Article

TITLE:
Be a Modeling Superstar with Options Talent
SUMMARY:
An almost-inside look at a talent search agency.
KEYWORDS:
humor, nonfiction
WRITTEN:
May 16, 2002

FULL ARTICLE:

You too can be famous! We take all major credit cards!

“Your life could change. Do you think you’d be comfortable having people recognize you on the street?” the man asked. Could I handle the fame? Yeah, I told him that I’d be okay. Bring on the glory. I’d deal with the in-the-spotlight woes later.

Where did it all begin? Let’s head back to the beginning. A friend of mine just got a job at a talent agency—Options Talent. They’d been around since 1996 and had recently opened a branch in the East Bay. They claimed to be revolutionizing the modeling business. Perhaps they were. They’re using the Internet to promote their models and allow easier model searching and better transactions with the clients who need models.

Okay, I was curious. I wanted to be a star too. Where could I sign up? When would I walk the runway? What color shoes go with plaid?

Well, it wasn’t not that easy. The first step was to be scouted. Shouldn’t be too hard, apparently, the scouts were everywhere. Try hanging out at the movie theater all day. Or you may be “discovered” at your local grocery store. If you’re not comfortable of how good you look, try to do this towards the end of the day. A scout that I spoke with informed me that they were given a certain quota of “models” to seek out each day. So, while in the morning, they may be quite selective and picky about their subjects having great looks and fantastic bodies, things could be significantly different around 5pm when they have precious little time left and a dozen more models to find.

Subjects were approached by a scout who then informs them that they too could potentially be a model. The subject is then handed a card and informed on where they could attend the next open call. Reactions from people varied from eager to defensive. One attractive young lady I spoke with admitted that she was “surprised and quite shocked” to be discovered. Another tall blond girl said she expressed some hesitation at first, but agreed to try things out. Fortunately for myself, I did happen to know an agent working for the company. The agent told me to just attend the next Tuesday night call at 7pm. No problem. If being famous meant only giving up one night of my life, I could go along with that. Piece of cake. A simple little interview would be just fine and dandy. The following Tuesday evening was the next opportunity for my rise to stardom.

Tuesday afternoon came fast. Needless to say, I was quite busy as a starving student. There were papers to write and deadlines to meet. The meeting completely slipped my mind. Reality has a funny way of doing that to people. But my friend called and reminded me about the interview. I pondered a few choice excuses and then again agreed to go down there and be interviewed. It sounded like it wouldn’t take too long. Okay, I thought. Maybe, it’ll make a nice story. The downside was that I’d have to shave. Yeah, the Brad Pitt unshaven look does seem to be in for a few lucky individuals. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. Whiskers on my face resemble a lawn that doesn’t get enough water or sunlight (not unlike my front lawn).

I arrived on time. Unusual, I know. But this was for my career in modeling. I didn’t want my first impression to be a negative one. A nice gentleman in a suit opened the front door and fetched me the elevator. I exited on the second floor and two more nice (and sharply dressed) people escorted me over to where the action was taking place.

Yikes! It was a mad house. There must have been over 80 people, uh candidates, there. Every seat in a medium sized office room was taken and a long line stretched around the inside of the room. My instinct was to seek out the nearest exit and put my modeling career on an indefinite sabbatical. This had nothing to do with the fact that it was most likely over 85 degrees in this packed meeting room. Yet, a nice agent must have sensed my dismay. The agent said things were moving along quickly and not to fret about the line that was already two layers thick.

Okay, but only for a little while. I’ve got important things to do. I felt somewhat guilty. Here I was worrying about my modeling career when no one was home to put my laundry from the washing machine into the dryer. My priorities were just way out of line.

I then got my first lucky break. It may have been my only lucky break, but I stopped counting after that. One was much more than expected. The scout manager announced that the group was dividing in two and that half of us would be heading into the next room. Low and behold, we all made an about face and headed into another office area. But whereas, before I was at the end of the line, I was now almost at the front. Things were looking up indeed. I could almost see the Calvin Klein contract being placed down in front of me, and a gold pen in my hand. Just a few more easy steps. I could do it!

