It’s the dream of many teenagers: to be lifted from obscurity and transformed into a sparkling young Disney star – the next Selena Gomez, Hilary Duff or Zac Efron.
Earlier this month, it looked like Perth’s junior theater talent pool was being given just such an opportunity, with parents in Western Australia’s capital bombarded on Facebook in a campaign asking: “Your child dreams- to be a YouTuber or on Disney+? Children aged 4-18 will audition for TV shows in Perth.
The campaign, launched by an American streaming service called Premiere+, attracted hundreds of parents and their young hopefuls, who lined up at the Ritz Carlton in Perth on Saturday June 11. Parents were told that if their child received a reminder, they would be required to return the following day.
But the event had no connection to the Disney organization, and angry parents say organizers offered to charge up to US$15,000 ($21,700 Australian) for children who successfully auditioned to appear in a US-only streaming show.
Hannah Moore’s nine-year-old daughter was thrilled to get an encore, even though her audition on Saturday only lasted a few minutes and involved memorizing just two lines of dialogue.
The man who appeared to be leading the auditions identified himself as an executive producer of Premiere+, the parents said.
On Sunday, the crowd of excited parents and children returning to the Ritz Carlton for encores seemed to be almost as large as the crowd on Saturday.
But many, including Moore and her daughter, ultimately did not participate. Upon arrival, parents received an information sheet setting out a schedule of fees they would be required to pay, depending on the level of role they wanted their child to play.
Fees 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).
The parents said they were told that if their child “passes” the second round of auditions, payment at least in part would be expected on the spot. Payment plans were offered to families who could not pay the full amount up front.
“When I received this piece of paper [the schedule of fees] and watched it properly with my husband, we actually had a giggle,” Moore said.
“I mean, they wanted us to pay them money to have my daughter in some kind of movie? We weren’t going to pay four thousand for 10 lines. We knew at that time, well, we thought not.
“I guess I ‘bought’ it in the beginning because it had the same style of writing and design in its ads as one of those streaming platforms, like a Stan or a Disney+ or a 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 “precious credits” – their names appearing in the opening credits or closing of the show.
Premiere’s website states of its casting process: “Each actor appearing in a Premiere+ production [receives] an acting credit on IMDb to recognize [sic] their participation. With many of our shows popular in over 100 countries, this gives the cast of our shows a pretty large fan base.
Jenne Alonso took her 10-year-old daughter Camille to the auditions.
“There were hundreds of parents and children queuing, but it was pretty well organized – we didn’t have to wait long,” she told the Guardian.
“Camille had two lines to memorize, we entered a room with lots of other families, we called her, she did her audition with a man with an American accent. It took all 10 seconds, honestly. I mean, how can you assess a child’s abilities in 10 seconds? »
When they got home, Alonso’s Facebook feed was already abuzz with skeptical parents also in attendance. By the next day, bewilderment had turned to anger, with copies of Premiere+ material circulating on social media.
“It would have been very expensive to rent the Ritz Carlton, but that made it so legit,” she said.
Disney distances itself
Premiere claims on its website that its subscribers “resident in over 100 countries around the world”, but the streaming service does not appear to be available outside of the United States.
The website makes several references to Disney, without explicitly stating that it has any formal affiliation with the organization.
“We prepare our artists from the time they sign up until they witness production at Walt Disney World,” the website claims.
Elsewhere he states, “Premiere has filmed productions at Disney since 2010.”
Photos on the website show young Disney stars such as Paris Berelc (Mighty Med and Lab Rats) and Peyton List (Jessie) making appearances at seminars hosted by Premiere+. These Disney actors don’t appear in any shows made by Premiere+, which appears to consist of three low-budget productions – Go Iguanas!, Fun World and Schtick With Us.
The productions appear to consist of a large cast of children and a handful of adult actors – including Premiere founder and chief executive Michael David Palance – who alternate roles between the three shows.
Disney Casting Australia told the Guardian it had no connection to the Perth or Premiere+ auditions.
“The auditions and advertised production processes for child talent handled by ‘Premiere’ are in no way related to, or endorsed by, The Walt Disney Company,” it said in a statement.
This isn’t the first time Disney has had to distance itself from Premiere+.
In 2016, the company arrived in Melbourne with adverts saying, “Does your child dream of becoming a Disney Channel star? We are coming to Melbourne!
After the parents complained, Disney told online publication MamaMia: “Recent children’s talent auditions which have been announced to be taking place across Australia are in no way associated with or endorsed by the Walt Disney Company. Company or Disney Channel.”
Palance has been the subject of complaints in the past.
According to a 2012 Los Angeles Times investigation, a former Palance-owned company, New York Studio — doing business as “The” and “Event” — agreed in 2009 (without admission of wrongdoing) in a Connecticut court to pay US$25,000 to settle a lawsuit against the company following complaints from nearly 350 families about allegedly fraudulent hearings.
He was referring to auditions advertised as taking place at ‘Walt Disney World’ but which took place at the Swan and Dolphin Hotel, which is in the 11,000 acre theme park but is not owned by Disney. .
A father, Bruce Prieur, described to the newspaper how his two children attended a mass audition in Dallas hosted by ‘The’ and was told his children had ‘qualified to compete’ in a bigger competition /window display at Walt Disney World.
He paid US$10,000 for a week of workshops hosted by “The” at the Orlando resort, airfare, hotel accommodations, and photography, but the company-promised presentations to ” talent scouts” never materialized.
Walt Disney World told the LA Times at press time that the auditions had nothing to do with the Disney Company.
“Disney has no business relationship with ‘The’ and does not evaluate talent at these events,” he 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, although it did not call it a “scam”.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Gary Newcombe said in a statement: “We have reviewed the website and the content available and have assessed that the event is not a scam.
“However, Consumer Protection has concerns regarding this event and the representations made by Premiere Disney Casting to potential customers.
“Consumer Protection will investigate this matter.”
A spokesperson for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance said legislation in New South Wales and Queensland prohibits charging for access to auditions or other acting opportunities, but there is no had no such laws in Western Australia or Victoria.
Moore told the Guardian that she had been 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, Premiere+’s website was no longer accessible.
Moore said she thinks her family may have avoided a costly mistake, but it was nonetheless heartbreaking to explain to her nine-year-old why they wouldn’t pursue the “Disney” opportunity.
“She didn’t understand why and I just had to explain to her that it actually wasn’t real…it was a tough lesson in resilience, but she’s moved on now.”