Protecting Kids On Sets: First In A Series
EXCLUSIVE: Using aliases and fake credentials, two con men have been posing as licensed studio teachers for years, Deadline has learned, giving them access to child actors employed on dozens of low-budget movies and student film projects. In a bizarre coincidence, both men — Kent Linker and Fred Robbins — claimed to be Marty Carlin, an accredited and respected teacher who, at age 83, is retired from on-set work with kids.
California has strict labor laws governing the accreditation of studio teachers responsible not only for educating children working on film and TV productions but also with ensuring their safety and welfare on the set. That includes protecting them from characters like Linker and Robbins.
“It’s especially scary that these impostors are working so much on student films, because you have to wonder what their motivation is,” said Anne Henry, co-founder of BizParents, a nonprofit child actors advocacy group. “They couldn’t be getting paid much, so are they crazed fans who just want to be on a movie set, or are they child predators? We just don’t know.”
What we do know is that Linker and Robbins should never have been teaching or protecting children on a set. State law requires a certified studio teacher to be present any time minors under age 16 are working or rehearsing on film and TV productions. Neither Linker nor Robbins is certified by the state’s Labor Commissioner to work as studio teachers. Without such a certificate, known as a “green card,” they can’t legally work as studio teacher/welfare workers.
Linker “tried using my name before,” Carlin told Deadline. “He’s been doing this for years.” Earlier this year, Linker (pictured, left) used Carlin’s identity to get a job on a film titled Christmas In Palm Springs.
Shown a photo of Linker, a crew member identified him as the film’s studio teacher, and was known to the crew as Marty Carlin. Linker was responsible for the education, safety and welfare of a 14-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy.
This was not the first time Linker has been identified as an impostor on a set. On Feb. 11, 2011, the mother of a child actor was watching the syndicated courtroom show Judge Mathis when she recognized a defendant she had known as “Marty Carlin” on a film her child had worked only a few months earlier. On Judge Mathis, the man was identified as Kent Linker. As the TV show unfolded, she said she became more and more shocked.
The episode involved a dispute over a failed strip club. Linker was accused by plaintiff Bradley Grunberg, an actor-comedian who goes by the name of “Jonny Cocktails,” of having failed to pay him $5,000 in back wages. During the club’s brief existence, Grunberg said, he was hired by Linker to hire exotic dancers for the club.
Grunberg told Mathis, in an account independently confirmed by Deadline, that on one occasion he entered Linker’s office at the club and found him nearly naked with a job applicant. “It was like a crime scene,” he told Mathis. “I walk in and there’s this beautiful girl, all in paint, and then there’s Mr. Linker in a G-string bikini brief, finger painting the girl. And I said, ‘What are you doing!?’”
Another young woman from the club identified herself as a college student and told Mathis that Linker repeatedly abused her. “I have been victimized by him many, many times, over and over again,” she told the judge. “I’m just a struggling student trying to pay my tuition. I had the job already, but he wanted to interview me. So I figured, ‘OK, I’ll interview.’ He locks the door to the office and then proceeds to take his clothes off. And I had to call it a day at that. I was like not having any of that.”
“Did you do all that?” Mathis asked Linker. “Are you an old pervert like they’re painting you out to be?”
“Uh-uh,” Linker replied. “No, it didn’t happen like that at all.”
“Did you take women in that office and wear a thong?” the judge asked him.
“A thong, no,” Linker replied. “Just women’s underwear. No, I mean just maybe a thong. That’s just the way of casting in Hollywood, Your Honor.”
“I was horrified,” said the mother who had recognized Linker. “I wasn’t worried because I never left my daughter’s side, and he slept so much of the time that when he woke up he had to ask me where she was. But I just thought about all the 15-, 16- and 17-year-old girls he was responsible for and I prayed nothing happened to them.”
During an investigation by Deadline, the Studio Teachers union and BizParents, the parents of numerous young performers who had been placed in the care of Linker and Robbins were notified that neither was certified as a studio teacher. So far, none of the parents reported that their children were harmed by the impostors.