And now the real waiting (fun?) started. I got to fill out some paperwork and they then took my picture with a digital camera. They had me stand against the beige office wall and they didn’t even have to tell me not to smile. I’d overheard them telling everyone that they didn’t want smiles. I was not aware of this, but apparently smiles are out. Next time someone smiles at you, politely scowl at them and say “Hey you! Smiles are out!” But looking ‘cool’ is in. So I gave my best ‘cool’ look. Secretly, I was smiling inside though. Hopefully, no one caught it.

After the pictures were taken, I got to wait around again. After another 15 minutes, they called me into an office. My height was measured and they released me. Then another 20-minute wait. This was followed by them taking a large group of us back into the hot meeting room and we were shown a video presentation of what the company could do for us. The video was nice enough to explain how models wasted so much money getting Zed cards made or headshots taken. And how those prints had to be updated every time the model changed his or her look. So far, no cost was mentioned to the prospective models. If this continued, I’d be all ears for a long time to follow.

The presentation ended. An attractive woman spoke about a few more things and I assumed she’d finish the meeting by giving us the opportunity to ask questions. Cost was actually my second prepared question. My first being how many models did they represent? If they took in over 100,000 models, my chances of getting a job were slim to less than none. But alas, the meeting ended and no opportunity for questions was given. For whatever reason, they did not want us speaking up in front of the rest of the group.

After the presentation, they led us back to another room to wait for an exit interview. Loud techno music was blasted on a nearby CD player. My friend at the company informed me that this was done to help squelch the conversation between the attendees. Not sure why this was. We hadn’t really learned that much to talk about. Did they not want us speaking about the Niners? Was the season really going to be THAT bad?!?

Finally, it came time for my exit interview. They invited me into an office room where two people went about screening me. They asked me to face left, and then right. Then they looked at my teeth. My choppers must have passed the test since they handed me a brochure and then scheduled my follow-up phone interview. It would be in two days. I was asked to look over the brochure in the meantime. Wahoo! I was almost there. Would I be modeling fancy suits or designer underwear? Oh, the suspense!

Two days flew by and I sat eagerly by the phone waiting for it to ring. The first call was someone from their Florida office informing me that they were running behind and would it be okay if they called me in 10 more minutes. Uh, yeah, sure. Why not. I’d waited this many years to become famous. What were a few more minutes?

Eventually (20 minutes later), they called me. A guy named ‘Bob’ fired off a volley of questions. They wanted to know everything. Was I reliable? Yes. Would I model underwear? Sure. Would I promote alcohol? Well, I guess. Cigarettes? Um, no. Gotta draw the line there. Next would probably be handguns and cocaine! Near the end, I was asked would I have a problem having people recognizing me on the street? Nope. I’m fine there. Bring on the autograph seekers. I’ve got my pen ready. I’ll even carry a spare. Were these the only things keeping the common citizen from stardom? Wow. If only I knew sooner. If only.

He asked if I had any questions. And boy, did I! I wanted to know all sorts of things about the company. And yes, it was indeed different than other ‘modeling’ companies. Agents usually take a percentage of a model’s payment. That may seem a little unfair, but then again, the agent doesn’t get paid unless he or she finds the model work. With Options Talent, they only list you in their database. But wait…then there’s no incentive to find me work. Bob also answered my question of how many models were listed. Around 20,000 he said. Yikes! And they’re growing fast. If they reach 100,000, then what were my odds of finding modeling gigs? But those things would have to be worried about later. After my questions, Bob was ready to recommend me to his company.

