STRIDING DOWN MARKET STREET with a bunch of shopping bags and messed-up hair is the very last situation in which you would expect, or want to be approached by a beautiful photographer promising you C-list fame and catalogue-modelling fortune.
But it happens, dunnit? And being a narcissistic, Generation Y, Hello-reading, tax-dodging student with a hyphenated-personality… and being told I could work as a TV extra because I look “interesting” was therefore an attractive career offer.
Zebra Collection/”Zebra Management” scout models on the street in both London and Manchester (from what I’ve heard and known, Brick Lane and Market Street respectively) and their reps are indistinguishable from other members of the public, usually wandering without wearing any identification.
I was approached by a photographer called ‘Michael’ who had a very basic digital camera and an impressive business card. I let him take a photo as I am Facebook whore.
“If they like your picture back in the office, they’ll give you a ring.”
Despite expecting this to be an empty promise, a month later I got a phone call from a London number by a woman called “Natalie” who claimed to be an agent for Zebra Collection. She proceeded to congratulate me on “qualifying” for being considered “model-material”. An interview then took place over the phone.
1. “How would you describe yourself in three words?”
2. “Where do you work?”
3. “What do you like to do outside of work?”
The body-specific questions were then asked, and following questions 4,5, and 6, the agent claimed that the company campaigned against size zero models (ah that’s nice of them)
4. “What clothes size are you?”
5. “How tall are you?”
6. “What are your measurements?”
7. “Have you worked for an agency before or do you already have an agent?”
8. “How old are you?”
‘Natalie’ then went on to talk about what the Zebra clientèle apparently is comprised of:
“L’oreal, MTV and the Richard and Judy Show.”
The defunct Richard and Judy Show? Suspicious.
“We are looking to build a base of models who can be used for catalogue modelling, TV extras and music videos. We do not work in the fashion industry. Does this still sound appealing to you?”
A verbal agreement was then made over the phone allowing her to get in touch with me by email about photography options, which seemed fair – me to pay for copyright, them to pay for studio and photographer hire which worked out at approximately £150 each way.
However, when an invoice came through my letterbox which said that images would have to be paid for on top of their copyright, I got my back up and asked how much it would actually cost.
“Between £200 and £750, depending on what package you want.”
According to ALBA, a charity which seeks to protect models and TV extras from being exploited in the industry insist that any management company interested in taking on new talent will always pay for portfolio costs. Following a quick enquiry, a representative from the charity replied almost instantly: “Not recommended.”
Using the information to cancel my invoice and cut all ties, ‘Natalie’ from the Zebra Collection went on to say: “We’re not an agency.”
Huh? “What actually is it then?” I asked.
“I already told you we are not an agency. We’re a platform where our clients can choose which models they would like to work with. It’s like a more exclusive Facebook.
“You have to have model-standard images to upload, this is why we have booked an exclusive photo session for you.”
In addition to booking a Manchester session, they had also booked a session in Lightrooms in London – which had not been referred to by Natalie in any previous contact. “We are very established. You can get the best professional results at Lightrooms as you need professional pictures for your modelling portfolio. It makes it easier for companies who want to work with you.”
Including the production company responsible for the Richard and Judy Show? After conducting a simple Google search on the Zebra Collection, a string of links to forums containing numerous questions from other scouted ‘models’ revealed a high degree of uncertainty about the reputation of the company. Even the search term “Zebra Collection Scam” itself culminates in 158,000 results.
Interestingly, positive responses given in forums sounded very similar to the sales pitch given by Natalie and were given at dates and times in close succession to each other. Take the following example:
“March 4, 2009 5:30 PM
I have literally just got back from the Richard and Judy show where I was an extra in the new ‘Star Bar’ area, got to hang out with the celeb guests that were on show, drinks were free. plus was hypnotised live on camera but the celeb hypnotist and got paid £50 for day, was so much fun! This is about the 4th job The Zebra Collection have arranged for me in 2 months, did I mention the drinks were free hehehehehe.
The response is copied in its exact entirety on another website.
So, thanks for getting your show cancelled, Richard And Judy or I might’ve lost about £750 for my vanity.