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James Strauss and his Fake Writing Credits

30 April 2014

From Lee Goldberg, Author & TV Producer:

A year ago, I published a blog post here titled “Easily Fooled” about being on a TV writing panel at a mystery conference with a guy whose writing credits were all fake.  I omitted his name to save him embarrassment. I was being too kind, because the guy is still hoodwinking conferences and the paying attendees with the same scam. So here’s the post again… with his name included this time.

James Strauss

James gets gigs teaching screenwriting courses based on his experience writing episodes on the TV shows HOUSE, DEADWOOD, SAVING GRACE and ENTOURAGE. The problem is, according to the Writers Guild of America and writer/producers on those shows, James Strauss never worked as a writer on any of those series.

. . . .

The First Clue: Strauss Didn’t Know What He Was Talking About

Recently, I was a guest at a Love is Murder Conference in Chicago and one of my fellow speakers/panelists was James Strauss, who claimed to have written for scores of acclaimed network TV shows, like House, Deadwood, and Entourage, and a big upcoming movie, The Equalizer. Based on his experience, he’d been invited to speak at writer’s conferences, seminars, and libraries from coast to coast, including some nice paid gigs in Hawaii and Mexico. I’d never heard of him…and the instant I met him, I knew something was off.

For one thing, I knew one of the writers of the big, upcoming movie he claimed to have worked on…and I knew writer/producers on most of the shows he said he wrote for…and when I mentioned their names to James, he was evasive or said he came on the various projects before or after my friends were there. I might have bought that, screenwriting is a pretty nomadic business, but everything he said on his panels and in his talks about writing scripts and working on episodic series wasn’t just wrong, it was inane. Even in our personal conversations, he said some pretty stupid stuff about the business.

The Second Clue: Strauss Had No Credits. Anywhere. For Anything.

. . . .

What I don’t get is how so many conferences, libraries, and seminars could have invited this guy to speak, and paid his way to tropical locales, without doing even the most basic check of his credentials. In this day and age, if a guy says he wrote for some of the most acclaimed shows on TV, you should be able to easily confirm it with a simple Google search. And if you can’t, that should be a big, fat, red freaking flag.

Link to the rest at Lee Goldberg and thanks to Barbra for the tip.


38 Comments to “James Strauss and his Fake Writing Credits”

  1. Now he claims to be working with Stan Lee. I knew a guy like this. Worked with him years ago when he was an environmental tech. I ran into him again at a new job and he suddenly had a masters degree. I tried to congratulate him on the degree, but he insisted we’d never met, that he’s never worked for the previous company.
    Spidy sense tingling…

    • I knew a guy even more like this than this. Last I heard of him, he was getting talk radio gigs by posing as (a) the great-grandson or some such of Aleister Crowley, and inheritor of all his occult secrets, and/or (b) the ‘Archdruid of Canada’.

      • Yeah, well, I know a guy who has thirty years experience programming Java! *nyaah*

        • Yeah, well, I kinda know you guys, sorta.

          • Are you saying that we are guilty of the same offence as James Strauss? You’ll have to back that one up.

            • I thought he meant that he could claim us as friends for purposes of making himself look more impressive. Given some of the people who hang out around here, that might be pretty impressive at that. 🙂

            • What Marc said. So put your dukes down! 😀

              • Ah, I see. It’s just that people were saying, ‘I knew this con man,’ and ‘I knew that con man,’ and you chimed in with, ‘I know you guys,’ and I supposed that you meant it in the same way; and for the life of me I could not see why.

                • Understood. I replied to Marc saying that he knew a guy who programs Java. I thought we were riffing.

                • My reference might have been a little obscure, as I am prone to do. It refers to a Dilbert comic where somebody tells Dilbert he needs ten years Java experience for an internal promotion, when Java had not existed for ten years at the time of publication.

                  I had to update it because I am old and that comic is too. Java is considerably less than thirty years old.

            • Well, I once put a line on my Co-op term report that I taught monkies to fly and I helped Yeltsin ‘get his groove back’.
              It was under ‘miscellaneous tasks’ and my prof never mentioned it. When I asked for my report back at the end of the following term, he handed it to me, said he enjoyed it, and that was it.
              Folks rarely pay attention.

