NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Scam Artists Part 1 – The Studio That’s Not a Studio

After years as a development executive, Manny Fonseca is now on the other side of the table as a full-time writer and Podcaster. Now living the life of a writer, Manny is navigating a whole different side of Hollywood. You can follow him on Twitter: @mannyfonseca

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Before I launch into these next couple of stories (which will span a few different columns) I should preference a few things. First, and foremost, the legal shit. These stories are mine and mine alone and the opinions (i.e. “allegations”) do not reflect on Script Magazine and its employees. I just wanted to say this because the individuals in question are quite litigious.

Trust me. I’ve gotten letters from lawyers in the past.

Second, while I will be changing the names, half of the parties I will be speaking of are still scamming, *COUGH* I meant “working,” in Hollywood.

The other half have left Hollywood somewhat disgraced and are scamming a whole NEW well of suckers… dammit, I mean people.

Thirdly, Some of what I’m going to talk about I’ve spoken about publicly on our podcast _Breakin’ In!_ but I’ve never shared the complete story of the aftermath. As for everything else, I’ve never publicly spoken about the sheer amount of bullshit we (yes, WE) went through.

Lastly, I want to give you fair warning. While I’ve never shied away from borrowing words from George Carlin’s list of the seven words you can’t say on television, believe it or not I’ve been rather restrained. Mostly because those stories are funny and I find my colorful language vibes with my humor.

Not so in these stories. They’re not funny at all and tend to piss me off thinking about them so expect my language to be a little rougher during the course of these stories.

You have been warned.

I-Told-You-So

MEET VIOLA VON SHITSTAIN

Ironically, this story starts where so many do: At a pitchfest.

There was a writer acquaintance of mine who I had met through the pitchfests. She had been an avid reader of my “other column” and sought me out at one of the many pitchfests we both attended.

She was, what I affectionately called, a pitchfest groupie. Like Phish fans to the flame, pitchfest groupies would attend EVERY pitchfest known to humanity. During the pitchfest season in Hollywood, you could run into the lot of them. Some traveling in a literal RV from pitchfest to pitchfest. (No joke… they were an odd couple and well known.)

Through the pitchfests, I got to know her as much as one can at these events. At one particular pitchfest in the heart of Hollywood, she introduced me to her Manager: Viola Von Shitstain.

At the time, it was my personal goal at these events to land a manager or agent, so I was always happy to shake hands with either. Even better when I’m introduced to them by a client. That’s an automatic in.

No surprise that when she found out I worked for Cobra Commander, she shared HER interaction with the leathered one. Of course, because she was a woman, her Cobra Commander story involved inappropriate sexual conversation.

We chatted for a few minutes, exchanged pleasantries and went about our day. She was there hearing pitches as well. Eventually we friended each other on Facebook and had planned to meet for lunch, but our schedules never lined up so that was that.

Script EXTRA: Alternate Routes – Long-Distance Networking 

BLAME THE L.A. TIMES

All of the bullshit started from a snarky comment on Facebook. Yeah, I know…go figure, right? Those who follow me on Twitter know what’s up.

Anyway, in 2013 a small article appeared on the L.A. Times website and started making its way around social media. It was about a writer who had gotten involved with some “shady people” in Hollywood and got royally screwed over.

Someone, who is fairly well respected in Hollywood, had posted it on THIER timeline with a “screenwriter’s beware!” message. Obviously, given my profession, how could I not click on that!?

As I’m reading the article, which focused on a specific “company,” it eventually gets around to NAMING the CEO of said “company:” Viola Von Shitstain!

“Oh my God! I know this person!” As much as one can know someone via Facebook and in Hollywood in general. Frankly, it pissed me off, so as I do, I posted the article and left a snarky remark on my Facebook page:

FaceBook post

BAD TIMING

It should be fair to note that I was also somewhat embroiled with the scam perpetuated by the “other party” so I may have been a little harsher than I would have normally.

HA! Okay, who am I kidding? I think we all know I would have still ripped them to shit. Back then, it never even dawned on me that it would ever get back to Viola. Even though I was “published” and saw numbers on our podcast, I was still in the world of “Eh, who reads anything I write?”

It didn’t help that I sent a link to the article to the screenwriting acquaintance with a “Hey man, your manager’s in the news… what the fuck?” message.

It just so happened, that after a very long conversation with Cheryl, we were finally going to sit down and talk about our dealings with Jon Jonzz on the podcast. He’s the other party in question and the “producer” that got me involved in pitchfests that I’ve mentioned before.

I was on the subway, on my way down to Cheryl’s to record the podcast, when my phone started blowing’ up!

Shocker. Viola had seen my snarky post and she wasn’t too happy with me.

