Cholee Thompson, the owner & President of Ryan Artists, has been an Oregonian her whole life, and has been in & around the fashion, modeling, and talent industry here since she was a young girl. Stepping out from in front of the camera last year, Thompson took the agency over in March of 2009, quite an economic year to step into ownership of a business in a competitive environment in a small-market region. I sat down with Thompson (“CT”) to get her perspective on the fashion & talent market in Portland these days, what it’s like to helm an agency in Portland’s market environment, what the future holds, and what to do if you’re interested in modeling.
aerochug.com: How did you originally get involved in modeling?
I was with my parents one time in San Francisco and we saw these girls doing some in-store modeling, and I found out they were making $150 an hour! [laughs] Later I was offered a scholarship for training at the ABC agency’s Kids & Teens division in their Eugene branch. I did my first photo-shoot with Chad Boutin and started working, doing stock photography and fashion shows.
aerochug.com: Have you ever been kidnapped for ransom in a Third World country? [laughs]
CT: “Well, twice, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
aerochug.com: What are Ryan’s divisions?
CT: We have a modeling division that’s divided into kids, lifestyle (the largest), and fashion. We have an acting & voiceover division, and have launched a Stylist division representing hair & makeup artists and costume & wardrobe stylists.
aerochug.com: Your background as a talent was in modeling. What’s it been like diving into the management & development of other divisions?
Well it has been a huge learning curve because I’ve found I really need to learn it from all different angles. So when it comes to acting for example… What does it feel like when someone goes to an audition? What do they do in acting classes? What are the different acting techniques? So when someone tells me they’re “Meisner-trained,” what does that mean, and how do they respond to a cold read or a script differently, so then what can I do to help them? And learning the individual talent so I can help them to fit type when they go out for auditions.
Photo: Mathew Mitchell
Have there been any surprises for you about the way the industry functions?
CT: For me, I envisioned that I would be acting more as an agent and my role as an owner needed to be just behind a computer and booking auditions, and of course that’s part of it. But really the most crucial thing for me has turned out to be being out & about, networking, bringing in new clients, making sure existing ones are happy, and seeing the actors in action … so when they do a theater production or a film I can see first-hand what they’ve done.
aerochug.com: 2009 was rough on just about everyone. How did you pull through? What were the stronger and weaker divisions in the region’s market for talent?
CT: The agency pulled through okay. It sustained itself. The acting division has been the strongest division with commercials and the TV & film productions that are frequenting Portland these days. Fashion modeling has taken a huge hit, with clients using stock images.
With husband Greg Thompson
aerochug.com: When most people think of “models,” they think of lithe young teen & early-twenties women and boyish ripped young men in fashion imagery. In Portland and the NW in general, this is not really where the business is, right? Is there actually a broader market here for lifestyle models of varying ages?
CT: Well, the fashion side, the fresh faces, extremely young, extremely fit, extremely thin, is virtually non-existent here in Portland. So we try to get them placed in other markets like NY & LA. Here in Portland a lot of them are only able to do work for free or Trade-for-Print or Photos. The paid modeling Industry in Portland is centered around lifestyle & athletic with the sports and outerwear giants here. Weekly shoots for us are with clients like Fred Meyer, who are looking for more of an every-day-person look , in every-day sample sizes.
aerochug.com: Oregon’s Governor Kulongoski has been very aggressive about creating a program of strong incentives for TV & Film to shoot here, and create so-called “shutter-ready jobs” in Oregon. He’s gone as far as personally calling Executive Producers like Leverage’s Dean Devlin in Hollywood to pitch Oregon to them. I know you’ve kept a close eye on all this and have attended some functions & forums on it. How do you feel about these developments?
CT: Yeah Oregon Bill SB621 was the incentive legislation that got passed to help get them here. Our incentives weren’t big enough to bring this level of production here before. Productions like Leverage, people like Gus Van Sant (he helped pass the bill), and numerous feature films have helped boost business here. It’s a great place for them. It’s a geographically diverse state with vastly different environments that can be reached in a short jaunt.
Photo: Cully Wright
aerochug.com: Yeah I’ve talked to friends in the industry in LA and they complain about how they feel California’s not doing enough to compete with the Oregons and the Vancouver, BC’s of the world… that their work is leaving town.
CT: Yes that was one of my surprises was calling up LA agencies to shop our talent to them and sometimes being told “What are you kidding? We’ve got nothing right now. We were gonna call YOU!”
aerochug.com: What’s your advice to someone who has an interest in modeling, but no experience and no idea what the first steps are? What are some common misperceptions?
CT: You know for modeling the first step is fairly easy. Take snapshots… just regular snapshots, don’t pay anyone… in a swimsuit from different angles. Send those along with all your stats to local agencies. Other than that my advice would just be to manage your expectations. You know, I’m not cut out to be a Portland Trailblazer. That’s just not a boundary I’m going to cross! And not everybody is cut out to be a model.
aerochug.com: I don’t know I think maybe the Blazers could use your help this year. [laughs]
CT: Yeah ‘cause Im not wounded!
aerochug.com: How does 2010 look to you? Are there any early indications that advertisers will be shifting back from stock images and hiring more models, or are they still skittish? What about acting?
CT: Stock images are still a very popular choice, but commercials are coming through, and even some union commercials, but by no means are we there yet. We do have films coming in, and Leverage returning, but January and February tend to be relatively slow times anyway. I have the highest hopes that we’ll see a real pickup this Spring and Summer. If it does, I can tell you that people are ready. Talent is trained and their skills are honed. They’re geared up and if it’s gonna happen, everyone’s ready to pounce on it.
aerochug.com: What are your favorite, and least favorite parts of your job as an agency helm?
CT: My favorite is that we can help some very passionate people literally pursue & achieve their dreams. The most frustrating thing for me is when the market is down and can’t sustain much and there are really talented people who just can’t find work.
aerochug.com: What is something you think most people don’t know about you?
CT: Ummm… I am a certified scuba diver. I have a life motto of “no regrets.” I’m a pretty straight shooter and sometimes step on toes because of that… oh, and I have NO artistic talent whatsoever.
For more info: Ryan Artists. Matthew Mitchell Photography, Cully Wright Photography, Michael Andrus Photography, Leverage on TNT, OREGON FILM & VIDEO OFFICESenate Bill 621