Linker stole Carlin’s identity to work on at least half a dozen other films over the last three years. Over the last 20 years, he worked illegally under his own name as a studio teacher on seven other low-budget, non-union films. How he avoided detection for so long is testament to the lax, if not non-existent, oversight of non-union studio teachers. Many of them are sent by referral agencies to low-budget companies looking to hire the least expensive studio teachers to comply with the minimum requirements of state law. Pay for union studio teachers ranges from $350-$600 per day. Non-union studio teachers earn as little as $130 per day.
Many of those interviewed for this story expressed astonishment about how casual this fringe area of the film industry is, putting kids under the control of the only persons on the set allowed to be alone with a child.
“There’s so little accountability and oversight, it’s amazing there aren’t more Twilight Zones,” said Linda Stone, business rep of IATSE Studio Teachers Local 884.
Actor Vic Morrow and two children were killed in 1982 during late-night filming on the Twilight Zone movie when a helicopter crashed on top of them. There were no studio teacher/child welfare workers on set that night because the producers knew the film was going to involve explosives and would be shooting several hours past the legal curfew for the children — circumstances no studio teacher would have allowed. After a sensational trial, director John Landis and four members of his production team were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The only legal penalties that stuck were the $5,000 fines levied against Warner Bros, Landis and two others for “flagrant” violations of the state’s child labor laws, including not having a studio teacher/child welfare worker on the set.
Linker is not alone in pretending to be a certified studio teacher. Two weeks ago, Stone discovered that Robbins, a background player, was also posing as Marty Carlin, on the set of the low-budget feature Broken Vows.
“I called the accountant for the show and she told me that the name of Fred Robbins on the payroll card is not the name of the studio teacher/welfare worker hired,” Stone told Deadline. “The studio teacher/welfare worker who was hired was a Marty Carlin. She said he acted strange when filling out his start work [form] and she questioned his behavior. She gave me Fred’s phone number and I immediately called him and asked him about the two names and if he had a green card, and asked him to forward it.”
When Robbins sent Stone the green card, she checked with Deputy Labor Commissioner Lucia Ceja, who told her that not only had Carlin’s card expired two years earlier than the one presented by Robbins, but that “the license number that he gave you that he is using is a farm labor contractor license number that belongs to someone else, so he may be using a fraudulent card.”
Stone said Robbins admitted he sometimes worked as a studio teacher under Carlin’s name. “He said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m an actor and studio teacher and sometimes I like to use another name’,” Stone recalled. “He said he likes to use the name of Marty Carlin sometimes.”
Robbins told Deadline a different story. In a telephone interview, he admitted working illegally as a studio teacher on Broken Vows, but said he only did so because he was asked to. “I worked on it as a background performer, and because I’m a certified teacher, one of the assistant directors asked me to be there for one night while they had a kid there from 6 to midnight.”
Asked if he is a certified studio teacher, Robbins said: “I’m not a certified studio teacher and I never said that I was. I’m a certified high school teacher.” But being a studio teacher requires a second level of accreditation showing successful completion of a 12-hour course about the state’s strict laws governing child actors and their safety and welfare in the workplace.
Asked if he knows Carlin, Robbins said: “I’ve heard of him.” Asked if he’d ever told anyone that he was Marty Carlin, he said, “I’ve said I was associated with Marty Carlin. I said it was somebody I’d worked with, not that I am him.” Asked what name he went by on Broken Vows, he replied, “That’s all I have to say. I’ve only done what people asked me to do.” He then hung up, and when Deadline called him back, he didn’t answer. A message was left asking him why he had given the Studio Teachers union a fake green card with Carlin’s name on it. He did not return the phone call.
Like Linker, Robbins has worked as a studio teacher under his own name on several other film productions in recent years, despite his lack of proper certification. Robbins, at least, was at one time a licensed teacher, if not a studio teacher. According to Rachel Grizzaffi, manager of the Division of Professional Practices, Commission on Teacher Credentialing, Robbins’ teaching license expired in 2008, and Linker never held a valid teaching license in the state of California.
