Above the Line Media.
Anyway, I finally read this post on writer beware, when I had already wired over half of what I owed, and they kept switching where the money should be wired which was a huge red flag! Amat was still trying to contact me, and I told him great, if we can meet in person, or at the very least face time or zoom call so I could see it was really him! I doubt I will ever hear from “Amat” again or get any money back since it was wired over.