How much could your ego cost you?

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.”

Hmmm…..

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.

And pigs might fly…

How pig flu got passed onto humans

How pig flu got passed onto humans

So, Swine Flu.

I saw a lady on the tube yesterday wearing a face mask, walking around like it was the new black[death]. Everyone has been taken over my Mad Sow Disease; it’s on the front page of every newspaper – it’s all on anyone can talk about. Well, frankly, it’s really starting to boar me. I blame the media; they’re all “urgh, it’s the aporkalypse” and “hear ye, hear ye – paramgeddon”.

Now before I get started I should really start by saying that I am very sorry for the families of the current 152 victims. Each and every one is a tragic loss, especially the young children and I mean no disrespect to anyone by satirising this potential (yes, that’s right, potential) pandemic.

Talking of pandemics: remember CJD? Remember the Y2K? Remember SARs? Remember Bird flu? This has happened before hasn’t it? And precisely what is the ‘this’ that has happened before? Not very much by all accounts. What purpose does all this panic serve? Maybe I should be asking whom does all this panic serve?

Us, the people? We have been forewarned of the symptoms (indistinguishable from normal flu); we have been advised on the correct anti-viral drugs (Tamiflu and rival Ralenza which hopefully have both rolled out ‘revised versions’ since 2007 when there were several reports of psychotic side-effects), we have been kept abreast of the locations of the reported cases by the media (who are  kind enough also to point out to us all the suspected but not yet confirmed cases, too) and we have been educated about wearing the protection masks, (which selflessly protect everyone else around the wearer, but not the wearer themselves.) So better to be safe than sorry, right? Well, statistically speaking you are much more likely to expire of a heart attack – which isn’t helped by all this stress.

The media are often the self-sung heroes in situations such as this. Perpetuating panic with renewed reports and tales of woe. I saw a headline yesterday declaring ‘Swine fever sweeps the globe’. “Cripes,” I thought to myself “am I going to be next?” It turned out, on closer inspection, that swine fever is not in possession of a very good brush. Yes, it is important to inform the public of the news. Yes, I understand that there are different newspapers who all want to report the same story; yes I understand that people have different schedules and therefore the news needs to report the same headlines throughout the day, but let’s have some perspective please!! Today, just taking a quick glace at the headlines: A nine year old boy shot a gun into a school in Norway; Israeli PM Netanyahu is set to agree to a Palestinian statehood; a New York sized ice-self has collapsed off Antarctia; The UK governent are continuting with plans for a ‘Big-Brother’ database and are going to leave our private phone calls and web-site traffic in the hands of a corporation, although some Labour rebels are calling for the ID cards to be shelved for a while – not to mention the Naturists of Britain losing their fight for the right to bear all on the beach… All of these stories are deserving of attention and yet they all have to take the back seat while the newspapers recyle the same ‘Q&A leading articles’ we saw in 2006  during Bird Flu-era. By latching onto a potential crisis such as this the panic becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The media consistently abuse their responsibility to deliver us the truth and in times of ‘crisis’ we do not need scare-mongering.

There is a particular group of people who have been shaded from their current position in the bright glare of disdain over the last few days. No, not Al Qaeda – The UK Government. Currently public enemy number 1. Courtesy of the Dream-Team (Gordon Bown, Jacqui Smith, Harriet Harman, David Milliband and Damien McBride, among others) we have a f$%^&ed economy; we are the most watched and surveiled country in the world (by far) and are wasting billions on an ID card system that will neither curb illegal immigration or help stop ‘terrorism’; we have worsening gender animosity resulting from bad policies; we (as a country, not as individuals and not through any permission of the tax-payers) colluded in torture of ‘terrorists’; we have the most immature, imbecillic politicical advisors whose advisory service consists of spreading rumours that their opponents were seen frequenting a sexual health clinic. Not to mention they’re all in the dog house for abusing the self-regulated expenses system whereby MPs think it’s appropriate to charge the tax-payer for Antique fireplaces, adult moves and bathroom plugs while the hoi-polloi are losing their jobs in droves. And yet today they take the back seat while the UK squawks about a strain of influenza that has so far resulted in 2 suspected cases in Great Britain (Scotland to be exact). Yes, there is a certain group who definitely benefit from keeping the attention away from them for a short time. Let’s hope that the majority of us can turn our attention back to them when all this blows over (I’m sure there’s a Three Little Pigs joke in there somewhere…)

Who else benefits? How about GlaxoSmithKlein or Roche Holding AG? Suppliers of Tamiflu and Relenza – the drug of choice to combat Pig Flu. Not only are there increased sales of the two drugs, but Biota Holdings Ltd, which earns royalties on Relenza,  share price jumped 82% in one day (27th April). How do you like them apples? A slightly more tenuous, tin-hatted benefit springs to mind as well. There are currently extreme violence ‘issues’ in Mexico centred around gangs with drugs and directed at anyone and everyone. Since the US and British Armies have been in Afghanistan, there have been increased exports of heroin and cocaine into The US from Mexico so the cull of this ‘trade line’ will surely benefit the drugs companies of the states? Improbable, but not impossible.

As I’ve been writing this there have been several new stories about the progress of this virus – updates from the WHO claiming this is the tipping point for the fever which is no longer containable and, yet, no more deaths have been reported.  You can easily create a computer program to model the spread of the virus based on current infections and contact bases, none has surfaced thus far. Not one report has been of sensible, calm advice giving a statistical chance of catching the fever or mortality rates. Something doesn’t add up. Either this is a world-wide panic where we’re all going to die (also known as armageddon)… or it’s not.

If this was a complete catastrophe you’d think that perhaps all flights would have been cancelled to Mexico. Or perhaps there would be more deaths? More statistics? More Science? Any science? Except there doesn’t seem to be that much tangible information. Just hyperbole created and supported by beneficiaries with the sole-purpose of profiteering, distraction and scare-mongering.

Whether I’m wrong or not, time will tell, but if I’m not what will we learn from the situation and our continued reaction to news like this? Will we learn anything? Judging from the last couple of days that Pig Flew alright.