Model and Talent Search Canada
(MTSC) - Questions / Complaints


To Whom It May Concern:

I stumbled upon your website through sheer happenstance, and after having perused it, I felt that it was absolutely imperative that I respond to a lot of what I have read. 

I am (or was, I have since retired) a free-lance, contract modeling scout. I contracted out to various agencies and organizations to go to shows, etc. (on a professional level) and, on the amateur level, Model Search conventions like the ones that are being (in some cases, justly) vilified and slammed on your website, to scout, gauge, and in some cases sign prospective models.

I started in the business when I was 16 and have found and placed models with over 120 of the agencies that I had contracted out to, and have been fortunate to have been pretty much all across the world in the nine years since I started, to when I retired (I am now 27).

I have worked with all the "big-name agencies" (for whatever that's worth), but really liked and specialized in working for boutique agencies who marketed primarily overseas —Korea, Japan, and Milan were specialties of mine.

I attended, and for the most part quite enjoyed attending the Model and Talent Search conventions (some more than others), and attended with varying frequency IMTA, MAAI, Model Search America, BAM, Visions, Connections, and MTSC, among others.

After reading the angry letters about MTSC, I felt that I must respond to the biased opinions of what are generally laymen (when it comes to Model and Talent Searches), so as to offer a dissenting opinion, but one that is equally valid, and a lot more experienced.

Due to a number of circumstances, I retired from the business when I was 24. However, MTSC is the only model and talent search that I still choose to attend, and I intend on doing so this year as well.

The reason why I do so is simply that after having been so immersed in that industry for so long, I know unequivocally that it is the best of its kind.

I know that the CEO and the organizers are reputable and honest people, and ones who created MTSC as a foil for all the gouging, overcrowding, false-hope-giving model searches that are out there.

When I first contemplated attending MTSC as an agent, I wanted to know what I was getting into, so, as always, I asked to be a part of the screening process (strange as it may sound), but I operated this way so that I could determine if it is just a money-grubbing scam, taking money from whomever wants to give it) or not.

(The scam conventions are a painful time for the scout/agent at the convention, because we really don't like having to say 'no' to people all the time!)

What I found was that MTSC's screening process is much more thorough than the others. In addition to a simple stand-up-walk-to-the-screener-they-look-you-up-and-down-ask-a-few-questions-sit-down, all the people whom they decided had castable potential then must go in for a private interview with one of the screeners.

Parents are always invited to attend, and in the case of minors, it is mandatory. This interview takes 15 minutes, and from what I saw, can be a little intimidating for the prospective contestant.

A lot of questions are asked of both the model and the parent(s), and a lot of things are explained, too.

Happily, the screeners seemed to welcome questions, no matter what, by anyone hesitant or unsure of something about the convention or MTSC itself.

I asked the Head Screener (sort of the boss) afterwards why they operate their screening process in such a way, and she told me it was so that they can make absolutely sure that the convention is suitable for the prospective model/actor, and what he or she really wants, and also so that the screener can be absolutely sure that the prospective client stands a chance of getting the most opportunities available at the convention itself.

This was delightful for me to hear. I don't know how many conventions I went to where I'd see 5'2" fat girls with moustaches who wanted to be runway models in the runway competitions, and I'd think to myself: "I wonder how these organizers can sleep at night, preying on these girls' dreams like this!"

The screener echoed my thoughts by further telling me that they do all this because they want to make sure that the calibre of contestants is of the highest degree, so that the agents won't feel like it's been an utter waste of their time, and so that everybody —agents and prospects —can hopefully go home with something a little more than they had before they came to the convention, or even more hopefully, a lot more.

Another thing that impressed me was anachronistic of its kind: MTSC puts limits on their attendance.

Upon my asking they told me that they limit the conventions to 300 contestants in order to ensure a fair actor/model to agent ratio. No more.

This is something relatively unheard of. A lot of the conventions out there have so many contestants in them that they literally have to produce a book of all the people entered for the judges to consult simply so that they can keep up.

In some competitions 2,000-4,000 contestants is certainly not unheard of, and, sadly, in a lot of cases that appears to be the norm.