  2. Hey they made a movie about a guy like this called Catch Me If You Can with Leonardo DiCaprio. You’re kind of stunned by their brazenness. What could you do with your life if you were so bold?

    I knew a pathological liar, and this guy is an amateur compared to the one I knew. He told BIG lies. He was handsome and charming and got away with it.

  3. The guy is working the wrong side of the road. Instead of authors, he should be targetting BPH execs.

  4. So has the “burden of proof” slipped from the proclaimer of achievement to the recipient of the claim?

    When was the last time you were asked to prove you had a Bachelor’s or that your sales were what you claimed (IRS filings possibly excluded 🙂 )?

    There are many examples of business, military and political leaders who got in hot water over false or exaggerated bona fides.

    • Caveat emptor…

    • I get asked to prove this on a constant basis, actually. It’s a real drag. The registrar’s offices at my college and law school probably refer to me as a “frequent flyer.”

      My company does have a policy of confirming educational credentials, personal references and resume listings (to a degree: we usually don’t call the owner of the grocery store where you worked after high school if you’re applying for a programer job unless she’s also a personal reference.) Fake degrees are rare but we do run across them from time to time. Probably the single most common excuse – and this is a very small sample set – is that the person had gone to college but had not actually been granted a degree for some reason. They essentially figured they had the right to claim a degree as they’d done “most of the work.”

  5. This is really encouraging. If a guy with no credits and no experience can get these kind of engagements, then any of us with actual bona fide credits of even the most modest kind should be able to get them too. I’ve got to start marketing myself better.

  6. There’s an update to the original article which says he’s a convicted con man.

  7. I think people like to be hoodwinked so they can forget about their day for awhile.

  8. As human beings, we pretty well are conditioned by society and genetics to take most statements on trust, as a default position. Otherwise life would be a nightmare of distrust and suspicion. But sometimes you have to do your due diligence and check things out. “Trust but verify”, as Gorbachev put it, not so very long ago.

    • Hair splitting time 😉

      Reagan leaned that originally Russian proverb for use when dealing with Gorbachev, while the Russian was wont to quote Emerson when speaking to Reagan.

      They were trying to understand the other’s culture and thought processes. Thankfully, it had some success.

      • That’s a nice story. I didn’t know that. It makes you feel a little more optimistic about the human race (and it was a hair well worth splitting).

  9. In college I had a few writing teachers who were wasting our time yammering on about nothing instead of teaching us craft. I finally decided I wouldn’t take any classes from anyone I couldn’t find in the library, the bookstore, or later, Amazon. If I were taking a film class I’d add IMDb. A conman should have to stay up all night planning how to put one over on you. James Strauss is having too easy a time of it.

  10. I’ve known a few pathological liars in my life. *shakes head* It makes great material for writing.

  11. This guy’s an idiot, then. Two years after I went to Clarion, I went back for their reunion and met a couple of graduates who went to Hollywood and pitched screenplays. They never got any movies made, but they discovered they could make a decent living just pitching screenplay after screenplay, since they had one actual paid-for pitch on their resume. As far as I know, they’re still doing it.

    Can’t say I have any respect for them whatsoever, but I also can’t say I’m surprised they succeeded.

    And what they did was perfectly legal and, more to the point, ethical. They broke no rules. They just followed the Hollywood code, basically.

    • How do you get paid for pitching? I spent many years pitching stories in Hollywood and never got a cent unless I got actual, you know, screenwriting work. I went through many, many unpaid pitch sessions…

      • Options, most likely.

        • Yes, and keep the option short-term (six months) so you can get paid again at renewal time. But keep in mind the films seldom materialize.

          • I know at least one other creative industry where the standard business model was to keep the door open with option money and hope for an actual sale – and then the sale to turn into a hit – so you could retire early. It’s harder now, but it’s a perfectly workable business model if you’re a good salesperson, willing to fight for good option terms, and have product that is at least tempting enough to option.

  12. Maybe the problem is to some extent the intemet…like a program coordinaor thinks “it’s so easy for me to look things up kow, how could anyone possibly have the cajones to lie about projects?” and then don’t bother to do that “easy” web check.

  13. This sort of con is going to become harder and harder. Information flows like water in this century.

    I want to get in line to kick this guy in the groin. The “just because” line, of course; I don’t have any right to be in the line of people scammed by him.

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