Detailed follow-up to WARNING: Vancouver International Acting and Screenplay Contest

by Kenji Maeda on January 10, 2011

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UPDATE (Jan 11 2011 ) – In less that 24 hours since posting this article, the contest’s website was deleted. To view screenshots of the website click here.

At the end of November, we posted our initial article about the Vancouver International Acting and Screenplay Contest (www.vaninternationalactingcontest.com).  We posted up observations that we made about how they presented themselves on their website and promotional materials.

Since then we have received emails from people all over the world who have been in contact with contest representatives.  I was  personally contacted by the contest organizer just before Christmas in which I was threatened with a lawsuit against me and my company for defamation of their contest.  I have since been in email contact with the contest organizer, Melissa Anderson, and had a chance to talk on the phone with business associate, John Santorelli.

(Note: We have not been able to independently confirm the contest organizers’ identities.  Nor have we been able to confirm the identities and involvement in the contest with any of the listed judges.)

This article will highlight the information that I have been able to gather from various sources, the answers the organizers have provided me, and questions that still linger.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

As this is a very detailed article, I have split it up into sections and have provided a table of contents.

The Conclusion and Summary is conveniently the first topic but I encourage you to read the full article.

CONCLUSION AND SUMMARY

My role is to report the facts of my investigation. I provided opportunities for the contest organizers to answer the questions that I had. Melissa Anderson answered via email while her business associate John answered questions via a blocked phone number.  At the end of all this, many of their answers have been inconsistent.  Their testimonials have been inconsistent.  And they admit providing false information within their promotional materials.

In point form here are the Top 12 reasons why I would not recommend anyone to participate in this contest.

  1. Lie: They lied and told someone that I wrote my warning article because I had been fired as a judge for this contest. (Details)
  2. Technical Detail: They claim their first contest was in 2009 but their domain name was only created on Sep 22 2010. (Details)
  3. Privacy Concern: They were concerned enough to not provide me with their own phone number, yet they immediately gave me their finalists phone numbers without prior consent.
  4. Major Red Flag: After calling the numbers provided for five finalists, two of the three I talked to did not know anything about the contest or persons involved. (Details)
  5. Major Red Flag: One of the finalists told me via email that she had met with two judges, Lisa and Rishi.  During our phone conversation, she mentioned meeting with Lisa and Aaron. (Details)
  6. Misleading: In their promotional material they reported their winner had a Guest Appearance on NBC’s “Community”.  On the phone, it was clarified that it was one of the finalists, not the winner, but they did not have a guest appearance. Instead she was an extra in one episode. (Details)
  7. Major Red Flag: Both Melissa Anderson and John Santorelli have not been able to provide any reference or details that would allow me to independently confirm their identities.
  8. Major Red Flag: They list a Film Reviewer from Peak Magazine as a judge. Contest organizer, John Santorelli, clarified that it’s an SFU publication.  SFU reports that their publication is actually called The Peak, it is student run, and they do not provide titles (ie “Film reviewer”) to regular or sporadic writers. (Details)
  9. Major Red Flag: Contest organizer, Melissa claimed that they don’t have a record of any past media because “until a year ago peek [sic] magazine does not give archived copies of their articles.” The Peak confirmed that their publication is archived online. (Details)
  10. Questionable Business Practices: John said that all the contest judges had full access to the primary email address for this contest. That would be a total of approximately 6 people who had free range to check and reply to emails on behalf of the contest. I question why judges need access to the contest’s primary email.
  11. Questionable Claim: Melissa and John both claim a past judge had, without permission, posted dozens of promotional ads across the web, contacted people via facebook, and emailed others from their official email account, including the email that claimed that I (Kenji Maeda) had worked for the contest. (Details)
  12. Questionable Claim: Melissa claims that they could not provide names of past winners and finalists due to contractual reasons. I question how or why a contest would create a contract which would ultimately stop the ability to publicize their winners (isn’t that the whole point of the contest?) or their contest as a whole.

WHAT WE CAN LEARN FROM THIS?

Always do your research on any company or organizations that are asking you to part with your money. You should be very clear and comfortable about who the company is.  If you’re uncomfortable it’s best to stay away.

If you have questions or concerns about any business or contest geared toward actors that you see online, we’d like to hear from you. Email us at info@vancouveractorsguide.com.

Continue reading below to get into the details of our research.