This means a life of utter hell for the agent. Imagine 500 people all lined up to see you on Go-See Day, perhaps only five of whom you feel you could actually take on.

It's tiring, discouraging (disappointing so many people), and infuriating as you wonder why it's been left up to you to burst so many bubbles while the organizers are counting their money.

Also, for the prospective model/actor, it's not only intimidating, but patently unfair. Imagine waiting in line for four hours to see one agent, who is probably already just wishing he or she could go home.

With 2,000-4,000 contestants, that doesn't leave a lot of time, hope, or much of anything for the prospects, except to wait and hope that you're in a line that goes quickly.

Which brings me to price. The letters on this website complained about the $600 tariff to attend the convention. I almost swallowed my tongue.

MTSC brings in some of the best agencies in the business. There are absolutely NO schools, NO agencies that charge upfront for representation, NO agency that sells picture portfolio packages. They ensure this.

These agencies (and I know, because I worked with many of them) are international agencies who market their models to agencies in different markets, thus becoming said models' Mother Agency, therein maximizing the models' exposure to varying markets, and ensuring that they are not just going to be sent to repeated local bookings for the local mall fashion show, or the latest department store catalogue, but will get international exposure.

MTSC charges $600 to attend the (weekend) convention. Canadian. I say to you, quite emphatically, that you will be hard-pressed to attend another Model and Talent Search for under $1,000.

Prices anywhere from $1,500 - $4,000 are commonplace with a lot of the bigger, grandfathered conventions. And that is in American funds.

The question as to why the price has to be whatever it is at all is quite simple if you think about it.

The hotel doesn't rent its space out for free, and there is staff to consider, but, of course, unquestionably the greatest chunk of it is for flying in and housing the agents. They don't pay for their own tickets or hotel rooms, and hotels and airlines sure don't let them fly or stay free.

I always wondered why it seemed that nobody noticed that, in the cases of the conventions held in New York City or Los Angeles, for instance, the conventions that advertise "over a hundred" (two hundred, or however many) agents, that an incredibly disproportionate amount of agents were from that very city where the convention was being held.

Of course, the answer is simple: their attendance is cheap. They've just got to drive a few blocks and they're there. Which is great for the convention. They can now advertise their huge amount of attending agents (thus seemingly boosting their prominence in the eyes of the contestants), and pay said number of agents at no cost or effort to the event's organizers.

This I always found to be somewhat unfair —no matter how shrewd.

Ideally, each market city should be fairly and equally representated... 'the look' agents are looking for varies from city to city, and indeed, the fashion industry in each city is sort of a world unto itself.

There just seemed to me to be something patently wrong about a convention (held, say, in New York) advertising 100 agents in attendance, 80 of whom are New York agents. It left me wondering: "Where did all the money go?" But that's another matter altogether.

There are also no schools attending MTSC, unlike a lot of others which quite proudly and unabashedly do this for all reasons financial, and which give the schools a facade of legitimacy and respectability, which, for the most part, I do not believe they deserve.

They will take money, money, and then more money from people, some of whom have absolutely no chance of getting anywhere in the modeling industry (see the aforementioned 5'2" fat girl with a moustache who was in the runway competition after weeks of classes), enroll them in what are really —and they are —totally redundant and useless classes, and basically string them along to a convention (that they have to pay thousands of dollars to attend), so that it's left up to us (the agents/scouts) to break their hearts after they emptied their wallets to these people!

I vividly remember attending one very high-profile convention in New York City (that shall remain nameless, ahem), and, as usual, I was the very last agent at the call backs.

This was mainly because I insisted on seeing everyone. I figured they paid their thousands of dollars to be there, so who the hell am I to skip out on them?

And after a while, it became more colloquial, and I had a whole group of people come, one or two or three at at time, just to come by and hang out at my table.

What each of them expressed to me they expressed in unison:

"Why didn't they tell me?"

"Why didn't they tell me I'm too short?"

"Why didn't they tell me I'm too heavy?"

"Why didn't they tell me I'm too hairy?"

