International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA) Convention ("IMTA Convention")
IMTA is the most expensive modeling convention in America. It costs $5,000 -- and that's just to get in the door -- it does not include all the travel expenses. Since these events are held for young girls (and boys), they typically are accompanied by one or both parents. When they add up their full bill to include all travel expenses for everyone, it can top $10,000. One parent said she paid $7,500;1 another parent said she was looking at paying about $10,000.2
International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA) in the News
Wannabe Stars Pay Price - Big Bucks Can't Buy Career
NEW YORK POST
Thousands of wannabe stars are forking over up to $10,000 to attend a convention that promises a shot at the big time - and offers little in return, The Post has found.
"I want my money back!" said Amanda Belle, 16, a Chicago high-school student whose mother paid $6,000 for her to attend the International Modeling and Talent Association's New York convention, which wrapped up at the Midtown Hilton last night.
Amanda, an aspiring actress, wasn't picked for interviews with agents.
"We paid a lot of money, and we didn't get anything," she said, wiping away her tears.
Would-be luminaries from all over the country pay from $2,000 to $10,000 to IMTA-affiliated talent schools - such as Barbizon and John Robert Powers - for packages that include classes and trips to the convention. The schools host talent contests, leading kids to believe they've been "highly selected" and are bound for fame - if they attend the convention.
"All of these kids go there and are convinced that they'll be the next superstar, and they come back with nothing," said Rhonda Hudson, president of the Model's Guild, a union in New York.
IMTA draws hopefuls to two conventions a year, one in Los Angeles and another in New York.
IMTA CEO George Chesteen wouldn't discuss his company's prices, and said he promises only a good time to those attending the conventions.
But the talent "directors" at IMTA-member schools promise a shot at modeling contracts - and convention-goers complained of exorbitant rates.
"It was just one lie after another to get us there," said Jeanne Megel, 49, a Colorado Springs jewelry designer who spent $7,000 for her daughter, Katie, 16, to attend a convention.
"We should be on a beach somewhere for all this money - but we love our daughter," said Rick Parish, a Denver dad who paid $10,000 for himself, his wife and their daughter Becky, 14, to attend.
One former IMTA employee said the Phoenix-based business offers commissions for modeling-school agents, encouraging them to bring in candidates. The schools boast agency-placement rates of up to 85 percent, she said, but once they get to IMTA, only around 10 percent meet with agents, and fewer than 2 percent sign contracts, she said.
Aspiring model Valerie Pintado, 22, flew from Puerto Rico, spending $3,600 to try and land a contract, but the brown-eyed brunette didn't land a single meeting. "Sometimes, they're just looking for a different look," she said with a sad shrug. "At least I got to see New York."3
"Do you want to take my picture? Do you want to put me on TV?" Liesel Alexander asked TV reporters at this summer’s premiere of Camp, as movie stars Ashanti and Molly Shannon strutted down the red carpet at the Ziegfeld Theater with the film’s producer, Danny DeVito, at their side.
Ms. Alexander was among hordes of teenage girls who spent a week in New York during July for the International Modeling and Talent Convention, all hoping to be discovered so that they could one day stare out at their friends back home from the pages of Vogue or the inside of a TV set. The convention comes to town once a year, organized by the International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA). The IMTA takes young men and women from modeling and acting schools and puts them together with agents and scouts from top modeling agencies like Elite, Wilhelmina and Ford. Including airfare and expenses, it can cost aspiring mannequins upward of $3,000 to attend.
While for some the convention is simply an upscale version of theater camp or Model U.N., other participants say it’s as drama-driven and ugly as, well, the real modeling world.
Take Jaclyn, now 23, who said she recently had to declare bankruptcy because of the money she spent as a contestant at an IMTA convention at the Hilton New York Towers three years ago. At the time, she was living in Cleveland and studying modeling at the Barbizon Schools of Modeling. Jaclyn said her agent at the local Stone Model and Talent Agency assured her she’d be a sure thing.
"The people at the agency told me that I was so awesome, that there was no possible way that I could come out of IMTA with nothing," she said. "And that this was the way my idol, Katie Holmes, got discovered. And then I didn’t get a single call-back. I was crushed, I cried my eyes out and locked myself in my hotel room afterwards. [IMTA officials] banged on my door and called security because they thought I was going to kill myself."
(The IMTA declined to comment for this story, and Nancy Mancuso, IMTA’s vice president of operations, refused to let The Observer watch any of the competition.)
Jaclyn said that in her time at the convention, only three or four agents watched each competition, and most spent their time at the hotel bar.
The people at her agency, she said, "told us that if we’re of age, we should go down to the bar and schmooze with the agents, because that is where they hang out." She added that the only contact she made at the convention was at the bar, with a casting director for an acting studio. "He gave me his card and said he wanted me on his show and to have my agency contact him," she recalled.
