Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Is Model Management Model Management?

I've just taken Roxanne through the slew of model agencies in Rosebank Mall. I foolishly hoped it would not be a painful process. Roxanne has shrunk 3 or 4 centimetres since we last spoke, it seems. She was measured at 171cm, somewhat below Ice's modest 174cm limit.

We shopped around a bit more. Pitch and counterpitch. What do you want? What is your experience? How old are you? It's a painful experience - I'm guessing - because the primary motivators for most models and the agencies that manage them is greed and vanity. This is an incredibly thin veneer. As such, agencies start off charging the model R500 or more for shooting a bunch of photos against a sterile white background (no matter what they have in their portfolio) and then make dodgy promises like: "I see you have the X factor, but get on with your studying because we might not call you for months." Thanks buddy. What a great deal. So we're talking about a return of investment of something like less than R100 a month for the first few months.

The fella we spoke to astutely observed that the 19-22 year age group is the least active, gets the least work. Huh? He pointed out that Brad Pitt won some or other contract with Levi's and that the money - for modelling - is now going to older people. What he should have said is this age group is probably the most competitive, hence little work has to be spread very very thin. I bet they say the opposite to 35 year olds who stroll in looking for modelling jobs. "All the teeangers are getting work; I mean, Avril Lavigne and Britney Spars and Paris Hilton have changed the world haven't they." But then add, thoughtfully, "There is something about you...pay us R500 for a quick shoot and we can get you on Top Billing in a couple of months, maybe a few years at most."

Unfortunately if you're the pretty person being appraised, what are you left to do? Write a cheque? Not so fast. How well known is the agency actually? How well do you know this guy that's asking you for money? What's his experience? How many models are on their books? How grotty are their offices? Is the tattooed hunk with honey coated words saying anything beyond the Gambling Game (promising lots but delivering as little as possible). The litmus test is this: is the perso taking a personal interest in you, who you are - Tyra Banks style?

Our guy seemed to have very little interest in Roxanne herself, and a cursory interest in me. It's probably unavoidable: you see people as posters and paper. Unfortunately, to the extent that models allow themselves to be dehumanised, their ultimate worth (both as models and flesh and blood organisms) decreases rapidly.

Why is Ryk Neethling the celebrity that he is? Not because he is just someone nice to look at. There are plenty of other male models. With Ryk there is a story to tell, there is substance behind the style. There is hard work, achievement and ethics. And we have gotten to know who he is through numerous interviews and comments over the years. The difference between a model who just lends her face to MacDonalds and Bic ad nauseum and someone like Ryk (a certain kind of celebrity) is being a bit discerning, giving oneself credit that one is more substantive than a color coating for paper, and most important, communicating as far as possible a story along with the imagery. I believe Roxanne can be that, a personality, the question is, does she?

Increasingly, it seems to me, that the story is what gives us value. Without a story, who are we? This is the reason we flock to the movies; because our lives are not complete without a story. Even less so if we have no story to tell about ourselves.

1 comment:

Nick said...

In sum: To be a successful model you have to turn yourself into a brand. That requires strategic thinking, not just doing random jobs for a quick buck.