"Why didn't they tell me I should have waited till my braces came off?"

"Why didn't they tell me I should get my rosacea attended to first?"

And so on and so forth.

These kids had shelled out $8,000 to attend this convention including hotel, food, cost of the convention, and (frequently) the classes their schools had them take, and frequently airfare as well, and they sure deserved a hell of a lot better than to be strung on that long, or even to be strung on at all.

Oh, and on a side note... I asked the owners of some of the schools why they put (forgive the bluntness) ugly people, or overweight people, tiny people, people with limps, whatever, in classes when they know there's not going to be much we (the agents/scouts) can do for them.

They told me they enrolled those people in classes such as runway, swimwear photography, etc., to give them "confidence" and "social skills."

I wondered if those ugly, tiny, limping, or overweight people knew that, because judging by how they acted when they were at my table on Go-See Day, picture portfolio in hand, they sure seemed to have the dream of being a model.

Whatever confidence or social skills they may have found, I wonder how many of them would much rather have been given their $8,000 back, instead of being told "No, sorry" at the convention.

It is true that with agencies in this business one should never have to pay, or feel forced to purchase (pay to take, attend, etc.) something up front.

If an agency feels they can make money off you, they will foot your first few bills (photo shoots, portfolio, etc.), and then just take their money back once you start making money.

Model and talent searches, however, are not agencies. They are an opportunity to introduce "a" to "b", to see what, if anything, can happen from there.

Through no other venue can an aspiring actor or model, no matter what your lack of experience, see assembled in one room such a variety of prominent people in this business, from all over the world, and talk to them in an attempt to get the proverbial ball rolling.

Go ahead, think it's a scam and save your $600, send your pictures off to agencies in far-away cities that don't even know you, like a great many other people do (many of whom couldn't get past step one of the screening process), and that just wind up on a big pile or in some dark filing cabinet somewhere.

Perhaps someone will look at it and say, "Yeah, great, but what the hell can I do considering she's in Green Bay, and we're in Los Angeles," before putting it in the trash.

Or maybe go to your local agencies —that certainly won't cost $600. Perhaps they can book you for a J.C. Penney runway show at the local mini-mall. But is that really what you want?

At MTSC, also an anachronism, the contestants get what they should get, and nothing extraneous. There are no Best Smile, Best Legs, Best Eyes, Best Figure, or Best Lips nonsense competitions.

A bunch of us agents always thought they were solely designed to give the contestants a feeling of having received something, so that they wouldn't be absolutely furious on spending their thousands of dollars without getting anything tangible or substantive out of it.

MTSC has about four or five seminars, runway and swimwear competitions for modeling, commercial and tv script competitions for actors, and child runway and child tv commercial for children. Then the awards dance, and the most important open go-sees and call backs.

That's it. No pep rallies. No gift stores with shirts that say "Yes, I am a model" for $30. No corporate shill actors telling everyone how great it is.

These things should be about giving these kids (and grown-ups too!) the opportunities they so need to help their career.

I realize I have been somewhat loquacious and long winded, but I did want to write a response to much of what I read on this website today.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I would hate to see the bias of one or a couple of people, no matter how well- or ill-founded, ever stop or even dissuade someone taking a chance that may help them get closer to achieving their dreams.

Especially if those are the dreams of children. I find that unconscionably wrong. Life is about opportunities and we're only alive once, and then we're a long time dead.

As such it is always a shame when opportunity knocks and someone doesn't answer the door. Nothing will come of nothing, to quote Lear, and skepticism won't ever get you closer to your dreams.

I, for much of the reasons stated above, no longer do the convention circuit, or really that much at all in the industry anymore.

I now know MTSC. I know its owner and its senior staff. Now that I am out of the business, I consider them friends, and the reason why they are my friends is because through watching how the organization works, and the service it offers, I came to see it as an anachronism of its kind, and its organizers honest and decent people who offer a good service. In this industry, those kind of people are really nice to find (however rare).

I found in my experience attending as an agent that the vast majority of agents leave MTSC happy with what they saw or got, and a lot of the contestants do, too.

