My sister and I were walking through Brick Lane a couple of weeks ago just perusing the stalls, minding our own business when a guy bounded up to us and asked if we were interested in being extras in film and TV?. The answer was a resounding ‘YES’. My sister, unfortunately, does not live in London so I took the guy’s card and we went back to our day spotting fashion mistakes.
I was glad that something interesting had happened on my sister’s birthday trip down to see me in London, but quickly forgot about it.
So when I received a phone call from ‘Justyna’ a few days ago saying that The Zebra Collection would be glad to have me on their books. We went through a few questions where she asked me what I did and then told me about the company. She said they were almost like a recruitment agency so there was no joining fee and they didn’t take any commission out of our fees. I asked them how they made their money and they said they charged their clients a monthly fee. I had no reason to think this was untrue. So she listed off the jobs she wanted to put me forward for: MTV dance videos, hair modeling, make-up modeling and extra-work in TV work and film. I was a bit taken aback to hear about the modeling suggestions, I must admit. The first thought that ran through my mind having seen catwalk models is “Aimed at who? Fat Children?” but I let her carry on without opening by big gob (for once). Then she asked me if I had a portfolio or had ever had any professional photos done. Obviously, I had not. She put me on hold which she went to speak to her manager and then came back telling me that they would pay the fee for a professional photographer to do me a portfolio, but the only think was I’d have to pay for the copyright of the photos which wouldn’t be more than £100. That seemed fair, I thought, you’d want to be the owner of pictures of yourself anyway. Otherwise, next thing I know it’d end up in ‘Jugs’, or something equally as unsavoury. So I gave my email address to her and went on my merry way; dreams of being the next ‘Tracey’ in Eastenders already formulating in my tiny mind.
This morning I received an email with the details of my ‘photoshoot’ and advice on what to bring. I replied, confirming my booking and asking her whether I would have to buy the images or if this was included in with either the £100 she said the copyright would cost, or the fee they have very kindly paid for the studio time? She replied with “we will need at least 9 images for the portfolio but you’re welcome to purchase more” which doesn’t answer my question. I started to get a bit suspicious, as I’d worded the original question very carefully to make it very easy to answer. She was presented with options a) the £100 includes purchase of images, b) they will be paying for the images, but I need to buy the ‘copyright’. She apparently opted for c) which, not being on my list, I was unsure about. Next I got a phone call from ‘Blake’ confirming the date and time and anything I needed to bring so I casually asked how much he thought overall I’d need to bring with me and was the £100 I had been quoted just for the copyright or for the purchase of any images too. He said “oh yeah, you’ll need to purchase the images.”
So then I asked roughly how much in total he thought this would be. He said he wasn’t too sure and put his mate ‘Beth’ on who said “it’d be hard to say as I don’t know my situation or what sort of work I’d been put forward for” she gave me the party line about how the studio was used to dealing with and directing amateurs (like myself, she made the point of assertively telling me) so any cost will be worth it in the long run. So I said “Being an amateur, as you say, I’m not used to this; the lingo, the costs… I’m finding it quite hard to get anyone to be straight with me about how much any of this is going to be. I’m not looking for a direct quote but a ball-park figure”. She conceded her Fuzzy Logic: “Justyna was right in saying £100 but that was just for a deposit and once you get work you can pay the rest off”
‘The rest off’? We were getting closer to the truth, I could feel. “How much is ‘the rest’?” I tentatively asked. She seemed exasperated. What was I, a lowly amateur, doing? Asking her questions about how much I would have to pay out of my own pocket-money? How dare I ask questions to ascertain whether or not this was an outrageous scam? How very dare I?
“Well,” she huffed “It could be anything from £100 to £500”
“WOAH, WOAH, WOAH. £500??” I queried, unable to hide the not-long-out-of-studentdom surprise in my voice.
“It could be, but it depends on the packages you choose. It will be worth it.” She reiterated.
“So you want me to commit to paying £500 whether you find me work or not?” (Which, of course, having read the terms and conditions on their website, I know they are under no obligation to do).
