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Wicked Talent | interview | Donna Ricci | Lollipop
An interview with Donna Ricci
By Scott Hefflon
photos by L.C. Wilson Jr.
What inspired you to start Wicked Talent?
I'd seen too many models being dressed up with fake mohawks, fake piercings, and painted-on tattoos, and I knew so many people who were just as beautiful as these "well-known models" who already had tattoos and piercings. It was also time I did something myself. I had a daughter, four months old at that time, and I knew I couldn't go on with the day to day modeling work and still raise her the way I wanted to, so I started my own company.
How old is the company now?
Six in May. Both my babies are growing up. (laughs) We started as a newbie extra company, mostly, providing models. We went to the casting companies and put in our books, and they picked and chose who they wanted, and we called the models. Because of our uniqueness, we got good response, because previously, they'd have to hunt out professionals who could adapt to this look. So to find people with "the look" who weren't flakes was a real rarity.
Who were your first few models, and are they still with the company?
One of our first models, Alisa, is taking a break, Mark Attew is still with us, and cEvin Key from Skinny Puppy was one of our original sign-ups.
Is he in L.A. or Vancouver?
He used to live in Vancouver, but he'd just moved to Los Angeles. He lives about three miles away from me.
What's your background in modeling?
I started modeling when I was 12 for really mainstream stuff, and I pissed my agent off when I dyed my hair black. She said I'd never work again.
Black? How risqué!
It was! I was 15. That was 15 years ago.
What were you listening to at the time that made you risk your career to dye your hair black?
The Cure. It all seems like it makes sense when you're going through your teen angst.
That was Disintegration, right? Damn good time to be into The Cure.
Disintegration, yeah! And I loved Depeche Mode. At was all about those two bands, really.
Did you grow up in L.A.?
I lived in L.A. until I was five, then we moved to Virginia until I was 12, and then back here.
What are have been some of the jewels in Wicked Talent's crown?
Well, eight of our models were in 8mm, another dozen were in Spider-Man, various models have been in Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson videos, and few of our models have been on the cover of Bite Me! magazine, a UK vampire enthusiast magazine.
So none of your models were involved in that unnecessarily drawn-out party scene in The Matrix2: Milking a Good Idea?
No, I think they filmed that in Austria or something. And that's quite a commute.
That's a real pet peeve of those of us "in the culture." Hollywood makes movies with scenes supposedly showing what "the underground" is like, but they hire traditional mainstream models and actors to do the scene, and then they have obvious bands like Ministry, Rob Zombie, or Marilyn Manson play during the scenes, or worse, some nü metal hacks like Static-X, Mushroomhead, Linkin Park, or Disturbed, all the while, real metal bands and real Goth bands and real industrial bands are toiling in the trenches, wondering why the good gigs are all going to the fashion knock-offs, instead of to them, the real deals.
(laughs) Isn't it ridiculous? Just for the models, they spend well over twice what they have to to give the models the wardrobe and give the models "the look." It's silly. It's just more financially practical to hire a freak in the first place. (laughs)
What clothing companies do you work with?
Heavy Red and Drac in a Box almost exclusively use Wicked Talent models. And Lip Service use quite a few of our models as well.
Seeing as you're in L.A., do you work with Retail Slut?
Not much anymore. Not since my friend Peter (Thomas), who owned and ran it for many years sold it. I haven't met the new owners yet. They don't seem as driven to do things as Peter was. They don't really do much anymore for fliers or catalogs or anything. Not like when Peter and Yolanda ran the place.
Yolanda's done shoots with Blue Blood, Gothic Sluts, Barely Evil, and I think one of their shots was a cover for Gothic Beauty.
Yup, that's her. She's done a lot of modeling.
Do you know Amelia G and Forrest Black?
I shot with them once. They're really nice people, but they were more interested in me taking my clothes off so they could sell the photos to Playboy or Leg World, and that's just not who I am. So we had to call the shoot short. They're very good photographers and I was really looking forward to meeting them and working with them, but I thought it was more of an editorial and lifestyle shoot. They're very cool, and I'm really glad they're so supportive of the scene.
Which brings us to Suicide Girls...
We had a meeting with Suicide Girls recently about working with all their models and having a partnership with them. We may be helping their models get work.
For as much as some people may slag them for being increasingly, uh, un-scene-friendly and rather exclusive and territorial, they sure are organized and professional.
When I met with Sean and Missy, I was really impressed by how incredibly well thought-out they were. They had lots of ideas, and I was surprised because they were quite young-looking. They're very sensible and very smart. In all frankness, they're fuckin' geniuses. They didn't just build a porn site, they built their own community.
When I interviewed Sean (formerly Spooky) a couple years ago (one of SG's first interviews, nyah-nyah), I'd asked him if he was going to set up a "freak" modeling agency. He hedged on any solid plans, so the topic never made the interview...
It doesn't make sense for them to do it themselves, because there's simply no money in it. They should, and do, focus on what they're really good at, and now they're looking to bring me in as an out-source, so I can make no money doing this. But it's a good opportunity for the girls.
How far along are you in negotiations with Suicide Girls?
We've had a couple meetings, and the ball has started rolling, but we need more meetings to determine what they want out of it and what they can give me. Wicked Talent is not for profit, and it doesn't make sense for me to continue not making money helping them out. If their models don't sign up with me, it doesn't benefit me to help them get work.