Susan Stone, vice president at the Stone agency, denied that they told contestants to go to the bar. "We don’t encourage our kids to present themselves to agents," she said. Ms. Stone said that many contestants do not get call-backs.
"We are not God," she said. "We cannot predict how you are going to perform once you are there, and often many people freeze. We have our talent come back all the time and just tell us they walked in the door and froze."
In any case, Jaclyn paid a high price for attending. "I didn’t have tons of money beforehand, but the agency just told me to charge it to credit cards and that I would make it all back within a year when I was famous," she said. "So I charged it to eight or nine credit cards, accrued over $42,000 in credit-card interest and charges, lost my job, almost lost my apartment and ended up borrowing money left and right." After the convention, she said, she was briefly hospitalized for depression.
She wasn’t the only one feeling bereft.
"I tried to get different opinions on the cost, but really, it’s just too much money for what it is," said Ms. Emmanuelli D’Roses, who traveled from Puerto Rico so that her 13-year-old daughter Angelica could compete at this summer’s convention. "We don’t even know what we are getting, if anything."
Morgan Grice, a model who happened to be at the Hilton at a casting call for a Hong Kong agency, said she and her friend, a model named Ellen, were unimpressed with the IMTA scene. "We both have pretty scathing opinions of these types of events," she said. "Mainly because they drain a lot of unsuspecting young girls of a lot of money."
But on the surface, success was everywhere. The IMTA shop in the Hilton lobby had television screens showing success stories of former contestants and was selling panties, bras and spandex shorts with "MODEL" or "ACTOR" written across them.
And ambition was never far away. "I was wearing a suit in the elevator this morning, and some mother kept asking me if I was an agent," said a 17-year-old male contestant named Seth.
When an IMTA judge, a former Ford male model named Conrad Webley, volunteered to give one girl advice about her portfolio, a line 12 girls long formed within moments.
"They all thought I was an agent," Mr. Webley said. "A lot of these girls think that being cute is enough. But no—being cute has nothing to do with modeling; you can’t just bat your eyelashes and then become a model. It took me five trips to Ford to get hired."
But the girls keep coming. "How great would it be to get paid to look pretty and work out all the time?" said Megan, a contestant from Kentucky.
Even if they do get call-backs, it may not mean much.
"A lot of the call-backs aren’t that promising—maybe an agent just wanted a closer look at you, so that they just look and then actually decide that they don’t like you," said Maui Kafati-Batarse, 26, who attended the convention this summer and prefers to go by "Maui." ("When I’m famous, I’m going to just go by my first name.")
Kim Matuka, an agent with the Online Talent Group, a management company in Manhattan, said: "I’ve been to many conventions which have a few thousand people, and I can’t even find one person that I like—and the only reason that I call people back is to be nice, because I feel like they wasted all their money.
"IMTA is lucky because they have discovered a lot of people in the past, but that is rare," Ms. Matuka continued. "It is also easy for someone to mail a picture—making it is like getting the right lottery ticket."
Although Ms. Matuka didn’t attend this year, she said she previously scouted someone at IMTA that she "absolutely adores now."
Meanwhile, Jaclyn is still living in Ohio, taking acting classes and working part-time in a record store..4
International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA) Recruiting
A significant amount of recruiting by IMTA occurs through John Robert Powers and Barbizon Modeling schools. John Robert Powers, indeed, has a special business relationship with IMTA.5
Other IMTA recruiting happens through modeling agencies which talk models into paying over $5,000 to attend IMTA. Unfortunately, these schools and agencies do not disclose they are paid by IMTA to tell the models and aspiring models to shell out big bucks for a small chance of discovery.6
The failure to provide a Financial Interest Disclosure Statement is a violation of the EIC Code of Ethics.7
Modeling agencies from as far away as Ireland have advised their models to attend IMTA.8
Not all model agents believe model agents should advise models to attend expensive conventions.9 Rhonda Hudson, a professional model and the President of The Models Guild, issued a warning about modeling conventions.10
In addition to the high price of the convention itself and associated travel expenses, IMTA gets participants to buy professional photography.11
IMTA Success Rate
Modeling conventions in general are widely believed to result in relatively few success stories. The New York Post article (above) reported: "only around 10 percent meet with agents, and fewer than 2 percent sign contracts."
An industry veteran and member of the Talent Managers Association said the following about IMTA contestants: "There is a crapshoot chance in hell of these children becoming overnight sensations, moving parents, children and families to Los Angeles to make it."12
Model Scout Criticism
Mary Clarke lived in the Iowa hamlet of Marion, near Cedar Rapids, retreating to the Grant Wood landscape after seeing the worst of the modeling world. She'd seen the International Modeling and Talent Association convention where thousands of kids and parents go every year in the hope of being discovered after spending at least $5,000 on photos, on modeling classes, on travel, on lodging in New York. She saw what amounted to a cattle call, with those kids and parents going home, dreams destroyed, and the IMTA and its surrogate agencies going home having pocketed a profit. "You see kids with hopeful eyes who've spent thousands of dollars to be there," Mary says. "You're sickened by it."13
1. "My daughter won an audition to go to the IMTA Convention in Los Angeles. The entire trip cost about $7,500; that included portfolio, airfare, transportation, and training. Is it common to win an audition and paying for all events that you enter? Should a trip cost that much?" Email from parent, Feb. 2004.