“You could look at it like that, but amateurs like yourself, with no previous experience, will need a portfolio to get anywhere in the modeling industry”
Let me be clear – I am under no illusion that, as the 5”2, very ordinary looking nearly-25-year-old I am now, or ever will be, ‘model material. I’m fine with that. That is why I went to university. So that’s when alarm bells started to ring.
“Not being in the business and what-not, I’m not used to this situation so thanks for clearing that up for me, I appreciate you taking the time”. We ended the conversation. She may have picked up on my sarcasm.
I found a quite useful blog saying how they are kind-of legit, but what they do is they act as a job agency where they list jobs and ‘work-seekers’ and are basically more interested in the ‘portfolio’ than finding people work, but some people have found work through them. Proper agencies are turning away people, not badgering loads of people on the street, and if they think you’re worth it (L’Oreal style) they won’t make you pay, because they take a commission of your work, they will make the money back in no time! There were many comments on this blog saying either that Zebra was a genuine agency and the commentator didn’t know what she was talking about, or there were comments from what was clearly the same person (judging by similar spelling errors and a similar phrasing ‘style’) defending Zebra claiming that Zebra had found them work either as an unpaid extra or doing promotional work.
You can go and jump if you think I’m either working for free, or handing out samples of Bodyform outside a cinema on my weekends.
So I was left with the options of 1. Going along tomorrow and probably having a good time in a professional studio, getting my hair and make up done and being shown how to pout. Then being bullied into spending £500 on pictures of myself (which, judging by the ones on facebook, will look shit) without any guarantee that I would ever make any of that back – or 2. Not do any of the above and continue with my life as normal.
So I phoned Justyna and said that “I’d spoken to a girl called Beth who told me that the photos could cost up to £500 and I wasn’t sure that I could afford that without any guarantee of making at least that back so could I arrange for my own portfolio to be done?” to see how she’d react. I thought if she kicks off, then it’s obviously a scam, but if not then it may be ok.
She seemed ok with it at first but ’warned’ me against going to a make-over studio as they focus on the make-up rather than the fashion. (The ‘fashion’ in this case being my own clothes they’d asked me to bring: up to five outfits of my own choosing. Mostly Primark. High fashion, indeed.) and that she hadn’t heard of any other fashion studios. “What? Ever? Don’t you work in the industry?” I thought to myself. She then asked who had told me it would be £500 and seemed a bit annoyed at that fact that I had found out this information (information directly related to my own finances, of course) and could I speak to my ‘friend who works in fashion’ today to find out whether they could do my portfolio? I wasn’t sure whether I had made up this lie about having a friend in fashion or not, but she seemed to think that’s what I meant so I perpetuated it by saying “It all depends on their bookings for today I guess, but I’ll try”.
I left it politely by saying I’ll contact them soon. When I had finally extracted all the information I needed, it sounded like the Fashion Studio and the Talent Agency perhaps have a little commission deal going on to gently bully you into spending money that you normally wouldn’t on genuine photos of yourself. So, as a business model, rather than thinking to themselves “People don’t want to pay £500 for our photos, why is this? Perhaps we could lower the price” they opted for the method of brute force. Interesting choice.
You should also be aware that you are legally allowed a 7-day cooling off period in April 2008 to try and curb bogus agencies taking advantage of young people (see mirror blog here ). It is very unlikely that the agency will inform anyone about this but it’s a legal right. Clive Hurst has a website to help people and provide information so if you have been scammed then get in contact with him and he might be able to help!
I didn’t really want to enter into the world of rejection after rejection from modeling agencies looking for much taller, skinnier, better looking people than myself! To be honest, I thought it would be funny to be an extra in a TV show; earn a little bit of cash, meet a few new people and just generally have a bit of a giggle. I’ve since heard from a friend that that’s not how it works anyway, being an extra is crap. Lucky escape.
Conclusion: I will not be rocking Versace down any Catwalk any time soon.
Lessons learnt: my ego could cost me £100, but not £500.
Retrospective analysis: The magnitude of my error yesterday to go to the gym instead of make (and eat) a cheesecake now seems only too pertinent.