Student filmmakers are particularly vulnerable to con men like Linker and Robbins. State law requires student filmmakers, like their professional counterparts, to retain a certified studio teacher whenever minors are involved in their productions. Union studio teachers are often willing to help out on these projects, but there aren’t enough of them to meet the demand. So student filmmakers often ask their fellow students if they know any nonunion studio teachers willing to work cheap. Linker, posing as Carlin, has worked on numerous student film projects, being passed from one student project to the next.
One of those films was an AFI student film titled Unmanned. Linker, posing as Marty Carlin, and Robbins worked together on it as studio teachers. “That’s Marty,” said the film’s producer when shown a photograph of Kent Linker. The producer said he was very upset that Linker and Robbins had deceived him. “That’s just so upsetting,” he said. “It’s really disappointing. It’s just alarming.”
He said that Linker, posing as Carlin, had been referred to him by a fellow student in the AFI graduate program. That fellow student didn’t know Linker’s real identity either. The producer said that Linker, posing as a studio teacher, recommended Robbins to replace him one day when he couldn’t make it to the set. “He had an availability problem and he brought us his colleague, Fred Robbins.” Between them, the impostors worked with children on the 2011 film for four days.
In a statement, AFI said: “The AFI Conservatory identified this individual (Linker) as one who did not meet our standard, and he has not worked on AFI films since 2012.”
Deadline has learned that Linker also worked illegally as a studio teacher on at least two projects produced by student filmmakers enrolled at the New York Film Academy’s campus at Universal Studios. “He provided us with a certificate,” said a NY Film Academy student filmmaker, who noted that Linker, posing as Carlin, had been referred to her by fellow student. “I was a victim too,” she said. “I didn’t know he was defrauding everyone.”
Linker also posed as Carlin on a film produced under the aegis of a Film Independent workshop. Shown a photo and told his real name, the film’s director said: “Oh my god, really? Why would he do that?” It’s a question many parents of child actors who’d been entrusted to his care are asking too.
Clearly, film schools have got to do a better job teaching their students the basics of legally employing minors, and of employing certified studio teachers to look after the education, safety and welfare of their child actors. Being shown a “green card” is not enough; those can be easily faked, as Linker and Robbins have done before. Student filmmakers must also be instructed to ask for a valid photo ID, and to check the teacher’s name against the state’s Studio Teachers Certification Database (see it here). If they are not listed, they are not allowed to work as studio teacher/welfare workers.
Linker has also worked illegally as a studio teacher on a student film project at the New York Film Academy’s campus at Universal Studios, Deadline has learned.
“Parents are questioning now who these men really are and why they would do this, and who they can trust,” said Henry, of BizParents. “Everyone’s assumption was that the employer would have vetted them. No one ever thought that they are not who they say they are, or that these might not even be their real names. The parents are outraged. These guys have to be stopped. The idea that we have at least two impostors, and that they are maybe working together, and we don’t know who else they might be impersonating, is shocking and disconcerting.”
IATSE Studio Teachers Local 884 makes sure all of its 107 studio teachers are properly certified before sending them out on jobs. It is backed up by the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund, which oversees some 200 union and nonunion studio teachers, all of whom must be properly certified.
After learning Robbins was working illegally as a studio teacher without certification, Stone contacted the State Labor Commission’s Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, which is now investigating Robbins and Linker.
“I do not think the State Labor Commissioner, Julie Su, is aware of any of these problems or illegal situations,” Stone said. “I do not think Fred Robbins is a pedophile, but I do hope that he gets caught and punished for this. He cheated every kid he worked with of the education he is entitled to according to Title 8 and the Education Code. He also was not qualified to be an advocate for the protection of the minors when they were working.”
Linker recently gave the same telephone number to two different filmmakers. When Deadline attempted to reach him at that number, the man who answered the phone denied that he was Linker. Subsequent calls were not answered.
“There were so many people that could have stopped this, but almost everyone dropped the ball,” said Henry. “Parents are told that their children are going to be provided with a quality education and safety, and instead, they were deceived into leaving their child with these impostors.”