Not everyone goes home happy. Not everyone (hardly anyone) gets whisked away that night to sign a million-dollar contract or star in the latest Hollywood Blockbuster.

If anyone thinks that, they're being totally unrealistic to the point of being delusional. What everyone does go out of it with (if they let themselves) is a greater understanding as to how the business works, a little more experience, and some contacts as well.

Remember that because the agents are there to help you. You paid the money. Take their card. Ask questions. Stay in touch.

Maybe there's nothing they can do for you, work-wise, but even a little advice in the right direction is a lot more than you had before you showed up.

And, if it's to go towards your dreams, or the dreams of your child or loved one, isn't that absolutely invaluable?

Good luck, and try not to let any of the jaded cynicism that appears to be legion out there prevent you from striving for your hopes and your dreams.

In truth and sincerity,

S.L.


S.,

Thanks for writing at length and in detail.

Tried to let your letter stand, as is, without a rebuttal, because there is so much of it which supports the comments of industry leaders and commentary on this website, but there are a few issues you raised which can be challenged.

There is basically no difference of opinion between what you said about the modeling industry in general (upfront fees, modeling schools, conventions) and the commentary on the site. There is however a possible difference of opinion on MSTC.

Even if the MTSC screening is better than the rest of the modeling convention industry, as you claim it is, based on your experience and conversations with the "Head Screener," it is not good enough if agents don't screen potential models using photos before payment and before the convention.

Do they do that?

Limiting the number of contestants is all well and good; so is spending time in an interview with the potential contestants and their parents; avoiding upfront-fee agencies; agencies tied in with schools; silly competitions and cheesy T-shirts. But it is not enough.

There is another convention which claims its standards are higher than the competition, but they are not high enough. They still do not properly check the conflict of interest.

The leaders of two of the more well-known modeling conventions, Millie Lewis and Manhattan Model Search, have both been asked the same question about screening. Neither one has answered.

Do you want to give it a shot? As a scout, do you have a problem with reviewing potential models using sharp snapshots submitted to you by the screeners and Head Screener of MTSC before anyone makes a payment or goes to the convention?

You said you asked the owners of some of the schools why they put people unsuitable for modeling into modeling classes, and they said it was to give them "confidence" and "social skills."

Apparently this is not the focus of marketing for modeling schools. The focus is modeling. They push and sell the dream. They don't emphasize confidence to the girls. The girls aren't raving, "I'm going to be confident, yay, and have all these social skills, yay!" It's: "I'm going to become a model!"

But on the subject of confidence, what is it going to do for a young woman's self-esteem when she finds out she has been duped, she was recruited for either classes and/or a convention just for the money?

One girl already wrote and said her self-esteem took a beating once she discovered she had been tricked.

How is a girl's self-esteem not going to be affected after she is led to believe she is model material, and therefore she should attend a convention, only to be told at the convention she is not model material?

A girl can be affected on two levels, firstly her looks, and secondly, her intelligence. "I was unable to see it was a scam."

The entire social skills and confidence claim could be in the same vein as the awards you mentioned, which you and other agents thought was designed to make the aspiring models feel less like their money was completely wasted.

Confidence and social skills are important, but they don't have to be sold in a package (school) for models.

Think of what being offered representation by a real agency is going to do to their confidence!

Your argument against photo submissions is not convincing. You said: "Perhaps someone will look at it and say, "Yeah, great, but what the hell can I do considering she's in Green Bay, and we're in Los Angeles," before putting it in the trash.

How is that different from all the reports of potential models who attend modeling conventions, only to be told, "If you move to Los Angeles, we will offer you representation," or, "If you are ever in New York, we'll send you on go-sees."

These types of comments were made by people who attended MSA and IMTA.

One of the most ridiculous aspects of modeling conventions is the issue of location is not fully explained by the organizers or understood by the aspiring models. The plucked-from-obscurity fantasy is not going to happen. Very few agencies are going to do that.

How many reputable and ethical agencies in New York, for example, are going to tell teens who have never done any modeling to drop out of high school in Anytown, USA, and follow them to New York in case they might find work?

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