Modeling is glamorous, and can be very lucrative, but there's an ugly underside to the industry, often where certain people tend to prey on would-be models' misguided expectations.
The company is called Options Talent, which used to be called E-Models, which had a lot of consumer complaints.
It uses the Internet and has been recruiting heavily in the Bay Area, approaching people on the street with tempting offers to help them get "discovered" as a model. As we found out, the offers may be good for your ego, but not your wallet.
While Constance Stamas may not be your idea of a super model, one local modeling company thinks she is.
"It was kind of strange to me because in my mind I don't fit the sort of person that would be a model," she says.
Constance was 'scouted' a few months ago as she came out of her dry cleaner's on San Francisco's Haight Street. Constance is 44 years old, and she admits, she, "...wasn't looking all that chic that day."
But logic temporarily gave way to dreams: dreams of walking the runway, jet setting from Paris to London or New York, sipping Cristal on the Concorde with Tom Cruise. The works. She imagined living the fast life in the glitzy world of high fashion.
As she says, "It's just an ego boost," when you're approached by a 'talent scout' right off the street.
So Constance went to a weekend "cattle call" audition at the Mill Valley offices of Options Talent, an internet firm formerly known as E-Models that claims to be the world's largest model scouting company, with dozens of offices worldwide.
Almost immediately, she was hit with a steep up-front fee.
Nearly $500 bucks for a snapshot, posted on their website, with the promise she'd be discovered. Gentlemen, start your engines: the pressure was on.
"If you decide no at this point," goes the sales pitch, "you can't reapply for another year."
"Another year?" she asked. "I just thought 'the hell with this.' "
Constance walked out of the deal, but how many other people didn't and paid the money?
Skye Sands has done some modeling for Jump Magazine and for ESPRIT, the real thing. "As a girl you look through magazines. You see girls on TV modeling. It's just something that's fun, something I've always wanted to do," she says.
We asked her to help us find out more about Options Talent. Skye called them and set up a weekend appointment, a Saturday afternoon.
She went, but not alone. We were there too, following Skye with a hidden camera.
More than 30 people crammed into a Mill Valley home/office, all dreaming of fame and fortune.
One by one, Skye and the others were led into a separate room to be measured, weighed and photographed. But it was upstairs where the real sales job took place.
They claimed to have a network of over 7,000 clients and agencies that they work with regularly, all over the world.
"We have people from Marie Claire Magazine, Maxine Magazine, some agencies, casting agencies, Candy Ford Management," they say.
Then, there's an impressive list of stars on Option's advisory board.
San Francisco's Don Johnson, for one.
"Everybody knows who Don Johnson is," they say. "We've got him on there checking everything out, making sure everything is right."
The list goes on.
"Max Azria, founder and owner of BCBG clothing line, very big in America, he's also on our board of directors."
The list is so impressive that the big bucks pitch didn't seem so out of line. "To get started with us," they say, "it costs about the same as getting your first set of comp cards printed out, $595. Then its $19.95 a month."
But what are you really getting for almost $600 bucks? Yes, you'll that picture on a website they promised. But more importantly to some of these people, a promise that some heavy hitters are on their side.
Or are they?
Contact 4 investigated Options' alleged connections, and found most didn't pan out.
Don Johnson has nothing to do with the company, that from his agent who says he's asked Options to stop using Johnson's name.
Max Azria of BCBG? He too says he never authorized the use of his name. And we found more.
J.R. Larsen is indeed a super model for Ford, the top modeling agency in the country, but Ford president Katie Ford told us they didn't use Options to find J.R. In fact, they've never used Options Talent.
And the Elite Agency, shown in an Options brochure as praising the company, denies any link to Options, telling us they're upset by the use of their name.
Then, there's the whole up front money cost. Under California law, modeling agencies can't collect up front fees.
Options gets around that by saying its not an agency, because it doesn't represent models, it just scouts them out. But check out their sales pitch: "MTV is one of our biggest clients. We do a lot of work for them."
That's the kind of statement that concerns David Gurley, an attorney with San Francisco's Labor Commission who regulates the industry.
"The only way that could be legal is if they booked those models in conjunction with a licensed talent agent," he says.
Gurley says his agency is keeping an eye on the company, which has had a number of complaints. And so, office chief Michelle Fields says Options Talent is not doing anything illegal.
"What we do is market talent to agencies and to clients who then can choose to book them."
Fields is head of Options' Mill Valley franchise. At company headquarters in Orlando, we confronted her about the company's advisory board and big name stars who say they were never a part of it.
"To my knowledge there is not a single individual who is or was on that advisory board without their expressed consent. Period," she says.
Fields referred us to several "success stories" in the Bay Area, including Anastasia Khokholkova.
For the record, Anastasia is a strikingly beautiful woman, while most of the perspective models looked more like real people.
"In my case, it's been great," says Anastasia. "For others, I can't say."
Anastasia is now with the Dizon Agency of San Francisco and gets modeling work regularly. But what about those who don't have the looks she has? Remember that huge success rate we heard?
"85% of our models get work within the first 3 months," they said.
"I'm not aware of that claim," says Michelle. "Where is that claim made?"
Fields doesn't even seem to be aware of the claims made by her Mill Valley office. Whatever the success rate, one thing for sure: Options Talent is raking in big bucks.
As our group of thirty-some people filed out of the casting call we attended with Skye, 30 more hopefuls were filing in. Even if a fraction of them sign up, at $600 a pop...
Well, you get the picture.