PREVIOUS QUESTIONS

I want to acknowledge that since our warning article, the organizer has posted on their website names of 2 winners (acting and screenplay), 4 finalists, and 4 judges. They have now also included details about which talent agents they “plan to submit” the winner’s information to for a “chance at representation from some of North America’s top talent agencies.”  I looked into the names they released with details further in this article.

THEIR PITCH

If you saw this contest before reading our article, you likely either found them to have posted details on various websites like Craigslist or StarNow, or you might have been sent direct messages via YouTube or Facebook.  Messages similar to this:

My name is Kate Norah.  I am a talent agent for the biggest talent agency in the world, the CAA (Creative Artists Agency). This is the same talent agency that represents Will Smith, Halle Barry, and Brad Pitt.I have personally worked with people like Will Smith, James Cameron, Al Pacino, and Julia Roberts.

I have created the Vancouver International Acting and Screenplay Contest. It is an online acting contest that gives aspiring actors a chance to show their acting skills. The winner receives a 300 dollar prize and a guaranteed interview with a talent agent at CAA. […]

Last year we were featured in The Now newspaper and Mehfil magazine.

And the message/ad continues on. There are other ads and messages with a similar pitch but using the name Angel Greene, also claiming to be a Talent Agent from CAA (Creative Artists Agency).

One person on Facebook told us that she called CAA to check if there was an agent by the name of Angel Greene. When CAA confirmed there wasn’t, this person informed the rest of their facebook group for screenwriters about it.  Angel Greene replied back with:

It has come to my attention that you have complained about our screenplay contest.

I have sent emails and a link to your facebook page to all major talent agencies in America and will make sure that no talent agency in America will ever sign you.

The members of the screenplay group are old enough to think for themselves. No one is obligated to send us their screenplay. No other contest reveals who it is run by. If you had questions you could have contacted us.

Way to go.
Sincerely,
Angel Greene

– Back to Table of Contents

WAS KENJI INVOLVED IN THIS CONTEST?

I received a message from a person asking me if I had previously worked for the contest because they had sent my warning article to the contest organizer and got the following response:

Kenji Maeda who operates the vancouver actors guide was fired last year from us because he proclaimed to be a actor but with further research we realized that he has never acted in any feature films. Kenji was hired as a judge for us.

(click on the image below to see the original email)

I’ve never been a judge for them and I have never been involved in any way with them.

– Back to Table of Contents

THE LAWSUIT and EMAIL EXCHANGE

On Dec 21 2010, twenty three days after the first article, I received an email from their “info@” email address entitled “Lawsuit.”  I have included portions of our email exchange to give you an idea of what was discussed:

From Vancouver International Acting Contest (VIAC)

Dear Kenji Maeda,

We have sat back and watched you publish things about our company on your website, your facebook group, and your message board.
[…]
We are in the preliminary stages of a lawsuit towards the owner of Productionheads.com.
[…]
In return for deleting your postings about our acting contest on your website, facebook group, and message board, we will:
  • Answer any questions you may have about our contest to the best we can
  • Drop any litigation towards you and your company
  • Never post on your facebook group, or message board
  • And perhaps build a friendship with you. This may come as a surprise to you but we do not want to create any enemies and want to create some positive energy.
We are not asking you to edit your postings and say “nice” things about our company. Or create new postings saying “nice” things about our company. We are simply asking you to delete your postings.
We hope our discussions with you through our emails will help resolve any questions you may have and ultimately move forward with no ill feelings towards each other. We really do hope that this will turn out to be a positive occurrence.
Sincerely and with respect,
VIAC
Admin

From Kenji
I’m sorry, but you didn’t include your name in your email. Who are you?

Kenji Maeda
Production Heads Network Inc.

From VIAC
My name is Melissa Anderson. Are you willing to work with our proposal? We will reveal our judges, past winners and people involved in this contest and also elaborate on why we did not disclose this information.

From Kenji
Hi Melissa,

We won’t remove the article before you supply us with the information.  But if the information you provide is something we can confirm and shows that this is a legitimate contest in all its claims then we will absolutely write a retraction for any misinformation that was in the initial article.

Does that work for you?
Kenji

From VIAC
Sure. We ask that you remove the articles entirely if we provide you with the appropriate information. If you would like to write something nice about the contest that is up to you. Thank you for your cooperation.
[…]
The biggest mistake we made which we openly admit is without ego is that we did not post our winners. The reason for that was contract reasons. Now we are working to re-negotiate these contracts so we can release their names to the public.
[…]
Sincerley,
Mellisa

In this email she provided full names to all of the judges and finalists.

