It’s the dream of many a tween: to be plucked from obscurity and transformed into a brilliant young Disney star: the next Selena Gomez, Hilary Duff, or Zac Efron.
Earlier this month, it seemed Perth’s youth theatrical talent pool was being offered just such an opportunity, with parents in Western Australia’s capital bombarded on Facebook in a campaign asking, “Does your child dream of being a YouTuber? or be on Disney+? Children from 4 to 18 years old will audition for television shows in Perth.”
The campaign, launched by a US streaming service called Premiere+, attracted hundreds of parents and their hopeful children, who queued at Perth’s Ritz Carlton on Saturday June 11. Parents were told that if their child received a callback, they would be asked to return the following day.
But the event had no connection to the Disney organization, and upset parents say the organizers proposed charging up to US$15,000 ($21,700 Australian) to children who successfully auditioned to appear on a US-only broadcast show.
Hannah Moore’s nine-year-old daughter was thrilled to get a callback, even though her audition on Saturday lasted just a few minutes and involved memorizing just two lines of dialogue.
The man who appeared to be conducting the auditions identified himself as an executive producer for Premiere+, the parents said.
On Sunday, the crowd of excited parents and children returning to the Ritz Carlton for a call back seemed to be almost as big as the crowd on Saturday.
But many, including Moore and her daughter, did not end up participating. Upon arrival, parents were given an information sheet that set out a schedule of fees to be paid, based on the level of function they wished to secure for their child.
Rates ranged from US$3,000 (AU$4,300) for 10 lines in an episode of a US-only streaming show called Go Iguanas!, to US$15,000 for a “lead role” (50 lines or more). plus).
The parents said they were told that if their son “passed” the second round of auditions, payment, at least in part, would be expected on the spot. Payment plans were offered for families unable to pay the full amount up front.
“When I got that role [the schedule of fees] and I watched it properly with my husband, we actually laughed it off,” Moore said.
“I mean, did they want us to pay them money for my daughter to be in some kind of movie? We weren’t going to pay four grand for 10 lines. We knew at the time, well, we thought not.
“I guess I ‘bought’ it at first because it had a similar style of writing and design in its ads as one of those streaming platforms, like Stan, Disney+, or Netflix.”
When Moore asked an organizer what payment a child would expect to receive for appearing in a production, he was told that cast members received “valuable credits”: their name appears in the opening or closing credits of the show.
Premiere’s website says of their casting procedure: “Each actor who appears in a Premiere+ production [receives] an acting credit on IMDb to acknowledge [sic] your participation. With many of our shows popular in over 100 countries, it gives the actors on our shows a huge fan base.”
Jenne Alonso brought her 10-year-old daughter Camille to the auditions.
“There were hundreds of parents and children queuing but it was all very well organised, we didn’t have to wait long,” she told The Guardian.
“Camille was given two lines to memorize, we walked into a room with loads of other families, they called her name, she auditioned with a man with an American accent. She took all 10 seconds, honestly. I mean, how can you assess any child’s ability in 10 seconds?”
When they returned home, Alonso’s Facebook feed was already full of skeptical parents who had also attended. The next day, bewilderment turned to anger, with copies of the Premiere+ footage circulating on social media.
“It would have been very expensive to rent the Ritz Carlton, but that made it look so legit,” he said.
Disney walks away
Premiere claims on its website that its subscribers “reside in over 100 countries around the world,” but the streaming service doesn’t appear to be available outside of the US.
The website makes several references to Disney, without explicitly stating that it has a formal affiliation with the organization.
“We groom our performers from the time they sign on to the time they attend production at Walt Disney World,” the website states.
Elsewhere, it says, “Premiere has filmed productions at Disney since 2010.”
Photos on the website show young Disney stars like Paris Berelc (Mighty Med and Lab Rats) and Peyton List (Jessie) making guest appearances at seminars hosted by Premiere+. These Disney actors do not appear in any show made by Premiere+, which appears to consist of three low-budget productions: Come on iguanas!, funny world Y Play with us.
The productions seem to consist of a large cast of children and a handful of adult actors: including Premiere founder and CEO, Michael David Palance – who alternate roles between the three shows.
Disney Casting Australia told The Guardian that it had no connection to the Perth or Premiere+ auditions.
“The announced child talent auditions and production processes conducted by ‘Premiere’ are in no way related to, or endorsed by, the Walt Disney Company”, he said in a statement.
It is not the first time that Disney has had to distance itself from Premiere +.
In 2016, the company came to Melbourne with ads that read: “Does your child dream of becoming a Disney Channel star? Let’s go to Melbourne!”
After parents complained, Disney he told the online publication MamaMia: “The recent children’s talent auditions that have been announced as being held in Australia are in no way associated with or endorsed by the Walt Disney Company or the Disney Channel.”
Balance has been the subject of complaints in the past.
according to a Los Angeles Times investigation in 2012A former Palance-owned company, New York Studio, trading under the names “The” and “Event,” agreed in 2009 (without admitting wrongdoing) in a Connecticut court to pay $25,000 to settle the action against the company after the complaints of almost 350 families for allegedly fraudulent auditions.
He was referring to auditions advertised as being held at “Walt Disney World,” but which were held at the Swan and Dolphin hotel, which is located inside the 25,000-acre theme park but is not owned by Disney.
One parent, Bruce Prieur, described to the newspaper how his two children attended a massive audition in Dallas hosted by “The,” and were told that their children had “qualified to participate” in a larger competition/exhibit at Walt Disney World. .
He paid $10,000 for a week of “The” workshops at the Orlando resort, airfare, hotel accommodations and photography, but the company’s promised introductions to “top talent scouts” never materialized.
Walt Disney World told the LA Times at the time of publication that the auditions had nothing to do with the Disney corporation.
“Disney has no business relationship with ‘The’ and does not screen talent at these events,” it said in a statement.
‘The event is not a scam’
The Western Australian government’s consumer protection agency said it would investigate the Perth event, though it did not classify it as a “scam”.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Gary Newcombe said in a statement: “We have reviewed the website and available content and have assessed that the event is not a scam.
“However, Consumer Protection has concerns about this event and the representations made by Premiere Disney Casting to potential clients.
“Consumer Protection will investigate this matter.”
A spokesman for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance said legislation in New South Wales and Queensland prohibited charging for access to auditions or other performance opportunities, but no such laws existed in Western Australia or Victoria.
Moore told The Guardian that he was informed by Premiere that the company was planning to start filming the new series of Go Iguanas! in Sydney in January, but no explanation was given as to why the company was auditioning in Perth.
An hour after Guardian Australia attempted to contact Premiere+ and Palance for comment, the Premiere+ website was no longer accessible.
Moore said she felt her family could have avoided a costly mistake, but it was heartbreaking nonetheless to explain to her 9-year-old son why they wouldn’t pursue the “Disney” opportunity.
“She couldn’t understand why and I just had to explain to her that it wasn’t really real…it was a tough lesson in resilience but now she’s moved on.”