Shot Model Management – Nice Shot

When Curtis Gunn opened The Shot modeling agency, he took his first step toward a goal to educate advertisers about the positive benefits that could be obtained by using models with dis abilities. At first glance you may not be aware that the models have disabilities, but this is his intent. His objective is simple; people should see the product first, the model second and the dis ability last. Though his philosophy has met with some criticism, Curtis holds firm to his convictions; the models are there to create an image to sell product. ABILITY spoke with Curtis about the agency.

Chet Cooper: How did you get started?

Curtis Gunn: Department stores impressed me with a model that was in a wheelchair. It made me feel good about the stores. They were doing something good. I also realized then that it was a great idea to have a model in a wheelchair. About six months later my family and I were down by the San Diego marina. We were walking around and two guys went by us, one of the guys was running and the other was in a wheelchair and I realized right then and there that these two guys were doing the same thing; they were getting a cardiovascular workout. They were having a good time, laughing and joking, there was no difference in what these guys were trying to accomplish. The mode of transportation was all that was different. That was the second thing that hit me in the back of the head that made me say, “Curtis take a look at this thing”. I did my research with the census bureau that proved to me that there were mil lions of dollars that were spent by people with disabilities, to spend on products. The advertising community was not addressing the needs of this group. I felt that there was a good opportunity here to start a marketing business and a modeling agency. There had to be a lot of good-looking men and women out there who were dis abled, it was just a matter of going out there and finding them. I really believe that my models would be signed on at major agencies if it were not for their disabilities. But because of their disability, they are not. It is interesting, the story that Ivy Gunter tells about being in the hospital after her surgery, her agent comes in and cancels her contract. She felt that Ivy couldn’t model anymore because she lost her lower leg. There was never any thought given to if she could work with the dis ability. So I went out searching for my first fifteen good looking men and women. From there I put my book together.

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CC: What is your background?

CG: My background is in advertising, sales and pro motions.

CC: Are you still working in this area?

CG: No. I was previously working in promoting music, rock n’ roll, and advertising. We were some of the first people to bring music and major corporations together. For example, I worked on bringing Michael Jackson and Pepsi together.

CC: So this has been a major career change for you?

CG: Exactly. I have devoted 100% of my time and I have put up all the money.

CC: What was the response from the Entertainment Tonight story that recently aired?

CG: I have been receiving a lot of calls from the press about the agency, I have gotten a lot of calls from other people interested in modeling, and a lot of publicity.

CC: When did you start the company?

CG: Officially, I opened the door April 1, 1997.

CC: So you are really brand new?

CG: Yes. We have been in business for only a few months.

CC: What are your short and long term goals?

CG: My true long-term goal is that people will see an ad with my models in it and see the product first, the model second, and the disability last. My short-term goal is to enhance and educate advertisers into using people with disabilities. I know they want to use them (disabled models) but they are not sure how to use them. I don’t want my models pigeon-holed as exclusively “disabled” models. If you look in any fashion magazine whether it is Elle, Mademoiselle, or any of them you will see that 25-30% of the photographs are taken from the waist up, sitting, or prone. These photographs are all of able-bodied men and women. If my models have the look that the client is looking for to represent their product then what does it matter that they are disabled? If the photograph is to be shot from shoulders up and the person is a below-the-knee amputee or is a paraplegic, it doesn’t really matter. If the model has the image, that is what it is all about. Advertising and modeling is all image conscious. We are effected by image. Advertising agencies create these ads and images to influence us, the consumer, to purchase their goods. Whether this is accomplished through sex appeal, need, identification with the product, education, it’s all done through image. If my model has the image and it hap pens to be a photograph where they will shoot shoulders up or the model is on the couch, why do they always have to go to an able-bodied person? Why can’t it go to the person who has the image? Conversely, if a client wants to use a specific model because they want to show the disability, because their client knows the numbers and the buying power, why not use somebody that is disabled and capitalize on that? I have to tell this story: I was with a bunch of sales people sitting in a room around a conference table and the boss walks in and starts screaming at us that he needs 2% more sales volume this quarter and he doesn’t care where it comes from. We all look at each other and say where are we going to find 2% more, we have turned over every rock in our territory. Someone raises their hand and says 1 know of 10-15% of the population that we have not directed our product to. The disabled community-we have not advertised directly to them. Let’s go after them.

