Avoiding Scam Model Agencies Day 3: The Photo Scam- Can You Say "Cheese"?

December 20th, 2012 (Earth's last day!!) :-D  


When you walk into an agencies' door for the first time, what do you see?  Are you flooded with a visual sales pitch for the agency or is it an environment of business being conducted?  Let me explain.


When I walk into a small-time scam agency, the place is a sales pitch from the second I walk in the door.  The walls are plastered with big movie posters, framed magazine covers, glossy model photos and generally a lot of glitter and prestige.  It's obvious that it's a sales pitch, not a place of business.  There is nothing much going on and I feel overwhelmed by their "we're so successful" decor.   When the agent or representative greets you, they expresses a false sense of excitement for your visit.  The agent begins to tell you how glad they are you came to them, and they'll usually make sure to slip some passing line of BS about how they just got off the phone with the big-time fashion name or director who's looking for someone just like you.  They name-drop like crazy.  I mean according to them, every big name in the business is booking their models, and you're lucky you came by at the right time to sign up.  Every line out of their mouth, every sign, every false smile is based on making you feel as if though you've came to the right place.  Their biggest trick is putting stars in your eyes.  Once they've got you believing that you are on the verge of making it big, they have you.  Your checkbook practically flies out and writes itself to them.  Sometimes the chair you're sitting in is still warm from the person who just sat there before you arrived and fell for the same lies.


When I walk into a major agency like IMG Models in NYC, I'm somewhat greeted by a receptionist who is continuously on the phone transferring calls.  The walls are plain, sans for a logo on one wall, and all you see are bookers busy in front of computers with phones to ears, working.  Hard at work booking and promoting their models.  At a real agency, they are not glad to see you unless they know you.  It's all business.  To a real agency you might as well be a bum coming by asking for money.  You're lucky to even get a "hello".  It's more like, "Who are you here to see?  Do you have an appointment?  Who are you?"  In other words, they are a successful modeling agency, and they don't need to sell you on that fact.  Their reputation is enough.  The scam agency however, IS NOT a successful modeling agency, and that's why it is paramount that they make you believe that they are, otherwise their lies won't work.



So how does the various "talent agencies" actually rip people off?  Here's the most common ways that a scam agency stays in business.


So the agency has you hooked with all their BS that they told you about how you're just what they're looking for, but you don't have photos (or the ones you have "won't work"), and they can't get you started without photos immediately.   So they either:

a).  Hand you a piece of paper with their "Photo Shoot Packages" rates.  They tell you that they have an "in house photographer" and who better to shoot your photos than the agency?  So you pay them anywhere from $300 to $2500 for photos (based on what you can afford).  But what you don't know is, the agency hires an amateur photographer, gives him/her $50 for the photo shoot, and keeps the rest of the money for themselves.  I've had an agency even call me once and ask me if I'd do a shoot for a total of $300, for 25 girls ages 8-14 and they wanted multiple images, retouching and all the rights.  I found out they were charging the models' families over $1,000 each for their photos.  That's $24,700 profit for the "agency" in one day.  I declined to be a part of it, but they found someone else.  There's always a cheap photographer who doesn't do photography for a living that will do anything for cheap or free.  The photos were very disappointing from what I heard.

b).  The other way the scam agency sells you photos, is instead of shooting the photos themselves, they have a business buddy set up a photo business and the agency sends you to them to have your photos done.  They work a deal with each other to split the money somehow, but the scam is still the same.  They still hire a cheap $50 photographer, and keep the rest of your hundreds of dollars for themselves.  It just looks more legitimate because the agency will actually pretend to be doing the right thing by sending you to a "recommended photographer", but it's actually the same scam.  You're overcharged for cheesy, amateur photos, and the agency is behind the shady deal with their buddy.  Or boyfriend across the hall. :-)


Yes, they actually have a scam where they tell you that it's a "separate company" that runs their website otherwise you wouldn't have to pay.  Well, that's a lie.  They do it themselves, and keep your money.  If they didn't, then website management would fall under any business's normal operating expenses.  I was charged $150.00 by one of my former agencies and lied to the same way.  They did it annually for each person on their talent roster.  KA-CHING!


What a joke.  Let's see, how many professional, successful models in the industry today went to small town modeling school?  None.  Now how many girls that went to modeling school became successful models?  None.  These agencies are such effective liars that they can even subvert facts that would otherwise prompt people to ask, "Why should I pay you for your modeling school when it's never done anyone any good- ever??" When they try to teach you your "runway walk"- there is no one runway walk.  How you would walk for Karl Lagerfeld is different than how you would walk for Betsy Johnson.  Their runway coach will show you what they want during rehearsals (if there are any) or backstage before showtime.  It's not hard enough for their to be an entire school for it, much less taught by people with no experience.


So the agency makes an announcement that they are hosting a guest speaker, acting coach, photographer or someone that you should come to hear lecture to help your career.  But there is an "admission fee".  Well, guess who's going to be keeping the money?  Yup, your  agency that you are so loyal to.  Best yet, the guest speaker is some loser who's doing workshops for free or a small percentage.  They have no credits that you have ever heard of -or can find- or it's some hack who's real job is working in a cubicle but wants to make models think he/she's someone important.  They just make stuff up and try to sound like a big deal for an hour or so and you don't even know that you're listening to complete fodder.  And you paid for it.


So the agency calls you and says they have a big cool runway show for you!  But it doesn't pay anything, it's just "good exposure".  What that can mean is that your agent just isn't paying you for your work.  Yea they're just keeping all of your money for themselves.  An agency doesn't go into business to supply models to other businesses for free.  Chances are, your agent is charging the business that is putting on the runway show something like $200 per model.  You should be getting $180.00 after your agent takes out their %20 commission.  But the scam agent makes 100% when they lie to you and get you to do the job for free.  Legitimate models get good exposure AND 80% of the job fee.  The only time this ever may not apply is for charity shows.  But I have also seen an agency charge a charity for models and then not pay them because it was for "charity".  There are no limits to what these people thieves will do to take your money.  To this day I have never seen a model do a local runway show for "good exposure" and had any sort of career advancement come from it.


Every model agency knows that not everyone who walks in their door is model material.  Legitimate agencies just turn those people away, but scam agencies welcome them in with false praise and temptations of success.  If you're one of these people, not only is the agency going to put you through the ringer, but if they really think you're desperate, they sometimes will tell you that you have to go book your own model jobs for the agency to "prove" your worth to them.  Of course the real tall, pretty girls don't have to do this, they will be used other ways (agency advertising), but the shorter, 'ordinary' girls have to hit the streets finding clients for the agency.  Wow.  Now you're doing the agents' work for them- for free.  It's just their way of saying, "Hell no I don't think you can be a model, but I'll lie to you, take your money, and have you do my work for me.  Sucker."  I know a girl with a scam agency that did all her own promotion as a model- and her agency did NOTHING for her.  She booked all of her own jobs and her agent made her pay %20 to the agency anyway.  Why would a scam agency turn you away when they can use you for their own profit?  Oh yea, because they don't have those things called ethics or morals.

There are other ways that scam agencies swindle you and do nothing for you, but the underlying message here is that if you don't feel good about the way an agency is treating you, or if they are trying to sell you something, or if they sound like a used car salesman, or they generally don't seem to be showing you that they care about you, get out of there.   Tomorrow we finish this up with what you should expect from a real agency, as well as some extra tidbits of knowledge to arm yourself with as you look for the right people in this business, and they do exist. :-)