2. "I just signed my child up at JRP New Orleans about five weeks ago. She was chosen to go to the IMTA convention in NY for a total cost of $5,200 + $2,000 each for my husband and myself to go along. She is only X years old. Then they added a 10% finance charge to make the total $9,720." Email from parent, Oct. 2003.
3. Jessie Graham, "Wannabe Stars Pay Price -- Big Bucks Can't Buy Career," New York Post, July 22, 2001, p. 003. http://groups.google.com/groups?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&safe=off&th=44c6a6f57a2d1b8d&rnum=1
5. "John Robert Powers International," "SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP WITH IMTA George V. Chesteen, CEO of the IMTA (left) and Richard C. Upton, President of John Robert Powers International forged a special agreement for JRP participants from Asia. See more on the IMTA page." http://www.johnrobertpowers.com/splash.htm [July 27, 2004]. See also "One of Cosmo Manille's leading schools for modeling, etiquette, and personal development is the John Robert Powers School. The school's recent batch of modeling graduates was sent to the International Modeling and Talent Association (IMTA) convention at the Hilton Hotel New York for the world competition." "Models, 'groupies' can't get no satisfaction," Inquirer News Service, Nov. 17, 2003. http://www.inq7.net/lif/2003/nov/18/lif_1-1.htm
6. "This company has stated that it works solely on commission and does not charge its clients any advance fees, as disreputable firms do. However, this firm advertises and collects thousands of dollars in advance fees for a modeling-acting convention in California. The cost of this convention is $5000 per person and Tommorrow Talent does receive a commission from each attendee." BBB Reliability Report for Tomorrow Talent, BBB New York. (http://www.bbbnewyork.org/businessreports/Default.aspx?id=34786) [June 2, 2004]
7. "It is not a condition of representation that an agent stipulates the photographer, printer, school or any other service provider for the client. Should an agent have any financial interest in above named businesses, full disclosure about said interest must be provided ... If an agent recommends a service provider in which they have a financial interest, it must be disclosed to the client at the time of recommendation." -- "EIC Code of Ethics: An Ethical Standard for Talent Agents," Acting and Modelling Information Service. http://www.amisontario.com/eic.php [July 27, 2004]
8. "A student of mine is looking into attending an IMTA conference in LA. She lives in Ireland and is working through an agency named Celtic Talent. She is not really a "model" type, but they are stressing the benefits it would be to her singing and acting career. She is [a teenager]." Email, Sept. 23, 2003.
9. "A new model should not have to spend thousands of dollars traveling to outrageously expensive "modeling conventions" in order to be "seen" by national agencies. It is a placement agent’s job to promote a model and get her placed nationally. If a model has the potential to work in a national or international market, his or her local mother agency should be able to do the placement, or get them seen by the best agencies worldwide." Exposure, Inc., Kansas City, Missouri. http://www.exposureinc.com/exposure.htm [July 21, 2004]
10. "Modeling conventions often advertise as the best way to get exposure to the modeling industry and the best way into the modeling business. Modeling conventions can be lots of fun and a pleasant experience. However, you should know that it can be more cost effective to go to modeling agencies on their open call days to get into the industry, and there is no charge to do so. If you have what a modeling agency is looking for they will recognize you and begin working with you. Further, if one agency feels you have what it takes to succeed in the modeling industry, but are not correct for their particular agency they will suggest other agencies for you to see. You do not need professional pictures to visit agencies for consideration; snap shots are often preferred when beginning. Moreover, many agencies like to work with their talent in putting together their individual portfolio and composite card for promotion. As a result getting a composite card and portfolio before you know what agencies or agency you are going to work with is not always the best idea." http://www.themodelsguild.org/models/index.asp?Type=1&Include=conventions.inc [May 24, 2002]
11. "The fee covers and includes: convention registration fees, head shots, seven nights accommodation at the New York Hilton Hotel, a complete model photography package... The total fee is... $6,195." "IMTA Convention Fiasco," http://www.nicksthings.com/things/things/IMTA/index.shtml [July 27, 2004].
12. Phil Brock, "Young and Restless: Tots With Head Shots - Steve Lopez' Column Today deserves your email," Jan. 9, 2004. http://www.wolfesden.net/index.cgi/noframes/read/103276 [July 27, 2004]
13. Her biggest find came in March of 1997, when she walked up to Ashton Kutcher in the Airliner bar in Iowa City and told him, "I think you should be a model." Eddie Silva, "Field of Schemes," Riverfront Times, May 8, 2002. http://www.riverfronttimes.com/issues/2002-05-08/feature.html [Aug. 29, 2004].