DON’T PISS OFF CHERYL

I’ve had a lot off shit said about me in my life, both to my face and behind my back. While it still hurts my feelings when someone calls me a name or talks shit about me, I pretty much just shake it off or chuckle.

Point is, I have a tough skin. At least that’s what I tell myself… and anyone that will listen.

Cheryl on the other hand… while she gives zero fucks about what’s said about her, she does pop out the claws when someone goes after someone she cares about.

I.e. Me.

Don't

Even though it was OUR podcast, I was still sort of the public face of the podcast and Viola wanted blood.

Unfortunately, I can’t find the messages where she started attacking me, but I do have the very last one she sent me which really got Cheryl’s crank going…

Manny please send me your email and address so that our Attorney can contact you and give you the information as there is evidence of defamation, falsehood and fraud from the parties named in the article and the Magazine per se. He will respond to you accordingly.

That’s when Cheryl got to work.

Script EXTRA: Liar, Liar, Career on Fire 

THE SIMPLE POWER OF GOOGLE

Within an hour, Cheryl dug deep into the company’s past. Apparently there had been several companies in their names. In fact, it seemed as if they changed names about every four years. It would be later that we discovered they were declaring bankruptcy, killing the company and starting a new one to avoid lawsuits.

We also discovered that not only was the guy in the L.A. Times article not the only one that had been screwed over, he also got off pretty easy… he only lost about $7,000 to them. Others had lost upwards into the $50,000 dollar range.

There had been message boards up the waazoo of people sharing their stories about how Shitstain Films had been screwing people over for decades. More on how we know this in a minute, but first…

THE SCAM

It’s relatively simple and, sadly, pretty legal. Come with me and let me learn you.

Let’s say you’re a screenwriter who wants to meet a manager and see your words on the big screen. Not too hard, right?

Enter Viola Von Shitstain who loves your work and can help get your movie made… because! What a shock, she’s also a producer!

SIDENOTE: Agents can NOT be producers on films because it’s against the rules. They have to actually be licensed as an agent. Managers CAN be a producer on your project, but there is no requirement to be a manager. Your dog can be your manager. Or your mom. As so many are.

Okay, so now you have a manager. Viola Von Shitstorm. You also have a production company that “is developing” your script.

BONUS!

Bonus

But, there’s a problem… It’s a small one… “Your script needs work!”

But hey, good news! “We also do script consulting!” One stop shopping! Yes, please!

So, for a “small fee,” we’ll set you up with a “script consultant” and she’ll give you “notes” on the script.

Cool! Where do I send the check?

So you write the check, wait for the notes, then get to rewritin’! Man, people said Hollywood was gonna be hard! Not for me!

You do your rewrites, turn them into your manager and all is right in the world.

But there’s a problem… Just a small one…

“We’re in post on this OTHER film. It’s gonna be huge! A film written by another screenwriter like you! Not as talented as you, but just like you!

We just need a few thousand dollars to wrap up post, but this couldn’t be better for you. We’re going to give you a producer credit on the film! And don’t worry, you’ll get your money back when the film is released.”

Wait? Managed screenwriter AND producer? I’ll be fucking studio head by next week! Where do I send the check?

“Let me just get you to sign the ‘producer’s agreement’ which will include how much you’ll get in return when the flick is released, plus your bonus.”

Bonus?

“Oh yeah! Did I not tell you? This is an investment. We’re gonna give you 5% interest back after the initial investors get their money back.”

WAHOOOO! Singing: I’m in the money! I’m in the money! I need to get one of those striped onesy swimsuits like Scrooge McDuck for when I swim through my fortune.

Scrooge

Cut to four months later. Your screenplay is “going into production.” You might even get to a set. Maybe see a camera. YOUR film is financed by the newest sucker… I mean screenwriter that the management “company” signed.

You’re living the dream.

Cut to two months later. Maybe you’ve invested in another film. Maybe you’ve written another script and gotten ANOTHER set of notes… but you’ve yet to get a check.

Hold up, aren’t I supposed to get paid? Let me check with my manager. Hey man, where’s my muthafuckin’ movie check? I have a house in Beverly Hills picked out.

“Oh, man! Did I not tell you? The movie (are ya ready for it??) ’DIDN’T DO AS WELL AS WE THOUGHT IT WOULD.’ Hollywood is a tough business. Am I right?

But hey, don’t worry, I’ve got another great film shooting overseas and we’re in post production. Great flick. Gonna be a big hit.

It’s written by a brand new sucker we just signed… I mean screenwriter, just like you… well not as talented as you, but it’s gonna be huge.

Wanna be a producer on that one?”

Script EXTRA: Do You Have the Guts for a Screenwriting Career? 