Bob put me on hold to speak with manager. They would review my case. After five minutes, his manager “Jenny” got on the phone and congratulated me. Turns out Bob had some good things to say about me. She welcomed me aboard and asked if I was ready to join the team. Uh, I guess so. I asked what was next. Well, now it seems I would only need to grab my credit card and make a few payments. Turns out that a little money is involved after all. But it’s not a lot. They only ask $19.95 a month for me to be listed in their database. This doesn’t mean they guarantee any work either. Nor does this mean they’ll even help you find work. They merely add you to their database. Hmm…well, I hope it’s a cool database. They better use SQL and Primary IDs. I asked what picture of me they would feature up there. That was easy. The picture they took during the interview. What?!? That was a terrible picture and not even my best side. This just wouldn’t do. But they said I was free to send them a better picture to be put on file. And where would I get this better picture? I’d have to have it taken by a good photographer. Wait a minute. So now it looks like I’m still winding up paying to have pictures taken after all. What gives? Where is the ‘free’ in paying a lot of money?!?

It didn’t stop there. There was a placement fee of almost $600, too. Ouch! So now I have to pay $20 a month, get professional headshots done, and add another $600 as a “placement fee”? My head was hurting. I informed Jenny that I would need some time to ponder this. I couldn’t just spend that kind of money without thinking it over first. I must say that Jenny was a tad shocked. She said I’d already had two days to think it over and that these costs were mentioned during the first interview. I politely enlightened her that these costs were indeed NOT mentioned during the first interview. Maybe it just slipped their minds. Did someone forget? Did someone let poor Jenny down? Was this all a big rip-off scheme to part the less thinking from their money? (Hint: pick the third one! Pick the third one!)

After this, she transferred me back to Bob to straighten things out. Bob and I went through the same hoops. Yet, no costs were mentioned during the first meeting. Bob disagreed, but then discontinued his arguing when I informed him that I could provide a few witnesses to give the same information. He then stated that the information was indeed listed in the brochure they had handed me. Well, okay. That was true. The information was there. But who reads 20-page brochures anymore?

Still, I wasn’t ready to plop down $620 to have a bad photo featured in their database. There is a satisfaction guarantee after the first year. But it’s not for a refund. It’s for a free two-year extension. Great. So I’m still down $840. And that doesn’t mean I’ll ever find modeling work. I’m not seeing this as a sound investment after all. Truthfully, all I’m starting to see is red.

They weren’t happy with my reluctance and I think I was labeled as the bad guy in all this since they had gone through so much work to recruit me. I was informed that I could do a “re-evaluation” in one year’s time. One year? Yes, that would give me plenty of time to think about it. But my decision was already made. In fact it was made before I even took one step inside their doors.

In the end, I found it to be an “enlightening” experience. I’ve spoken with several friends about the company and they mainly return one comment—it’s a scam. Well, it is and it isn’t. Technically, it’s legit. They don’t promise work. And they do deliver what they do promise. The problem lies in that the company is free to take on thousands (hundreds of thousands eventually?) of models and keep their database growing. Great news for agencies. They’ll have any make of model they could possibly wish for. But for the model paying $600 and $20 a month, it’s a risk—a risk too big for me.

So don’t bother to look for me modeling any Calvin Klein underwear any time soon. But that’s fine with me.

I prefer boxers.

Appendix A – (August 26, 2006)

After screening my article again, I decided to search the web a little and see if the company is still around. Well, it sort of is. It’s now under a new name. I guess it’s their fourth name now. For the record, that’s a very bad sign!

An online article tells all the sordid details.

It essentially lists a lot of newspapers and people writing about how Options Talent was a scam and a rip-off. Some noted items were how people couldn’t get their refunds, people had a hard time getting a hold of the company, and Ford (listed as a client) denies having ever hired ANY of their models. Apparently, Options’ list of clientele was a little falsified. Shocking!

Looking back, it wasn’t really even a close call; there was no way I’d be paying a dime to them. Yet, I do feel bad for many others. I imagine a huge number of innocent people got swindled out of a fair amount of money. Perhaps even some of the scouts weren’t even aware of the type of operation that was going on around them.

Though I guess in a free economy, things like that do happen. And sometimes lessons are learned the hard way. Hopefully, only once.