From Kenji
Hi Mellisa,
  1. Do you have a copy of the media coverage you received from last year that you can send me?
  2. What is your professional background? Do you have a resume or details about your previous experience or employment available?
  3. Do you have a phone number I can reach you at to discuss some of these things?
Kenji

From VIAC

  1. Unfortunately up until a year ago peek magazine does not give archived copies of their articles.
  2. Giving out my resume is kind of personal. I don’t see many owners of businesses give out their personal resumes. We were more than glad to disclose names and emails of judges and winners. I was a 1997 literature major at the University of Minnesota. I’m currently in the middle of a novel.
  3. The reason I would like to keep our conversations through email is so that We have some proof of our conversations. I hope you can understand where we’re coming from. I would like to include phone numbers of our winners though. This should absolutely be enough to provide some leverage for us as no one releases personal phone numbers of their contestants.
    (Note: Phone numbers for the one winner and four finalists in the acting category were included in this email.)

We hope that this can bring this to a conclusion. We sincerely wish you the best of the holiday season.

Mellisa

From Kenji
Hi Melissa,
I agree that we should have written confirmation of our conversation but I also believe that it will be easier and faster to sort things out if we had a phone conversation.  From there we can use email to confirm any details that we had talked about on the phone.  I won’t be available until Saturday evening or Sunday day to have a phone meeting so hopefully one of those days works for you.  This will be most beneficial for both of us to sort this out as soon as possible.
Kenji

From VIAC (Dec 30 2010)
As I have said we will need proof of our contact and that is why email serves best. I will be in Prince George for the next 10 days so if we do have a phone conversation it will probably be through our judges, but we will need you to give us an idea of what your concerns are through email. It seems that we have answered all your questions. We have updated our website and have addressed all the issues and questions you had on your website. At this time we consider this issue dealt with. If you have more questions we would be happy to answer them through email.
Sincerely,
Melissa

– Back to Table of Contents

EMAIL FROM ONE FINALIST

I received an email from one person who claimed to be a finalist from the last contest. Through the email exchange she mentioned meeting two of the judges, Lisa Peters and Rishi Brar — both are listed on their website as film studies phd students from UBC and SFU, respectively.  She also forwarded a copy of a reference letter she received from judge, Lisa Peters. (I later called this finalist on the phone. See below)

CALLING THE FINALISTS

On a privacy level, I was surprised that Melissa had declined to provide me with her phone number yet without asking she immediately gave me the phone numbers of last year’s finalists.  Given that new information, I proceeded to call the numbers that were provided.

Phone Number # 1 – The owner of the number was not the person listed as a finalist. Nor did they know anyone else on that list. And they confirmed that they have had that phone number for many years.

Phone Number # 2 – Same situation as #1. No knowledge of the names.

Phone Number # 3 – This number belong to a young woman who had previously emailed me (see above).  She again confirmed that she was a finalist of the contest and that she met two of the judges – Lisa Peters and Aaron Lee(*NOTE: This information is inconsistent with what she had mentioned to me in the previous email.)

Phone Number # 4 & 5 – I have not yet been able to talk to anyone from the remaining two numbers.

– Back to Table of Contents

BUSINESS ASSOCIATE ANSWERS QUESTIONS

I was quite insistent that I talk with Melissa Anderson, the organizer of the contest, however she never made herself available. She then connected me with her business partner, John Santorelli on the phone to provide an official response to many questions I had about the contest.

Were you involved in the contest last year?

I helped her (Melissa) out with the site last year and the same thing this year. I helped her out with setting up the accounts. As far as the creative control of the contest, that’s up to her.

When was the contest in 2009 held?

It started in August and the contest closed in mid-September and we announced the winner in October and handed out the letters to the winner and finalists.

Was the submission process in the first contest similar to this year?

The only difference is the entry fee was $10 and the grand prize was $150.

What do you consider the benefits for a finalist or winner of this contest?

For talent agents who accept submissions via email, I think it will give special attention to finalists and actors who get noticed through the spirit of competition. I think it sets people apart a little more. They might get noticed more.

What was the media coverage for last year?

We were briefly mentioned in Peak Magazine.

Where is Peak Magazine based?

It’s an SFU magazine. One of our judges works there. We had a connection with it.