ENTER IRMA VON SHITSTAIN

While Cheryl and I were uncovering the scam, another character entered the fray:

Viola also had a mother, who was her partner in crime (allegedly) at the company. At one point, during our “research session,” the mother started messaging me too.

Her first one included an idle threat:

I wonder what would come out if we tried to “investigate” some people but I believe that pettiness revenge slander and jealousy all they do is poison the already poisoned field.

To which I pointed out that the information was all out there and we were hardly investigating. Just simply typing shit into Google. She also ended her message with the other threat of:

Also putting info on a public page especially when confidential is a crime and can be legally prosecuted as slander, malice, libel and attack of character.

To which I pointed out that all I did was post a link, written by a much BIGGER organization (and trustworthy one) and talked smack.

Worse case you could do was call me a prick for doing so, but that’s hardly legally actionable.

Bitch

Not happy that I wasn’t backing down, and pointing out that her making threats and showing concern, only makes me more curious. “Doth protest too much?” That’s when she changed tactics and played the cancer card:

You have the answers. I am not concerned. If I survived cancer and 20 years in this business I have seen it all. I can’t tell you what to do and I am not threatening. I am just relating to you my point of view.

Before anyone gets upset with my take on her comment, I need you to know that I’ve been in the position where I’ve had to play the “stroke card,” so I know what it sounds like.

I quoted her first message in my response:

Also putting info on a public page especially when confidential is a crime and can legally be prosecuted…” Is the definition of a threat. Look it up…

I then suggested she use Google. Hoping that she would read every ounce of sarcasm that I meant to attach to it. That’s when she shifted tactics again. This time she used the old cliche of threatening ever “working in this town again:”

By the way, I know Cobra Commander and The Baroness since they had COBRA. I wonder what they would think of your efforts. I might call them. It would be interesting.

This cracked me up to no end. Clearly she wasn’t aware of just how little Cobra Commander would give a shit about her phone call. If he took it at all and IF he even remembered her. I decided to help her out though:

HA! That’s cute. MORE THREATS! Call ’em. (NUMBER OMITTED). Let me know how that works out for you. I’ll text their assistants and let them know to expect your call.

THE PODCAST

At a certain point, we no longer felt like telling people OUR story with Jon Jonzz. We were all about THIS now.

Before we took to the mic, we changed our tactics with the Shitstains. We were officially fucking Woodward and Bernstein. I was on the phone with “the acquaintance” trying to make her our “Deep Throat” while Cheryl was typing up our notes on the computer for the show.

W and B

We were like fuck it, let’s get a quote. So I wrote Irma and Viola and said “tell us your side of the story? Want go on the record?”

(Just as a pat on our own back, we were WAY more investigative than the Times was in their article.)

The only response we got was the following email:

Manny,

Please find attached the letter sent to (REDACTED) at the L.A. TIMES regarding the article that posted this week and (REDACTED) mention in it.

I would also suggest you read the comments posted by my own clients on such article.

I know that yourself being a writer with a few small indie films to your belt (not listed on IMDb) and in spite of having worked at COBRA for a few years as a Creative Executive and attending dozens of Pitch Festivals, you may have your own issues against Hollywood or may want to gain some more attention through your podcast but either way if your intent is to libel, slander or defame me, my Company name, my current clients or my Partner in anyway, I reserve the right to undertake legal action.

My Attorney is being copied herein.

Best,
Viola Von Shitstain
Partner
SHITSTAIN FILMS

If you want to know what a cease and desist letter looks, looks a little like this (REDACTED, CIA STYLE):

Times LetterTimes Letter 2Times Letter 3Pretty cool huh? We weren’t worth our OWN letter. Just the threat of “YEAH, AND THIS COULD HAPPEN TO YOU!” I guess that’s what happens when you employ a lawyer with a Yahoo email account.

Needless to say, we did the show anyway… And read the letter out loud, going over each point. I’m pretty sure that I don’t need to point out the obviousness of reading the scam and then reading their defense of the scam. Allegedly, of course.

Script EXTRA: 11 Ways to Develop Your Screenwriting Hustle 

THE AFTERMATH

I emailed the reporter at the L.A. Times and told him that, because of a snarky Facebook comment, Cheryl and I were being sought after, too. We chit chatted via email a couple of times. His last email to me said that he needed to chat with his legal department before having another conversation with me.

Fair enough.

As it turned out, that episode of the podcast was our highest listened to show. We got over 1300 listens in the first 24 hours. We were literally hitting refresh and watching the numbers go up by the minute.

That’s when everyone came out of the woodwork. Good and bad.