Tell me about "not for profit." Is that accidental, or was that the goal?
It's part of the plan. I never thought it was ok to take a model's money. I worked on commission when I had an agent, and I always thought it was unfair that she did little more than put her books out, and she got 20%. When I started Wicked Talent, I decided not to be like that. I wanted to sleep well at night. I didn't want to force girls to take jobs they weren't comfortable with because I needed to pay my rent. So we don't take commission, and it'll probably always be that way.
And six years in, you still think that's the path to take?
Absolutely. We're reformatting how we handle our membership, from $45 a year to $5 a month, so we can have Wicked Talent pay for itself each month. $5 is nothing for all the hours we spend to get the girls work. We host the model's portfolio, and they get admission to the casting boards where photographers and casting directors post opportunities. We also research the photographers for the models to make sure they're reputable and safe.
That's been a concern for every altporn site I talk to. And even I have to be wary of it on the Lollipop Tee Shirt Model level. How do you handle "comfort zones"?
I really don't yet. I really don't know how I'm going to feel about working with Suicide Girls, because I'm not really into porn. I never push any of our models to do nude work, and quite often, I think it breeds an unhealthy mindset in the models. I've met far too many women who do nude work who I feel are mentally unhealthy, unlike models who are professional and self-confident and treat it as a job that they don't take home with them. It's unfortunate that the first of the two is far more prominent. I guess a model who wants to pursue that kind of work can just tell me "If any of these jobs come up, I'll take them." We have a question you can tick if you're willing to do nudity, but we can't have pornography on the site because we have some underage models.
Do you work exclusively with models, or do you allow them to have agents and pursue their own leads as well?
I never saw the point in hindering a model. I recommend people who want to seriously pursue professional acting to get an agent, as well continue to promote themselves. I don't see why anyone's success should be limited by the 60 hours a week I'm able to put in.
I'm anti-exclusivity by nature - and please don't ask if that carries over to monogamous relationships - because I feel it instantly limits possibilities. If you sign up with one distributor, one agent, or one anything on an exclusive basis, your future is in the hands of someone else. You can get 7/8ths of the way through a set-up, then say "Cool, just finalize the details with my agent," and if your agent fumbles and doesn't finish the job, you lose the gig, all your work was for nothing, and people blame you for hiring a flake to represent you.
It's crazy, isn't it? Agents are also notorious for pushing people to do things so they can get their commission, all for "the exposure" or because "it'll be good for your career." I turned down a job at Warner Bros. that my agent was "forcing" me to take. I got on the set and called her saying "You didn't tell me this required nudity." And she said, "Well, just do it anyway." I'm like "I'm two weeks past my 18th birthday, and I'm not comfortable with this." She said "Do it or I'm dropping you. This is a lot of money." So I said thanks for nothing and hung up. She was really mad that I walked out, but that's not who I am. So I can't be a hypocrite and do the same thing to other models.
It's so strange, I don't know what people are thinking... "Oh, this thing that I've always been so against? Gee, here I am on the set, feeling the pressure, and now I'm suddenly going to do nudity." No way.
I see it as a communication issue. Let people know what they're getting into. In advance, let people know time, location, and expectations.
As funny as it may sound, a deal-breaker is often as seemingly insignificant as a smog-maker on the set. I've had models go onto movie sets, only to discover a smog machine was being used, and they weren't informed ahead of time. These models had asthma, and had to leave the set and not get paid after fighting L.A. traffic. I'm not sure why more communication isn't provided. We try to offer as much information as possible, but to be honest, a lot of the casting companies simply don't have all the information. I ask, at least.
How did you hook up Wicked Talent UK?
Lavyrnia was a model for Drac in a Box, and they had good things to say about her, even though she's only 19. She's well put together as a human being. She's smart and sensible, and she's in college for Internet business marketing. She joined Wicked Talent as a model back when I tried to handle models around the world. The UK has its own scene, and it needed to be respected as such, so I asked her if she wanted to run the Wicked Talent UK division. In May of 2003, the UK division was born. I was trying to represent UK models when I didn't even know how far Birmingham is from London. (laughs)
Are there plans for other divisions?
World domination is definitely on the to-do list. One of your models, Cyndie (Myst), is working on building up the East Coast division, Dyvora Darkthorn is working in Texas to make Club Wicked happen - a nightclub that promotes models and photographers and has fashion shots for our clothing designer friends. But we need a Florida rep...
You should talk to Vanessa at Doppelganger Photography. They have an event called Something Wicked this Way Comes...
Yes! I've heard of that!
An avid reader wanted to be a Lollipop model, and she knew a photographer, so I checked up on the photographer and realized she'd been shooting and documenting all kinds of freaks in Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, and all kinds of other places I've never been.
I think my faith in humanity has been restored ten times over by my experience running Wicked Talent. So much support, so many people turning you onto other people, and those people being wonderful and helpful and supportive of the scene. Drac in a Box, Heavy Red Clothing, and Enigma Fashions really try to work us into everything they do. Dita Von Teese, of all people, has been incredibly cool and honest. She actually wrote a "how to get started in modeling" article for us, and has given me advise numerous times. I'm getting all misty-eyed here...