Note: On the VIASC website, that judge is reported as a Film Reviewer. I emailed “Peak Magazine” at SFU. They informed me that:

“The Peak, is a collective based on contributor output from the SFU community [and] does not give out titles to regular or sporadic writers. […] Has he reviewed film for The Peak? Yes, he has, a few times. Is he our “film reviewer”? No, we don’t have one. They go on to mention that we are not ‘Peak Magazine’, we are ‘The Peak’, and are technically a ‘Student Newspaper’, as it says on the cover of every issue we print.” (Note: While the person may exist, I want to make it clear that we have not been able to confirm the participation and connection of this or any judge to this contest.)

What about Now Newspaper?

We were never featured in a newspaper and that information was spread by someone who is no longer involved with the contest.

Where have you been promoting this contest?

We mainly promote in-person. We’ll go to Kwantlen’s Theatre Arts department and hand out flyers. We think it’s more effective that way. Then people see who we are. We tried Craigslist last year but that didn’t work because it got flagged all the time. We tried Craigslist once this year and the same thing. We do it more in-person now.

If it’s all in-person, then why is the wording, “international” contest?

We want to make it worldwide. We want to reach out to people in Ireland and stuff because we had people last year that… we had contestants from Ireland. What we would do is give out flyers to the Arts Department at Kwantlen or any other place and they would send out advertisements for us and that really helped us.

The list of talent agencies that was recently posted up, I see that there are no Vancouver talent agencies listed.

The idea last year was to submit it to the Big 5 – WME, CAA, Paradigm, UTA, and others. That didn’t work out well because they only go after talent that is already well known. We want to [this year] market to local talent agencies to help local talent.

From that list of talent agents, there are none from Vancouver.

That’s right. That’s going to change too. Mel is looking into local talent agencies now. She’s in Ottawa at the moment, or somewhere stuck in an airport so we are still updating it.

Are you already connected or partnered with agencies?

We have no prior agreement with any agencies. We are actually going to do that after the contest is over and hopefully see what happens.

Who manages the emails that come from your official (info@ and submissions@) email addresses?

Before, it was everyone – all the judges and Melissa. But have recently made it only accessible by Melissa and myself.

I was forwarded an email from someone who received an email from your official info@ address. In that email it says that I had worked for the contest last year and was fired. This was in response to being asked about my warning article.

That email was sent by a person who was let go and previously had access to the emails.

Was it only this one person who was mis-representing your contest?

I think she had posted under various aliases online.

From the promotional material that I’ve seen, it mentions that the winner had a Guest Appearance in NBC’s “Community.”  Is that true?

One of our finalists was an extra in one of the episodes but we don’t take responsibility of her being in that show. She did that on her own.

But it does say “Guest Appearance” in your promotional materials.

Yeah, the wording is really wrong. What we should have wrote was “extra”.

Also mentioned in the promo material was that there would be a guaranteed interview with an agent at CAA, and that the judges would be professionals from the film industry who have worked on major productions.

Again, that was the person who was let go.

In the submission process details, it mentions that you can do a monologue from a silent film. Can you clarify that?

In the movie, Silence of the Lambs, the main actor has a silent role and he won an academy award.  So Mel was thinking that a person can do a Charlie Chaplin or Philip Seymour Hoffman where they just act.

This is the second year of your contest but records show that the domain name you have now was only created on September 22 2010. Were you using a different website url before that?

We were using a different hosting server. The actual name of the website, I think, was the same. It was just through a different website provider.

I looked into the details about domain registration and the standard is that the domain “Created on” date stays consistent if you switch hosting providers. The times when the creation date might be changed is when the domain registration expires and must be re-registered.

Instead of Melissa giving me her number, she gave me the numbers of the past finalists without being asked for them. I was a bit concerned about the privacy issue.

I told her that we should get consent from those finalists first. She never contacted them through phone but she did email them to say that she was going to reveal the numbers to one person, and that’s you. All the numbers are the ones that were provided to us and I don’t know if they belong to the contestants directly or a parent or friend.

I called the numbers and two of the numbers I called had no knowledge of the contestant names while also confirming they have been the owner of that phone number for many years.

Which numbers?

I am not revealing which numbers but two of the five I was provided had no knowledge.

Ok. I’ll let Mel know about that.

– Back to Table of Contents

Read our conclusion and summary at the top of this article.

Read our initial warning article or share your thoughts by posting in the comments below.

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