CC: I am aware of this situation.

CG: I play the stock market, I got the annual report yesterday from Dixie Heinz and Co. with the facts and figures and photographs from Japan, Germany, and the is one from Buenos Aires that shows a guy in an electronic chair with his back to the camera. Why isn’t he facing the camera? I don’t know. A company like Hein that does a billion dollars in sales might be smart to us somebody in their ads with a disability.

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CC: Have you had any trouble choosing the models for your agency?  

CG: Not really, but people have asked me if I have trouble turning down somebody who is disabled and telling them that they don’t have what it takes to be a model. I don’t have a problem with that though. My feeling is that I am running a modeling agency. The criteria are that you must be disabled to be a part of my agency. Beyond that it is just the hard facts of whether or not you have the look. We are trying to be a fashion model agency, a print agency that deals with high-fashion.

CC: Are you creating an image of beauty as opposed to what most people actually look like?

CG: You are referring to commercial shots? I actual Jy have three types of models; high fashion, commercial models, and character models. My book shows one photograph of someone with a disability, otherwise shows no disabilities. My reasoning for that was that is my book important for the advertising community which has individuals who have never been exposed to a disability, so that when they hear the word paraplegic or amputee, I was not sure what their visual or mental image was going to be. It was important to me to show my models for what they really are and not to be measured by a dis ability. There exists a great need for an educational piece that needs to be done for a lot of people out there. It would be really neat to know that someone that is disabled can be considered a very good-looking person.

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CC: Have you gotten any feedback that you do not show the model’s disability?

CG: I believe that my models and people who are disabled have what is called MIG. This stands for movement, involvement and grace. I think that able-bodied America needs to be shown that someone who is dis abled has movement. They are not sitting in a chair in a dark room doing nothing with their life. They have involvement and are involved with life. They have careers, they have jobs, they drive cars and they have families. They have grace and movement to be a fashion model. In the old days when an advertiser wanted someone to be photographed in a wheelchair, who do you think they got to do the job? They got a real good-looking able-bodied person and put them in a chair. Because it was the image. They were looking for a good-looking person. Unfortunately, advertising is image. I can’t change image. But what I can do is offer an opportunity for employment to people who are disabled. have the opportunity to offer the advertising community the ability to have really good-looking men and women or commercial looking people who can get the job done who just happen to be disabled. Not necessarily showing the disability. I believe that just because you have a disability does not mean that you have to show your disability all the time. Does a gay model say that he is gay and show this in his work? It is really not important. If the image is right, you are hiring him because he can get the job done. It has nothing to do with him being disabled. I like to say that my models go both ways. They are capable of modeling able-bodied and disabled. There is no reason to pigeon-hole them, they go both ways. I bring something to the table that other model agencies can’t bring. My advantage is the disability. Because when a client is hunting for an image to promote their product. I open a whole new dimension to them. I am able to show them that there are other images out there. When you consider the fact that there is somewhere between 800 million to a billion dollars in household income to families that have a member that is disabled, we are talking a lot of spending dollars.

CC: What rates do you charge for your models?

CG: I charge exactly the same rates that every other agency charges. I have met with a couple of magazines and I don’t want to say which, but when I met with them they said, “we really want to get in to using dis abled models, we know other people are using them, but we really don’t know how to go about it. You are now offering us an opportunity to enter into this marketplace to increase our readership and to increase spending power. Now you are offering us something we wanted to get involved in but did not know how.”

CC: Do you do mostly print work or do you do TV as well?

CG: I mostly do print work now, my plans are to move into commercials. Right now we are represented by other commercial agencies.

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