First the good…

Other people who have gotten screwed by Shitstain Films reached out to us. One woman, God love her, had been fighting them for years. They were her arch nemesis, but unfortunately had gotten tired of fighting them.

The bottom-line, she wasn’t able to do anything but still felt they needed to be stopped. She sent me her entire file that she had amassed throughout her fight.

The chick had EVERYTHING. Legal documents which showed all of the outstanding lawsuits against Viola and Irma. The number of “victims” was staggering. All public records that she had dug up.

Others wrote about their loss and their interactions with Viola and Irma. All horrible.

Billy Idol

But it wasn’t all good…

Their followers, and I mean that in the most cult-ish way possible, were vicious. And I was their target.

Some wrote me hate mail. Others bashed me on social media. Some took a passive route by hitting up the message boards to defend Shitstain films and its owners.

Then there were the crazies that tried to get even with me…

The first tried to get me through a bullshit complaint site called “ripoff.com.” They posted a review of me that still appears on the first page when you google my name.

It reads, verbatim, as such:

I did business with Manny Fonseca and Karen Keilt when they came to me and I ask to invest $50,000 in a movie project based a book Karen wrote about her life.

They took my money and they both skipt town and I had not heard from them for oveer a year, until one day I google their name and found that they were running a website called breaking in the biz.  When I confronted them about my investment, they hung up the phone and then did a podcast blasting me.

Watch out for these 2!  Con-artist and rip-off artisst.

#FAKENEWS

First of all, I have no fucking idea who Karen Keilt is. Never met her. Never spoken to her.

Fake News

Second, I’ve never asked anyone for $50,000. Strike that… once. The government. For college. It’s true. I still owe them.

Thirdly, it’s public knowledge that CHERYL was my podcast partner and we have never blasted some dude on our podcast for giving us money for a film project. It’s still out there. Find it, bro.

Lastly, if you’re gonna come at me? Fucking spellcheck some shit.

Funny note… Of course, after finding out this was out there, I did some research and found out who Karen Keilt was.

She IS and author and she DID write a book about her life. Wanna take a guess who optioned it?

If you said Shitstain Films… you’d be correct!

YOU KNOW YOU’VE MADE IT WHEN THEY MAKE AN ANTI SITE

Before therealmanny.com, I ran a blog under mannyfonseca.com. That doesn’t exist any more, but it did at the time of this bullshit so they made the anti manny fonseca site. (not a .com)

The website, which I never talked about because Cheryl didn’t think I should lend it legitimacy was fucking brilliant.

It doesn’t exist any more, but when it did, it was made up of three “articles” comprised of just how fucking horrible of a human being I was. They took lines out of context from my articles and random Tweets to support their cause.

I don’t remember the nitty gritty, but I do remember that they literally cut and pasted certain phrases from sentences (not the whole sentence itself).

That's not what they said

Obviously, the real Tweets and articles were out there, so it didn’t last long. Cheryl pinged the IP address (she was a network administrator) and we quickly found out that it had come from Shitstorm Films territory.

EPILOGUE

Sadly, our podcast has come to an end. Cheryl’s speech just isn’t there, and I can’t do it on my own. I’m not Tom Papa and I’m not Marc Maron. I do NOT love the sound of my own voice.

But it’s still alive.

The episodes about our “war” are still listened to frequently.

As for Shitstain films, they’re still going loud and proud. After all of the bullshit went down, I had one last phone call with my “screenwriting acquaintance.” It took about 45 minutes of interrogation before I finally got her to admit she had snuck over $28,000 dollars into her “manager’s” ventures.

At the time of that conversation, she had not seen a dollar of return on investment. But she was still holding hope.

About two years ago, another screenwriter I had worked with emailed me as part of a mass email. She had started a blog about her story (surviving Katrina) and wanted the people she met in the industry to know.

She had written a book (good for her!) but didn’t know how to write a script. Rather than script consult for her, I created a screenwriting class for her via Skype. We met once a week and I did 2-hour sessions where we shared the screen and I taught her the fundamentals.

Full disclosure: yes, she paid me, but I do have an MFA in screenwriting, have taught screenwriting at a college level, and I was way cheaper than any of the other options out there. So, I feel justified in charging.

Anyway, I open the mass email and notice that Viola Von Shitstain’s email was part of the group.

I quickly wrote back and warned her to be careful of Viola because of everything that had happened.

She wrote back that Viola had been her “manager” for the past couple of months.

I never heard from her again.

Bye

Pretty much know why. I wish her all the best. I hope she got out before they offered her the title of “producer.”

More articles by Manny Fonseca

Get tips on achieving screenwriting success in Lee Jessup’s latest book, Breaking In: Tales From the Screenwriting Trenches

breaking in

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